Indian Media Coverage of Earthquake Irks Nepalese

By Masuma Parveen

2015-05-06
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150506-NP-soldiers-620 Nepalese soldiers load relief aid from India at Kakarvitta, a town on the Indo-Nepal border, May 2, 2015.
AFP

The hashtag said it all: “#GoHomeIndianMedia.”

These four words reportedly went viral after hitting the Twitter-sphere on Sunday – which happened to be World Media Day.

They evidently channeled Nepalese frustration and anger at an Indian media circus that had rolled into the country to cover its 7.8-magnitude earthquake, and India’s massive relief operation.

“Media humiliated poor Nepal in order to take credit & cheap publicity in the hour of crisis. Sad,” said one of the tweets under the hashtag.

Another tweet berated an Indian journalist for asking a bereaved Nepalese woman, “how do you feel?”

Nepal’s giant neighbor to the south was the first foreign country to fly in search and rescue teams, and it has been sending in emergency supplies and aid since the disaster struck on April 25. Dubbed Operation Maitri (Friendship), the Indian humanitarian effort is New Delhi’s largest-ever response to a natural calamity abroad.

Journalistic coverage of disasters – both natural and man-made – is a contentious issue worldwide, said Avipsa Sengupta, a Kolkata-based mass communication researcher.

At times members of the press, in their rush to beat deadlines and get the story out, can forget to be sensitive to and respect the dignity of victims – especially in other countries.

“It's a universal problem that the media change their moral lenses depending on whether they are covering calamities at home or abroad,” Cherian George, associate professor of journalism at the Hong Kong Baptist University, told BenarNews.

“In local disasters, journalists obviously have a great deal of empathy for the victims and the coverage is more sensitive. When it's foreign, entertainment values seep in. This problem is not unique to Indian media,” he said.

George also observed: “What is special about this case is that the Indian media dominate Nepal. Indian journalists may be reporting with their audiences back home in mind, but Nepalese are also watching. It is not surprising that Nepalese feel hurt and offended.”

Nonstop

Moreover, the Indian media’s relentless coverage of Indian relief operations overshadowed round-the-clock efforts by Nepal’s government and military to deal with the crisis, many feel.

"Every time there is an occasion, Indian TV folks especially parachute here, looking for simplistic, picturesque and dramatic stories. This time they had the Indian army, which gave them access to every dramatic spot,” Nepalese author and journalist Narayan Wagle told BenarNews.

“For them, the Indian army was the super hero. Nepal was helpless. Nepali forces were hopeless. It was India that came to rescue Nepal. That tendency undermined the general aid and assistance [that] India gave to Nepal,” he added.

Some Nepalese were even holding Indian coverage “largely responsible” for how the rest of the world viewed the tragedy in Nepal. Such coverage, they charged, was an attempt to portray Nepal not as a sovereign state but a mere satellite of the South Asian power.

"Our Dharahara may have fallen, not our sovereignty!" said a tweet that alluded to the landmark tower in Kathmandu destroyed by the quake.

‘Maximum eyeballs’

Bhuwan Sharma, a former op-ed editor at Republica, an English-language daily in Nepal, put the present discontent into perspective.

“Nepalese are justifiably angered by coverage that does not reflect the ground realities. The overreaction, though, is instinctual. You have to understand that for a very long time, the pillar of Nepali nationalism was opposition to India or anything Indian,” Sharma told BenarNews.

Jajati Karan, the CNN-IBN bureau chief in Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Odisha, expressed sympathy for his colleagues on assignment in Nepal.

"Reporting disaster or any tragedy needs a sensible approach, but I don't blame the Indian reporters on the ground as they are under tremendous pressure to beat competition and draw maximum eyeballs," Karan said.

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