The newsroom was filled with an air of anxiety. And there was reason enough for that.
Five men had been suffocated to death in a bar in Bengaluru, that had gone up in flames the previous night. Producers were running helter-skelter, adding all the latest developments to the story. The patch panels were screaming with gory visuals of the bodies being retrieved and taken to the mortuary.
What next? I, being a reporter, was instructed to head to the mortuary of Victoria Hospital where the bodies of the deceased had been taken. Along with my cameraman, I headed out to the mortuary where I saw a sea of people gathered.
The sight was deadly. Five old women with wrinkled, aged faces were wailing away in pain. They were mourning the loss of their beloveds as they sat outside the mortuary, awaiting the bodies of their sons.
My phone rang. The PCR was tracking me so that I could stand for a ‘LIVE’. They wanted me to go ‘live’ from the mortuary.
I picked up the call and my cameraperson prepped up the frame. It was painful standing there in front of the wailing ladies, reporting about the incident. But I did that. I described the scene of grief and reluctantly managed to hold my mike in front of the aged old woman who was wiping her tears with her saree.
The camera was on. The show was on. The old woman could not hold her tears. She wailed away in grief. And after a couple of minutes of holding the mike in front of her, I felt guilty.
I felt guilty of unintentionally harassing this old woman who merely wanted to mourn for her deceased son.
And on my headset, I could hear my boss yelling at me, forcing me to “stay on the crying lady’’, because that is what the channel wanted.
It was a dilemma of sorts. On ground, I could feel the tense environment of the tragedy-struck family members cursing the media. And on the other hand, I heard my boss yelling away on the phone.
It was a tough call.
I chose to do what my conscience said. I instructed my cameraperson to move away from the old woman in pain, took the mike back and wrapped the story saying that, ‘This is not the right time to expect the family to express their distress, coming back to you.”
I consoled the old woman. Apologised to her. And then of course, heard the high-pitched screams coming from my boss on my phone.
My boss said, “ You killed the show.”
I agree I ‘killed’ the show
But I did that for a reason. I wanted to keep humanity alive.
The next day, in the newsroom, as my boss began to humiliate me for taking this stand, all I had to say was “It was nice working with you.”
We as journalists are expected to report the truth. But with the race of TRP’s and big breaking news, I guess it’s more about ‘staying on a story’… and that is the sad part, to say the least.