A girl reportedly killed her parents at their residence in Dhaka recently. This piece of news became the talk of the town in Bangladesh with the 16-year-old girl’s photograph featuring in many newspapers.
Footage of her arrest was broadcast live on all TV channels. The public watched the police escorting her and her friends to a five-day remand on Sunday. If she has killed her parents herself, we certainly have a point to worry about as far as our society is concerned.
There is however another indicator of social concern that the country should worry about: the quality of our journalism.
Yes, a daughter killing her own parents was surely a very news-worthy incident but should it have been treated as the news of the century? Was such blanket coverage of an under-age person’s crime by the media necessary or appropriate?
The girl’s face was continuously shown on TV and published in photos on newspaper front pages. Were the ethics of journalism considered while covering this incident? Did we in the media adequately raise the question of whether a minor, no matter how grave his/her crime was, could be taken to police remand? What do our respective editorial policies say on this?
There are many possible questions we can ask ourselves, but in the first place we need to ask why most of our news organisations do not have written, published editorial policies. They may give verbal instructions to their journalists, but very few have developed or disclosed editorial do’s and don’ts – standard practice among many international news organisations.
If we had editorial policies, we would have covered this crime and others alleged to have been committed by children differently. Many stories have been done on children abusing drugs, and in most of these cases, the childrens’ faces have been shown.
Usually, when children are interviewed, it is not done in the presence of their parents; the very idea that journalists should be talking to children in their parents’ presence doesn’t perhaps occur in many minds.
Having said that, if we analyse how we cover crimes committed by adults, a flurry of questions also arises in this regard. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police often arrest and then publicly display alleged dakats (robbers), khunis (murderers) and jongis (militants). After arrest, nameplates are hung on the detainees’ chests saying they are dakats, khunis and jongis and the media happily participates in a photo session, with complete disregard for the legal presumption of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Remember, such TV pictures and photographs are taken and published before the accused have been taken to court, tried or convicted. The media does not have to publish photos of accused with nameplates hanging on their chests. Or at least it could easily consider cropping the nameplates or faces before publication. I believe we need to do some thinking here and develop a policy whether we really should publish their pictures.
More widely again, we in the media collectively are often inclined to broadcast and publish gory footage and pictures of accidents and victims. We sometimes sort of take it for granted that the audience loves gory pictures, without thinking about the impact of showing bloodshed on society, especially in the minds of children. How we came to this state of affairs is impossible to fathom? There is no research or survey evidence to suggest gory footage, bloodshed and violence in the media should not be limited, which is why media in many countries have formulated editorial policies to limit such types of coverage.
Developing journalists’ guidelines for each media house is not very difficult. We have enough examples, knowledge and thousands of suggestions available to help formulate policies.
The benefits of having written editorial policies are immense, both to the public, journalists and society in general. Bangladeshi media organisations generally have a long way in meeting or setting such a standard.
It is time we started thinking more about formulating better and clearer editorial guidelines.