Monday, July 26, 2010

Unseen, Unheard, Unknown

An arrow periodically blinked on the screen and flashed “He is SDO soandso, Mr. AS." The clipping showed only three shots; the nameplate of my house, my camp office and then me appearing on the screen, moving towards the camera and a camera lying on the floor.

Here I was on TV, the new-found villain of a news channel; and the Breaking story ran “Shameless Administration: SDO breaks the camera of press." An entire one hour program was dedicated to this and various intellectuals, politicians showered several imaginative phrases on me.

I do not know from where to tell the 'story.' This was my first encounter with yellow journalism; and truth being told, I was quite disturbed when it happened. But then, though on a smaller platform, I thought I too had the right to tell my side of story.

Soandso sub-division comprises of many tea gardens and living conditions there are far from satisfactory. There have been reports of Starvation deaths in some Tea Gardens, and after that government started many welfare projects there.

The recent story began when an overzealous news channel discovered that two people had died out of starvation in a particular Tea Garden. It came as a shock for us as such incidents; if any; were probable in only in closed tea gardens.

An inquiry was conducted and it appeared that news report was completely baseless. Both the persons were suffering from long term physical ailments, were financially sound and had died a natural death. While we were about to make this inquiry public, the Block Development Officer (BDO) went on two days leave.

The same news channel immediately ran the story "Impact of our reporting on Starvation deaths: BDO sent on compulsory leave by the government." My BDO got demoralized and I was furious. How could a news channel carry such a story without verification?

I talked to the channel concerned and their standard reply was that they got this news from a ‘confidential source’. After trying to show reason for some time, I realized its futility and refused to have any further communication with them. The person on the other side insisted on taking a bite from me as they believed in ‘balanced’ reporting but I politely refused.

Next day was holiday and early in the morning, two press reporters came to my house. I asked my staff to inform them that I was not interested in talking but they refused to leave without taking my bite. I got irritated and came out to ask them to leave. They had already recorded my house and without either introducing or taking my permission, they started recording me too. I asked them to stop immediately.

They refused blatantly and then it happened. I raised my hand to turn off the camera and in the commotion, some part of it got disconnected. After that they started screaming that I had broken their camera. Their bosses in the headquarter directed them to leave immediately and the 'breaking news' started. In a moment, I was turned into a camera breaking high handed monster who was enemy of press and hence that of mankind. A shot of camera lying on the ground was added to the clipping later on to further spice up the story.

The aftermath of this episode was not completely negative. All other channels/newspapers decided to support me and nobody else ran this story. Both my seniors and juniors in administration unequivocally told me that my credentials were known to all those who mattered. Numerous local people called me to say that they shall be with me come what may. Even people from press were sorry that I was being demonized by a particular news channel.

Every time I received such a phone call, there was a lump in my throat. Before this incident, I never knew people loved me so much and I was overwhelmed. My resolve to work for people became even more firm.

When I look back, I do not know how I should have reacted. How do you react to people who enter your house without your permission, refuse to leave and forcibly try to video graph you? Whatever be it, I regret things went as they did. A strange melancholic feeling persists in my heart.

I am still trying to understand how free, the free press should be!