A disturbing video is doing the rounds on social media. It shows a poor child sitting on the ground repeatedly saying he was kicked and pushed as he begged for food. Begging for two rotis and got kicked by didi (elder sister) is what is audible. The didi is not named. There is some conversation about begging for the country. The conversation is in Hindi and interrupted several times.
The child in question was kicked by Madhya Pradesh Animal Husbandry Minister Kusum Mehdele, and the interview happened after the incident.
A few hours after the video was posted and gained ground, Rahul Kanwal, Managing Editor of India Today and Aaj Tak tweeted that the person recording the child was neither a reporter nor a stringer with the organisation. He was the son of their stringer Ravindra Vyas whose contract has been terminated with immediate effect. “Whenever an act of misdemeanour is reported or noticed, swift and decisive action is taken,” he wrote.
The clip is disturbing. It shows the person holding an Aaj Tak mike ID coaching the child to parrot lines. The child looks askance but is promptly encouraged by people not seen in the video to do as told. Another person, also not seen in the video asks the crowd to be silent as the child prepares, then repeats what he has been told to say. The voice is different. Now the child folds his hands in prayer-like manner and asks didi to kick him some more (aur maro). At the end of this brief ‘interview’ the interloper taps the boy on his shoulder saying ‘first class’ and signals the crew to wrap up.
We share this story and Kanwal’s statement about it with concern for a salient reason. Newsrooms across India are faced with ‘reports’ from almost anyone who has a phone to record an event. In this case someone was recording the ‘interview’ but was possibly unaware that the stringer had exceeded his brief in addition to falsifying the work. Between the pressure on journalists to beat competition and remain accurate, comes the work of rent-a-reporters who misuse access and responsibility like this incident shows. The ID mike racket seems to have replaced its predecessor - the forged press passes.
Earlier this week we had written about how the social media is now the new watchdog with a twist – it is a poisoned chalice. Anybody with a mobile phone can post a video on the social media and disappear after causing considerable damage to the hard work of good reporters. The only way forward for journalists is to remain relentlessly vigilant and lead by example.
Read our piece on the subject here.