How not to report a suicide

BY AAKANKSHA SHARMA| IN Media Practice | 18/08/2014
Zee News master class in bad reporting - interviewing the child of a woman who committed suicide.
AAKANKSHA SHARMA found it offensive and tasteless.

The reputation of television news, already dismal, has worsened into insensitive, careless, lazy, and stupid reporting. The tragic suicide of a woman in R.K. Puram in the capital that was witnessed by her hapless child has been converted into a spectacle by Zee News. (

What started off as a possible story of domestic violence and dowry demands later turned into an unbelievable ‘evil mom’yarn – ‘evil’ in that she wantonly abandoned her child by committing suicide according to Zee News.

The couple, who lived in the servants quarter, had a heated argument after which the man stepped out while the woman decided to end her life, an act witnessed by the couples five year old son who was, understandably, shaken. This did not deter Zee News’ reporter Neeraj Gaur from thrusting the microphone into his face to ask about the incident.

NG: Aapne dekha kya hua? (Did you see what happened?)

Child: Haan...Mummy pankhe se latak gai (My mother just hanged herself)

NG: Aapne Papa ko phone kia? (Did you call up your father?)

Child: Nahi (No)

NG: Jab wo latak gai to kya aap usi kamre me the? (When she hanged herself were you in the room?)

Child:.....mumbling something...

Gaur had already reported on the nature, possible causes and impact of the suicide within the first two minutes of the seven minute package. But he insisted on asking the child idiotic and insensitive questions to establish the evil mom theory. It was not just the questions but the entire packaging of the story - with a ticker that accused the mother of willfully abandoning a child and visuals showing the police dragging the body - that made it among the most atrocious stories aired on the channel.

Did Gaur not realise that answering those questions could be the most traumatic experience the child would ever have to go through?

Clearly, no editorial judgment was exercised about what visuals to show in the story or to consider other, less offensive ways, of reporting it. A story that could have been portrayed in terms of the childs trauma or future uncertainty was instead turned into a story about a ‘selfish’ mother.

Whenever a news story is aired, it represents the channel. Each word, each visual and each byte conveys the value systems prevalent in the organization. The casual manner in which this story was covered should be a reminder that journalists should be looking for news and not behaving like vultures feasting on the remains of the dead.

One bad news package can tarnish the reputation of a good channel. Perhaps the electronic media needs to revisit its coverage on critical issues, despite the clear guidelines from the News Broadcasters’ Association. It is not enough to follow the rules as a formality. There must be careful introspection on why these guidelines were put out in the first place. Merely blurring a child’s face does not absolve the channel of the charge of insensitive and tasteless reporting.

There can only be two reasons why Zee News treated the story in this fashion. Either its editors are too busy to see what it is broadcasting or its reporters do not fully realise the impact of the medium in which they work. Either way, the results are abominable.

Aakanksha Sharma is an Assistant professor at the department of media studies at JIMS Vasant Kunj.

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