Day of Protest and Duty of Journalist

Saturday: One of the busiest Saturdays. I was running here and there covering the protest rally in Basantapur and when I returned office I was a bit tired. An assignment was waiting for me. I had to write a long piece on monarchy in Japan: possible succession by the female member of the Imperial family in the Japanese throne. That took my more than three hours time. When I was done, it was time to rush towards home as there was nighttime curfew in the city and, though they have curfew permit, drivers of the office vehicles wanted to avoid the irritating checking by the security forces. I though that was a good idea. After reaching home I realized that I was really tired. It’s a big physical exercise for reporters to cover such protest rallies especially when you want to capture those important moments in camera.

There is a comment on a UWB post about the protest, police behavior and journalists who cover the event. A photo of myself taking picture in the protest program seems to have compelled Blogbahini to drop that comment. “How come that guy is beaten up right next to Dinesh, while Dinesh is busy taking pictures. so the police only charge select people (i’m guessing journalists are exempt from the list)?” In another word, that could be, why didn’t the police beat me (journalist) up when the same was mercilessly baton-charging over a protester.

Journalists usually carry identity card, put them on display as and when the situation gets tense. I also do the same. I hang my identity card on my neck.

Yes, journalists have to be extra careful while covering such events and working in such situation. We have seen many a time they have been beaten and manhandled by the police. On that day too a police beat up at least one journalist. Journalists immediately protested the action and the police in-charge said sorry to the crowd.

So what’s the duty of a journalist? To shoot the picture of a man being beaten up by police or to save the person? How much a journalist can involve himself in news events? These are the questions that always produce contradictory answers. From the humanitarian point of view, I should have thrown my camera away and saved the man from the police. From the professional perspective, that would be an unethical thing to do. Journalist’s job is to report, not to get involved in the event itself. But then life is the most important thing and that comes above everything else. I pulled the second man out of the trap and handed him over to human rights monitors whose job is to intervene into such situation. Most of the time they do their job but sometime they miss the action.

To be honest, my presence there was a journalist’s presence, a camera’s presence and that made the police hesitate to take more severe action. I strongly think so as I have evidence of how police were careful to be seen not-so-regressive in front of cameras. “Hay, don’t beat him like that,” I had heard a police Inspector screaming at his subordinates an hour ago the same day. “Don’t you see journalists taking pictures?” Later the same policeman was “warning” or “requesting” us not to move here and there all the time, stay in place and see the action. But that wasn’t a formal “suggestion” and we didn’t even bothered to listen to him. We did our job on our own way.

And the presence of journalists has definitely helped propel the pro-democracy movement on the street. Protestors intensify their activity once journalists reach the venue. If there is a TV camera then the actions become more intense. That is why police generally hate our presence in rallies.

[This post was written on Monday Jan 23]