Death at St. Ann’s

BY s ramanujan| IN Media Practice | 20/08/2005

The Times of India’s (12 August) page one lead story was ‘Horror At St Ann’s’ with a shoulder, ‘Little Girl Run Over By Rogue Van Outside School; 5 Others Hurt’. There was a companion story on page one, ‘Death Came Rattling Along’. The Hindu, on the same day, did not overplay it, but it carried a page one story with a 4-col headline, ‘Van Fatally Knocks Down Schoolgirl’, with a related picture on page 5.

The next day, on 13 August, the Deccan Chronicle’s 7-column lead story was, ‘State Issues St Ann’s Notice, Absolves Self’ (with the picture of a parent with an injured child in the hospital), and the second lead was also on the same subject: ‘Won’t Build Subway: St Ann’s’ with a kicker, ‘Reetika’s Father Wants Its Licence Revoked’. ‘State Human Rights Commission takes up Reetika’s case suo motu’ was another story on page 5.

The Times of India had ‘Rithika’s Lesson: Slow Down’ as its page one lead box with a kicker ‘A Look At The Number Of Road Deaths In Hyderabad Makes It Clear: This City’s Not Safe’. The reverse slug for the story - with an icon of the dead child - was ‘Stop The Carnage’. And possibly because the Deccan Chronicle had devoted page 3 to the subject a day earlier, TOI tried to catch up with the competition and gave almost 7-and-a-half columns to the St Ann’s story on page 3.

The 8-col top spread read, ‘‘‘Mama, I Don’t Want To Go To School Again" - Accident Leaves Deep Scars On Young Minds’; ‘SHRC Serves Notices On St Ann’s, Top Officials’; ‘Principal Says School Is Not Responsible’; ‘Own Up Responsibility, School Told’; ‘Killer Drivers Get Away With Liberal Bail Regime’.

The Hindu too did not lag behind on the second day. There were two stories on page one: ‘SHRC To Take Up Reethika’s Case’ and ‘Collector Orders Schools To Arrange Transport To Students’, with more stories on page 3 and 4. ‘Foot-Overbridge Mooted At School’ was on page 3, while page 4 was almost devoted to the accident. ‘Coming To Terms With Crash Horror’, ‘Emptiness Fills Their Heart’, ‘Lesson 1: How To Reach Home Safely’.

The New Indian Express was the only English daily that maintained its balance and restricted its columns to the extent that the story deserved.

Interestingly, on the very same day of the accident outside St Ann’s School, there were 10 more deaths in road mishaps in the city. Did they get comparable treatment in the press? Not likely. It is worth asking: What if there were accidents of a similar nature outside government schools in the Old City? What would be the media reaction? It is not that such tragic incidents do not happen. School children have been crushed under the wheels of speeding vehicles in the past, and - as heartless as it may sound - they were just confined to the ‘crime briefs’, because they were not from VIP schools.

Is it just a lack of sensitivity towards the less influential and less affluent that leads to such distortions in news coverage; or is it the competition with the 24-hour TV news channels and among the press fraternity that prompts the newspapers to lose their balance? Or is it a new trend in journalism because, as they say, ‘what smells also sells’?

Another interesting aspect is the vogue among human rights organizations to play populist games. In fact, they often give the impression of competing some of the more publicity-crazy NGOs. Otherwise, what is the point in the state HRC taking suo motu note of the accident outside St Ann’s School? Where is the violation of ‘human rights’ in a road accident? For that matter, there were 685 accident-related deaths in the city till July 31 of this year, which only followed a similar pattern of fatalities in the last couple of years. Because the media overplayed the story, the SHRC might have assumed that they should also do their bit to be in the news. Well, the government could certainly take up a number of awareness building programmes on traffic safety, but to make it a human rights issue will achieve little more than keeping the Commission busy.



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