By Sharanya Gopinathan
Obviously I am a hundred years late to the party, but my lesson of the week is that newspapers will do absolutely anything to sell.
News broke earlier this week that an eight-year-old girl had been found with monkeys in the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh. This gave media outlets the world over a wonderful chance to go full-racist and full-moron. Most news houses, in India and abroad, immediately jumped at the amazing opportunity to use the word ‘Mowgli’ in their headline (so creative!). Call me paranoid if you like, but I can’t shake the feeling that there was a racist undertone to the way headlines were framed in the global media (‘Mowgli Girl’ Who Walks on All Fours is Found Living with Monkeys in Indian Forest), although it’s not like the Indian media was that much better.
Almost all media houses have included actual pictures and videos of the girl in their reports, the easy availability of which already lets you know that she’s being treated as some kind of public spectacle. Newspaper reports also say that crowds have turned up at the hospital to see her, which is so heartbreaking and sad that there isn’t much else to say, except that that probably wouldn’t have happened in the media had been more responsible about reporting on her case and location.
There are laws in place to protect children “in need of care and protection” from being identified in the media, which means that news houses obviously shouldn’t have gone about publishing her picture (even if they were so kind as to not reveal her name by giving her nickname as stupid and loaded as Mowgli). Clearly no one cares about laws like these, as we saw from the media coverage of the sexual assault of a Malayalam actor early this year. But even if there wasn’t a law stopping you from plastering the face of a child in these circumstances onto your newspaper, you should at least have some sense when covering something so sensitive and complicated.