[MxM Journalism Review] When media got taken for a ride

21 Mar,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


One of the best examples of the way the media was taken for a ride lies in the Bhattacharyas versus the Norwegian child welfare services story. Without a thought for the facts, Indian television plumped up with rage and immediately pulled out the racism card. The parents of the children who had been removed from their care wept on television. Theories were put up about how the Norwegians did not understand the cultural traditions of Indian parenting – feeding with your hands, cuddling, the whole family sleeping together. These cold, hard, unfeeling people invaded the Bhattacharyas’ home and decided that they were bad parents. We were told that Norway’s child welfare services did this regularly, particularly to people of colour. Other Norwegians appeared on television and told us that they also lived in constant fear of their children being snatched away by the state.


As the jingoistic cries of “India done wrong” grew louder, the case became a diplomatic incident. Indian politicians – notably Brinda Karat of what is left of the Left Front – held protests against Norway, demanding that the Indian government do something. Newspapers just followed the television line. Our thin Indian skins bristled with outrage that someone had dared to accuse an Indian couple of being bad parents.


Now the story has taken a bizarre and potentially tragic turn. The father of the children now says that his children were taken away because of his wife’s psychological condition. In fact, he says he has left her after a violent incident. It turns out that it was not a “cultural misunderstanding” that led to the drastic act of removing the children. The little boy’s teachers found his behaviour to be strange and that is when the child services entered the Bhattacharyas’ home. Charges of malnutrition were also added to this.


To make matters worse, the children’s uncle, designated as guardian, now says that the children are “flourishing” and happy in child care. He fears what will happen to them when he brings them back to India and his sister-in-law’s family tries to claim them.


The husband says his wife got carried away with the media attention. So, probably, did he.


In all this, the media asked no questions. They took the Bhattacharyas at face value and instead of getting a “story”, editors and reporters allowed their own personal feelings of outrage to guide them.


Few if any efforts were made to dig a little deeper. There was a clue that I can remember. The children’s mother had said on TV that the Norwegian child welfare services had not taken into account the effects of post-partum depression in their analysis.


A journalist who does not ask questions, as many as possible, sooner or later lands up with egg on the face. In this case, it is not just about embarrassment. It is about the life and happiness of two children.


And no matter whether it makes good TV or not, we have to stop behaving as if the world is out to insult us. Sometimes, it is quite possible, that some Indians are not perfect.


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One response to “[MxM Journalism Review] When media got taken for a ride”

  1. Prashunbhaumik25 says:

    especially when they are bengali mothers. force feeding is second nature.

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