Don't Target the Messenger: Photo Journalists' Body Slams SG Tushar Mehta for 'Vulture' Remark

The body held that by recording the tragedy of the migrant workers' crisis, the photojournalists were bearing witness to the worst humanitarian crisis in the country since the Partition.

New Delhi: Taking strong exception to the way the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta made observations against photo and video journalists before the Supreme Court on May 27 for their coverage of the migrant workers’ crisis, an organisation representing them has criticised Mehta and charged that he also misrepresented facts while making his submissions.

The All India Working News Cameramen Association (WNCA) criticised Mehta for stating before the Supreme Court, during the hearing on ‘migrants’ crisis’ that video and photo journalists were spreading negativity by flashing images of the condition of the migrants on their way home and for virtually calling them ‘vultures’ and ‘prophets of doom’.

In a statement, the WNCA president S.N. Sinha and general secretary Sondeep Shankar said that recording the tragedy of the migrant workers with their cameras, the photojournalists, with considerable risk to their well-being, were bringing images and bearing witness to the worst humanitarian crisis in the country since the Partition.

They insisted that the photojournalists were merely doing their job by bringing the ‘cold and hard truth’ of the situation of the migrants out to shake the conscience of the people and spur the government into remedial action.

The association’s office-bearers also accused Mehta of furnishing incorrect information while making his submissions. “Tushar Mehta in his enthusiasm to defend the indefensible inaction of the government, misrepresented facts about the picture of Kevin Carter, the Sudanese girl, and the vulture, implying that the photographer should have helped the girl instead of photographing it. As a matter of fact, Kevin, the iconic and Pulitzer winning photojournalist shooed away the vulture after capturing the human tragedy,” they said.

Also read: Journalists, Vultures and a Solicitor General

They also charged that “the Solicitor General misled the apex court by claiming and using fake news that the celebrated photojournalist committed suicide a few months later because of his guilt feeling of not helping the girl. The fact of the matter was that he committed suicide because of personal, financial problems and devastation brought by witnessing the human tragedies while covering the apartheid atrocities in South Africa and Sudanese famine.”

Stating that the purpose of photo and video journalism was to bear witness to the reality and stir the conscience of the public to the cruelty of that reality and hold power to account, the statement said two pictures – that of a starving migrant worker eating a dog carcass, and the other of baby tugging at a cloth covering her dead mother – taken recently brought the horrors of migrant workers crisis to the notice of the world.

“Unfortunately,” they added, that “the top law officer of the government chose to target the messenger instead of acting on the message in the august precincts of the Supreme Court.” As such the WNCA has demanded that Mehta immediately withdraw his averment and apologise to the photojournalist community.

It also called upon the Press Council of India to intervene in the case and to “urge the Supreme Court to strike down his statement to redeem the honour of the photo and video journalists in the country”.