Insensitive crash coverage -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Insensitive crash coverage

Pakistan Press Foundation

EVEN in the best of times our television news coverage leaves a lot to be desired with agenda-driven hysterics and histrionics often dominating the screens. If, heaven forbid a tragedy occurs, the chase for ratings inspires such ludicrous ploys that the viewer is filled with despair.

Almost as a rule, each tragedy involving multiple casualties is followed by insane, insensitive coverage. Then some voices argue for a little consideration to be given to the victims’ kith and kin while reporting, for a little restraint to be exercised.

One hopes, rather forlornly, that the next time it would be different. But when the next tragedy occurs, those arguing for sanity can only bang their heads against the wall to vent their frustration. The crash of PK661 last Wednesday was no different.

The graphics departments of some TV channels went into overdrive. The production teams put on a seemingly endless loop the graphic of a plane slamming into a mountain and bursting into flames. The one that caught my attention was downright offensive — it seemed to make a caricature of the tragedy.

Another channel threw all propriety out of the window when the clickbait on its Twitter feed teased the audience with a statement like ‘what did the rescue workers find belonging to …’ and named the celebrity victim whose children and other family members could well have been following the story for obvious reasons.

The reporter of another channel earned for themselves the dubious distinction of being the first to reach the relatives of one of the crash victims who had two young children and picked up one child and proceeded to ask the usual questions of the grief-stricken family members.

This wasn’t all. A family member was asked what the victim’s sentiments were as the victim left for the flight. I have no idea why this particular question was asked unless there was a suggestion that somehow this person boarded the plane knowing that a tragedy awaited the aircraft. It was bad enough even if the desire to outdo each other stopped here.

Next almost all news channels used experts. Had the idea been to piece together what may have happened to the aircraft, given the guests’ expertise, it would have been legitimate. And to their credit a couple of programmes did just that.

However, some others took matters to ludicrous levels and demonstrated how they failed to interpret correctly even the basic available information. Both Civil Aviation Authority and PIA officials were quite open in saying that the tragedy was triggered by an engine failure, and quoted the captain’s distress message to air traffic control.

It was also rightly claimed that the aircraft (as all commercial carriers) was capable of flying and landing on the remaining engine. Only an investigation would establish exactly what happened that made the plane plummet several thousand feet in a matter of minutes before crashing.

This loss of one engine in flight was interpreted by a senior journalist as somehow an admission by PIA that the plane took off from Chitral and climbed to an altitude of over 13,000 feet (3,962 metres) on just one good engine which also malfunctioned causing the crash.

Tragedies are often known to unite nations and people. In our case, the opposite is true. All the political fault lines that have been in evidence since the last election came into play. One woman tweeted quoting her brother, who she claimed was a PIA pilot, that the plane was faulty and the crew had been forced to fly it. Her Twitter bio gave away her political affiliation.

Still giving her the benefit of doubt, I asked her if her brother would now come forward and be a whistleblower as so many lives, including that of his fellow pilots, had been lost. I wasn’t surprised when her response was wishy-washy.

I have had family members and several friends in aviation and don’t know of any pilot who would take off in a plane full of passengers when he/she had serious concerns about the aircraft’s airworthiness and safety. As one pilot told me, “We are not kamikaze pilots. We are committed to, and responsible for, the safety of our passengers and crew on board. And don’t forget we have families too”.

This sort of plea for sanity fell on deaf ears where most of the electronic media was concerned, and social media was no different where all forms of unauthenticated nonsense was being passed on as fact.

I am neither a pilot nor a technical expert. What I do know as a layman is that an air-crash investigation is now conducted along such scientific lines — it includes information gathered from the digital flight data recorder commonly known as the black box — that once completed a definitive conclusion is more or less certain.

If the investigation establishes the crash was the result of oversight, negligence or outright criminal conduct then each and every airline functionary responsible must be prosecuted and held to account.

In the meantime let me say if I had lost a loved one in the crash I would beg for the victim’s dignity to be respected; I would not want a mike and a camera thrust in my face to tell the world ‘mein kaisa mehsoos kar raha hun’ (how I am feeling). My loss would be mind-numbing. Would I really need to be told in graphic terms the state of the remains of the victims?

But most of all, I would want to have none of the uninformed, even inspired, speculation around the tragedy because the suggestion, without any basis, that my loss was avoidable would be excruciatingly painful. A little compassion, a little humanity would not blunt anyone’s journalism or competitive edge.