In the last few days, one man has managed to hog the limelight in Uttarakhand. No it’s not Rahul Gandhi, nor is it Narendra Modi. It’s a man who has managed to take journalism to new heights and stand head and shoulders above anyone else in the field. It’s Narayan Pargaien, the television reporter for Dehradun-based News Express. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, take a look at this video first.
Just in case you think this is a spoof video, it isn’t. Narayan Pargaien is simply doing his job, reporting, while sitting on the shoulders of a man in Uttarakhand. Someone who’s survived the floods. Before we cast any stones and cry ethical dilemma, unprofessionalism, subaltern conundrum, exploitation and basic stupidity – we decided to give Pargaien a chance to explain the method behind his madness. Maybe Pargaien wanted a vantage point to view the floods from? Who knows? Since we believe everyone deserves to put across their point of view, here’s his conversation with us.
1. The video of you reporting from Uttarakhand has become an overnight sensation. Is it difficult to report in such harsh conditions?
The conditions were more heart-breaking than harsh. I was stuck there for more than three days and witnessed flood victims who had no food or water, homes destroyed, and so on. So we actually helped them by offering monetary help and food.
2. Have you ever reported from a calamity zone or conflict zone before?
No. This is the first time for electronic media. Otherwise I have done it a few times for print.
3. What made you come up with the idea of reporting while sitting on a person’s shoulder?
It wasn’t my idea to begin with, but there was this man who took me to his home and asked me to report the damage he had suffered. His house was in a miserable condition and he had lost a lot in the flood, and was left with very little food and water. We helped him with some food and some money and he was grateful to us and wanted to show me some respect, as it was the first time someone of my level had visited his house. So while crossing the river he offered to help by carrying me on his shoulder, between which, I thought of reporting the flood. We offered Rs 50 as well for the help he gave me.
4. What are the comments/compliments you’ve been getting for this report?
I have received a lot of flack, as you know. But the intention wasn’t what the media has portrayed it to be. People are talking about us being inhuman and wrong but we were actually helping some of the victims there.
5. Whose shoulder were you sitting on? What is his name?
He was one of the Uttarakhand flood victims, whose identity I would not like to disclose.
6. Did you not want to get your feet wet? It is dirty water after all.
I have no problem getting my feet wet. But I was offered help and he was quite insistent so I complied.
7. Do you feel the criticisms coming your way are fair?
I don’t think they are all fair. On the one hand what I did was journalistically wrong, but how it’s being portrayed now on Youtube and Facebook, like a joke, doesn’t feel like it’s fair. Also the report was supposed to be telecast only with footage of me chest-up. This was entirely the cameraman’s fault, who, it seems, almost tried to sabotage my career by shooting from that distance and angle and releasing the video mocking this whole incident, and making me the villain.
8. So would you say it was entirely the cameraman’s fault?
See, I do agree I was wrong as well. That was the wrong thing to do, and the wrong time to have shot that sequence. But what my cameraman did was even more unacceptable. More so because I am receiving all the criticism for it and there isn’t even a trace of his name anywhere. I would say, releasing that video, with the intent of it being harmful to me, or mocking me, was wrong on his part. It could cost me my career.
9. How long have you been working with News Express?
I have been a journalist since 17-18 years and been in print before this but only about 2 years in electronic media.
10. Have there been any repercussions with your bosses?
I have been advised by them not to speak to anyone about this incident officially without their permission but nothing more than that.
Nice to see that while stranded for 3 days it didn’t slip by Pargaein that someone of his “level” had deigned to enter a local’s house. And played benefactor, no less, by offering the man food and Rs 50. Taking a feather out of the hats of most politicians, Pargaein seems to believe that once you’ve helped those less fortunate than you, you’ve earned the right to walk all over them. Or in this case, climb on their shoulders and give a piece-to-camera. There’s one question though, which we forgot to ask Pargaein. Where was the cameraman standing? Readers are requested to send in your guesses.
While he claims he knows he crossed the line of journalistic ethics, we’d cut him some slack if he seemed as upset about straddling that man’s shoulders as he did about the betrayal by his agent saboteur cameraman. Granted, tragedies and calamities make people behave in strange ways. And when you’re a journalist shoved into reporting on a calamity, it’s understandable that you’d want to do anything to make your news report stand out from those by the rest your peers. But standing on someone else’s shoulders is taking that desire to another level altogether. All we can say thinking of the state of journalism and to borrow Kamaal R Khan’s words, “Narayan Narayan”.
Interview conducted by Arushi Kapoor.