Borewell Rescue Coverage – Did media overdo it?

The television coverage of the operations undertaken to rescue 2-year-old Sujith Wilson who had fallen into an abandoned borewell was criticised by many. On the one hand, the coverage brought the tragedy under the limelight forcing action on part of various agencies, while on the other hand, it was a fight for TRPs at the cost of a major tragedy for one family.

What actually happened?

2-year-old Sujith Wilson fell into an abandoned borewell which was left open while playing on October 25, 2019. The incident happened in Tiruchirapalli, a district in the southern Indian state Tamil Nadu. A quick response from the rescue agencies may have saved the child, but none were nearby. It eventually led to 80-hour long painstaking rescue operation. These many hours were too much for the child. In the end, he could not be saved. Sadly, what the gargantuan operation could achieve was only the removal of the child’s body.

How was it covered?

A few regional television channels went for live-coverage, not 24 X 7, but kept coming back to the location often. Any new equipment brought in, the visit by a VIP, a tweet on the subject by a celebrity were all covered. The audience was curious to know if the child will be saved. What will be his condition when he is eventually rescued?

Regional news websites were also blogging the event updates regularly. Soon the national media was also there. Every bulletin had at least one report on the subject. After all, even the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Edappadi K. Palaniswami paid a visit to the spot and couple of ministers from his government had also camped there. Eighty hours is a long time, even international coverage of the event had begun.

What did such coverage do?

Arguably, media attention impacted ground-level operations as well. Efforts were afoot to somehow rescue this child. Bigger, sophisticated equipment and experts were brought in to ensure that somehow the child is brought out from the 88 feet deep abandoned borewell. But such coverage may have stopped rescuers from undertaking any risky manoeuvres as it would be open to criticism due to media presence.

A question of ethics

Was sensationalism at the core of this coverage? Did channels try to make money out of the sufferings of one family? Should the coverage of the event have been muted? These are difficult questions to answer and most editors would have taken their call on it. Of course, there are also marketing and TRP pressures that always impact such decisions.

I leave you with one question: God forbid if such a scenario were to repeat itself, should news channels go all out to cover the event 24/7 or take it easy and leave it to the rescue units to do their job?