14. mar 2015.

Tragedy and Dusk of Journalism

helikopter_MI_17Incorrect and irresponsible reporting of the tragical baby rescue mission has only made the accident worse. RTS reported that the baby had been taken care of, Radio 021 published the news of the Beta News Agency that “the helicopter transferring the baby had landed in Belgrade”… But things get even worse – Alo accused the underage mother of being guilty for the death of her child and six rescuers

Another tragic event in Serbia (in a long series of increasing frequency) and yet another test failed both by the mediaand authorities. This was the crash of an army helicopter and the death of seven people during medical treatment of a seriously ill five-day-old from Novi Pazar.

According to available information, on Friday afternoon the medical team was transporting the ill baby by an ambulance vehicle to Kragujevac (some versions say even closer, to Kraljevo), when somewhere near Raška they were stopped by a land slide. Due to emergency nature of situation, the Serbian Army’s helicopter was called for further transfer of the baby (where to is the most important issue here, but we shall come back to it).

The first media mix-up was caused by the Radio-televizija Srbije (RTS – Radio Television of Serbia), when slightly after 09.00 PM, their correspondent reported that the baby had arrived to the Clinical Center of Kragujevac by the initial ambulance vehicle, and not by the helicopter. As it turned out, this was not true. This false news was published on the website of RTS at 09.25 PM on Friday.

RTS did not disclose the identity of this correspondent, whether he was from Novi Pazar, Kragujevac or some other place. The source of the anonymous correspondent forsuch information was also not specified. In such circumstances one cannot claim how exactly did this error of the correspondent and the editor who approved the publication of this lie come about, but what is certain is that it should not have happened in a case as serious as this.

First of all, even if it was a correspondent located outside of Kragujevac, this news, regardless of the source, should not have been published before confirming its accuracy by the source from the Clinical Center of Kragujevac. Secondly, even if the news was sent by the RTS’s correspondent from Kragujevac, it had to have come or been confirmed by the official source (regardless whether the source asked to be anonymous, the correspondent knew with whom he/she had talked). The news was removed from the RTS’s website with no explanation.

Mistake or Running for an Exclusive?

The Beta News Agency took care of further disinformation.

Later that evening they reported the baby’s arrival to Belgrade, where it was taken over by the team from the Mother and Child Institute. Again a completely false information, therewith that Beta later explained how the mistake was made.

The most serious journalistic offence was made by the tabloid Alo. On the website of this newspaper, just above an otherwise decent text that sheds light on the events preceding the decision to send the baby from Novi Pazar, an unidentified editor placed a headline-“All Died for Immature Mother”. Thus the blame for the loss of seven lives was shifted on the baby’s underage mother…It need not be said that it did not cross their minds to hide the underage mother’s identity.

This was a misinterpreted statement given to the RTS by Radoje Simić, Director of the Institute. When it was certain that the helicopter was flying to Belgrade, he said that the Institute’s team was ready to receive the child, while Beta wrote that the child had already been received.

There are two possibilities here. The first one is that the journalist simply misheard or misunderstood the statement of Radoje Simić. This is an honest mistake which could have happened to anyone.

The second one is that the journalist, or most likely the editor, wishing to beat the competition with the exclusive, anticipated that by the time the news would be published in the media, the child would already be in Belgrade and in the hands of the medical professionals there. This happens more often than you think.

As the former Editor-in-Chief of several tabloids explained in his comment on social networks:

“It is that idiotic situation in which night shift editors sometimes find themselves: on the one hand you are pressed by deadlines, and on the other hand you are expected to have the latest possible information when the newspaper appears on the stands in the morning. Some take risks under such pressure, write about events that have not happened yet, but they suppose they will, and then something like this happens.”

Naturally, without questioning this agency’s news some media, like the website of Politika daily newspaper, published it. However, Beta News Agency made a rationale move by publishing a correction, explanation and an apology, thus teaching the “public service” a lesson on how to behave in case of a media error.

However, there is another bizarre detail in the episode with wrong information from Beta.

The website of Radio 021 from Novi Sad published Beta’s news, but (whether through the fault of their own or by publishing somebody else’s mistake) indicated FoNet News Agency as its source, despite they had nothing to do with this.

However, when it turned out that information is incorrect, one part of the public blamed FoNet for this, so this news agency had to deny that the news came from them and even threatened a lawsuit to those who attributed the news to them.

Hence, another one in a series of mistakes during yesterday’s long work day, for journalists that had a potential to harm somebody.

Politika-beba-spasena-helikopteromHowever, things got even worse.

The most serious journalistic offence was made by the tabloid Alo. On the website of this newspaper, just above an otherwise decent text that sheds light on the events preceding the decision to send the baby from Novi Pazar, an unidentified editor placed a headline-“All Died for Immature Mother”. Thus the blame for the loss of seven lives was shifted on the baby’s underage mother, whose inability to cope with a difficult personal situation she found herself in apparently led to the deterioration of the baby’s health condition, according to the claims of interlocutors in this text.

The editor gave the text both an incorrect andthe most malicious conceivable interpretation, at the same time publishing the full name of the unfortunate girl! This is now a work for the public attorney. Even though this monstrous headline was replaced with “Underage Mother Fed the Deceased Newborn with Cow Milk!” after reactions on social networks, the original version still remained recorded.

It need not be said that it did not cross their minds to hide the underage mother’s identity.

Things get even worse

However, from the perspective of protection of public interest in the media, things got even worse.

I know that a lot of people will wonder what that may be, but still the most important social role of the media is to control the authorities. As soon as it became clear what had happened, “ordinary” citizens started raising questions.

 Majority of the “ordinary” journalists in Serbia did their fair share of work during the last 48 hours. However, their superiors turned it into a big nothing, thus, once again, making the media guilty of everything and making journalists ashamed to state their profession.

Why was it decided to land the helicopter at the airport all the way in Belgrade, where at that moment they had poor weather conditions? Why was it not done in much closer Kragujevac, where they should have had the necessary conditions to treat the baby, and there was no fog?

Did the helicopter potentially crash because it ran out of fuel and how something like that could be allowed to happen?

To put it plainly, who is responsible?

Participation of the ministers of defense and health in the rescue mission led many, taught by their own bitter experiences, to suspect that the helicopter was sent to a more distant and more dangerous trip for the sake of PR (“to have the ministers get their photos taken”).

Truth be told, the reporters who came to the press conference of the Serbian Army raised questions with precisely such meaning, but the press conference was brief, and the Head of the General Staff defended himself by waiting for the results of the investigation and incompetency to answer some of the questions.

The general impression is that unlike reporters, their editors could hardly wait for the press conference to end, just like General Diković. It is the seeking of these very answers that is supposed to be the main preoccupation of the media, on both this and the days to follow.

But, as all who follow media in Serbia know, this will simply not be the case.

Majority of the “ordinary” journalists in Serbia did their fair share of work during the last 48 hours. However, their superiors turned it into a big nothing, thus, once again, making the media guilty of everything and making journalists ashamed to state their profession.

This time, to an even greater extent, since the death of the baby and six other people who attempted its rescue, truly is something we all experience extremely emotionally.

However, this is how “ordinary” journalists will have it, for as long as they shun to publicly point to the people in their own desks, who are actually responsible for such state.

Alo_Izgibose_svi_zbog_nezrele_majke_CenzolovkaAlo_Prepravljena_vest_Cenzolovka

 Photo: Helicopter Mi 17, Source: Airliners.net  

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