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Memo to TV3 and TVNZ and Stuff: grieving children’s tears are not for our public consumption

I have better things to do this morning than punching a keyboard with barely suppressed rage; I am not often full of righteous wrath – but here I am. The deaths of Tej, Tika, and Prem Kafle are obviously newsworthy. This fire in Waimate was a dreadful event, the devastation it has wrought deserves wide coverage. I get that. I also get why both major networks last night filmed the funeral held by the Nepalese family. Funerals are often public expressions of grief, and while some might find the presence of cameras intrusive, I understand that there can be public interest in death and the commemoration of it, although sometimes I do wonder if funeral footage occasionally slips into prurience.

The fact that the funeral was so soon, no doubt in accordance with custom, and that it was clearly an expression of the grief of the Nepalese community all made the funeral newsworthy. I have no problem with that. The family clearly welcomed the media, and consented to all the filming that took place.

What I have a huge problem with was the cameras being directed at the three orphaned daughters who articulated their grief and experience for us. The media collectively (because this footage is on TV3, TV 1, Stuff and the NZ Herald website too, I only hope that MTS does not follow suit) crossed a moral line in showing us Tulsi, Manisha and Mamata and giving us lingering closeups of their tears. Mamata is 11. Manisha is 17. Tulsi is 24. Just because she is an adult does not render this footage acceptable.

After sitting through yet another rendition of their grief during Newsworthy last night I tweeted them (somewhat snarkily I admit..) in response to one of their promo tweets:

Tonight we’re on at 11.00pm. We’ll have all the news you need plus an orangutan kissing a woman’s baby bump

Please explain why we need to see the Waimate fire survivors grieving for our light ent? Worth watching?

The Newsworthy twitter account responded to my querying their decision, by saying

hello, it’s not light ent; it’s news. We were invited by the family to film, and accepted. We don’t think it was gratuitous.

The fire was news, the funeral was news. The sisters huddled together in their bed taking comfort in one another less than 48 hours after losing their parents and their brother is not news. Perhaps the networks might argue that because Tulsi, Manisha and Mamata gave an account of what happened from their perspective, that account justified the closeups. There were other ways of incorporating their accounts without the greedy closeups. Consent does not take away the wrong that was done here to the younger girls at least, in particular to Mamata.

These networks have allowed themselves to be seduced by the notion that they were ‘invited’. By all means; that is a privilege, and not one to be lightly refused. But someone should have used their head when deciding which footage to screen and thought ‘hang on, is this fair to this family? Would we do this with other families? Should we really apply a different standard here simply because we have been invited?’

And in all honesty I wonder: would these networks have run such extraordinary footage of Pākehā children suffused with grief? I’ve been racking my memory for incidents where we have exposed Pākehā child victims of such tragedy to such intense coverage. The only thing I could think of where such raw grief has been exposed was in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake. A photo published by the Press of Kent and Lizzy Manning on the moment they lost their mother in the quake was heavily criticised for being not in the public interest. The editor of the paper Andrew Holden justified his decision on the basis of the local public interest in the quake catastrophe. There may be other examples.

The fact this family is Nepalese and culturally open and generous about their grief is not an excuse for us to court and then consume it. We should not be applying looser standards in protecting children from media glare just because they are Nepalese children.

Gratuitous? Of course it bloody was.

Ki a rātou te whānau pani ka nui te aroha. Ki ngā mate, haere, haere, haere ki ō koutou tūpuna.

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