About two years ago, BBC had aired a documentary showing the anti-poaching strategy in the world-famous Kaziranga National Park in very poor light. This had caused worldwide reactions, which in turn had projected a very bad image of the World Heritage Site that has been already internationally acclaimed as the Greatest Conservation Story of the Twentieth Century. The BBC’s documentary had also had its adverse impact on tourist inflow from abroad, while many conservationists from different parts of the world had begun crying hoarse over the anti-poaching strategy.
A section of self-styled patriots of the state and the country too took off from where the BBC documentary left, hitting out at the Park authorities as well as the state government of allegedly violating human rights in the name of conservation of wildlife. Those who criticized the Park authorities incidentally also included people who openly incite and support encroachment of Kaziranga and other National Parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests. A section of the media in the country as well as in the state too took the BBC version as the gospel truth and started hitting out at the authorities, without themselves trying to ever find out how the Park authorities have been toiling day in and day out to protect the one-horned rhinoceros and other wildlife in Kaziranga. A section of conservationists from Assam too considered the BBC story as the ultimate truth, without ever once trying to find out by going to the ground how much hard work has been put in to ensure that every inmate of the amazing National Park was secure and safe. One globally known organisation called Survival International even launched a worldwide campaign to boycott Kaziranga, an attempt that however flopped.
The Park authorities, the Government of Assam and the Union Government however reacted quite immediately and sharply, analysed the pros and cons of the BBC documentary, looked at its contents, and then declared that the documentary had “projected a negative, malicious and sensational portrayal of India’s conservation success story at the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve” and did “irreparable damage to the country’s reputation” as a whole. Taking a closer look, it appears that the BBC had a clear and definite hidden agenda behind making that documentary. The reality is that the West cannot accept the fact that a country like India can manage a National Park like Kaziranga so professionally and earn global reputation. Past history of BBC – and for that matter other organisations like Voice of America, Reuters, AP and AFP etc – shows that the Western media has been unhappy for long for India successfully overthrowing their strangulating mode of projecting or disseminating news and information about the developing countries. For decades the BBC and other Western media organisations have looked at and projected India and other developing countries as poverty-ridden, underdeveloped, famine-stricken, disease-infested, disaster-prone, and so on. For the Western media, India suits best when there is a story of poverty, of suffering, of disaster, strife, death, hunger and disease. Thus, for those like BBC, Kaziranga must be projected as a failure, not as a success story.
The BBC has ultimately accepted its mistake and has sent a letter of apology. The broadcaster has expressed regret for “any adverse impact” caused by its documentary. Dr Julian Hector, head of BBC’s Natural History unit, in a letter to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, has said he wished to discuss “all concerns” in detail. “We, in the Natural History Unit, have observed your successful efforts in tiger conservation and are gravely concerned that the BBC documentary has made that work harder,” he stated in the letter. Dr Hector also apologised for not approaching the NTCA earlier.
But then, sending an apology only through a letter to the authority – in this case National Tiger Conservation Authority, because it was the NTCA that had issued a ban on BBC for five years – is not enough. The damage the documentary had done to Kaziranga, and to all kinds of conservation efforts in India, cannot be undone by just sending a letter of apology. Millions of people across the globe who had watched that BBC documentary had already generated so many negative images about Kaziranga in their minds. Many have probably struck Kaziranga’s name from the list of World Heritage Sites that they want to visit. Thus, BBC should actually tender a public apology through their live programme, so that all those people who had watched its damaging documentary could also get to see the apology. This way, people across the globe will understand that BBC always does not mean the last word in journalism. This way, journalists in BBC as well as in other media organisations will also learn a lesson that they cannot run away scot-free by airing or writing a report or feature that contained one-sided view and comprised of damaging information which is not true.
People in Assam would remember an incident when a group of militants had planted a powerful bomb in a railway track which, on explosion, caused major damage to the Brahmaputra Mail near Kokrajhar in December 1996. People in Assam would also remember that while the BBC kept reporting that 300 people were killed in that incident, the actual death toll was not even 50. The BBC however never rectified its mistake and continued to report that 300 people had been killed. That is the kind of credibility of a Western media organisation like BBC has.