Indian Media Berated for Insensitive Reporting of Nepal Quake

May 4, 2015 Updated: May 4, 2015

In the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake that claimed over 7,000 lives, nations from all over the world offered their assistance, and neighboring India was among the first to act.

When the quake—Nepal’s biggest in 80 years—struck on April 25, within four hours India had sent 285 first responder personnel, three army field hospitals, civilian doctors, and a C-130J military transport aircraft.

The swiftness and scale of the Indian response was praised both in Nepal and elsewhere, yet one group received the ire of the Nepalese people: the Indian media.

In recent times, sections of the Indian media have become infamous for sensationalizing the news, whether it’s Leslee Udwin’s controversial documentary on the 2012 Delhi gang rape, or India’s loss to Australia in the Cricket World Cup semifinals. And this time, the Nepal quake wasn’t spared.

Thousands of Nepalese netizens criticized India’s sensationalist news coverage.

On Sunday, the hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia was trending on Twitter.

Thousands of Nepalese netizens criticized the neighboring country’s sensationalist coverage, by both traditional and social media, of the magnitude-7.8 quake that struck the Himalayan nation on April 25.

One tweet said: “An indian news reporter to a mother who’s learnt her only son has been buried under their house. Q. How do you feel? #GoHomeIndianMedia.”

A writer of Nepali origin, Sunita Shakya, complained in a blog she wrote for CNN that the Indian media was turning the grave human tragedy into something of a soap opera.

Many in Nepal criticized the media for being insensitive, recounting how one woman was asked to retell the account of her daughter’s death over and over again on TV.

However, the outrage went deeper, with many tweeting that coverage of relief work was being used as a PR opportunity by the Indian government.

News, or Propaganda?

In the hours that followed the quake, according to India’s foreign ministry, the government deployed 13 military and 3 civilian aircraft, 8 helicopters, and nearly 85 tons of blankets, water, food, and medicines to Kathmandu, the nation’s capital and one of the worst-affected areas.

Indian customers read newspapers displaying front page headlines and photographs of the Nepal and India earthquake, at a roadside stall in Amritsar on April 26, 2015. Rescuers in Nepal are searching frantically for survivors of a huge quake on April 25, that killed nearly 2,000, digging through rubble in the devastated capital Kathmandu and airlifting victims of an avalanche at Everest base camp. AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian customers read newspapers with the front page headlines of the Nepal earthquake in Amritsar on April 26. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

Subsequently, a hashtag #ThankYouPM began to trend on Twitter in India, with locals expressing praise for their efforts to assist the Nepalese people.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded by giving credit to the entire country, tweeting, “If we want to thank anyone, it should be the 125 crore [1.25 billion] people of India who have made Nepal’s pain their own & extended all help.”

The Indian media saw yet another opportunity to take shots at an adversary, its neighbor Pakistan, and its relief efforts.

Trouble between the two nations is rooted in four past wars over the much-disputed border region of Kashmir.

It started when several papers picked up a report by British tabloid The Daily Mail, quoting a single source alleging that food aid packages to Nepal from Pakistan were found to contain beef.

In the Hindu religion, cows are sacred. The sentence for cow slaughter in Nepal, a Hindu-majority nation, was recently reduced from death to 12 years.

Several newspapers in India were quick to come up with scathing headlines like, “Outrage after Pakistan sends beef masala as relief material to quake-hit Nepal,” and “Pakistan sends food with beef masala to Nepal, blames Indian media for row.”

This prompted a representative for Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority to make a statement saying, “If beef masala was really sent to Nepal, it may have been out of negligence. But making it controversial is like the proverb ‘making a mountain out of a molehill.'”

The authority’s “if” was largely ignored on social media in India, with hundreds of users jumping on the bandwagon, hoping that it wasn’t a “deliberate” mistake, as one Indian netizen wrote.