Thursday, 2 April 2015

Looking back: A day in the life of a newspaper reporter

The bane of being a newspaper intern is to suffer through the mundane ritual of covering events and filing reports that seldom make it to the pages of a newspaper. It was one such routine event – a
review meeting organized by a handful of NGOs working for rehabilitation of tsunami victims in January 2007.

As is customary in such occasions, no journalist worth his or her salt decided to cover the event leaving this scribe, just three days old in the profession then, as the only ‘celebrity’ media person at the venue.
Tsunami victims from the Kasimedu area who had been rehabilitated at temporary shelters in Tsunami Nagar, Ernavur walked up to the podium and narrated the ordeal that their lives had become since the killer waves tided their lives.

One of them was Maria Selvam: a diminutive man with bright, big eyes, who organized women in Self Help Groups besides being actively involved in other forms of community service. He grabbed the mike and
screamed out to the world that at least half a dozen women from Tsunami Nagar sold their kidneys to anonymous benefactors for prices as low as Rs. 15,000/- every week. He lamented that if this went unchecked, there would not even be a single healthy adult female in their impoverished community.

Over the next few minutes, several women walked to the stage and bared their fleshy hips to expose fresh incisions and sutures that had barely healed. The shocked audience engaged in hushed up conversations with one another.  Soon, the murmurs got louder and louder and the crowd became so restless that even a three-day-old scribe could recognize that it was big news.

A few hours later, when we landed in Tsunami Nagar, Kalpana (all of eighteen and a mother of two) and her mother-in-law were engaged in a pitched argument on the narrow street outside her little shanty. The teen mother claimed that her husband stole Rs. 30,000 that she earned after selling her kidney and spent it on his mother. She even dished out files containing medical reports that vindicated the sordid tale of stolen kidneys and lost lives.

As we moved from one home to another, more and more files emerged, more hospital discharge sheets surfaced. And, a story unraveled.

Back in the office, the resident editor refused to believe in the shocking story brought back by an intern while the Chief of Bureau stood by every word of it. The RE needed more proof and a photojournalist was sent at around 9 pm to Tsunami Nagar to get photographs of the victims. No photo, no story.

The photographers arrived at 11 pm. The story was given final touches and reactions were sought from the concerned government officials and secretaries to the state government. The news went to print.

The following morning, Kalpana and the other women whose photographs had been published in DC, were in seen being interviewed in all the local TV channels. The evening papers carried the story verbatim and other publications were forced to follow it up.

Over the past decade, Deccan Chronicle has broken several investigative stories exposing corruption, health care scandals, land fraud and so much more. But, it takes a special story – such as the kidney racket expose of 2007 – to force a change in the system.

As a consequence of that first report published in DC on January 13, 2007 and so many other follow up stories that appeared in this publication and elsewhere, the state government formed an Organ
Transplantation Committee and set up a set of guidelines for donors and recipients which include video graphing of interviews of both parties involved, and a review by the committee before going for a transplant. Licenses of several hospitals were cancelled and at least a dozen touts landed in jail following the expose.

(a shorter version of this piece was published for the 10th anniversary of DC Chennai) 

No comments:

Post a Comment