Solicitor General misled SC by using fake news: WNCA

All India Working News Cameramen Association (WNCA), condemns Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta’s insult to Indian photo and video journalists documenting the migrant crisis

Tushar mehta

The All India Working News Cameramen Association (WNCA), which represents photo and video journalists across the country, has strongly condemned the words used by the Solicitor General of India, against the community of professional photojournalists. New reports had flagged that Tushar Mehta spoke against photo and video journalists when he was speaking at the Supreme Court’s hearing on the ongoing migrants’ crisis. Mehta had reportedly said that photojournalists were spreading negativity by showing the images of the pathetic condition of the migrants who had been attempting to get back to their native villages. Mehta had apparently compared photojournalists to ‘vultures’ and called them ‘prophets of doom’.

It is a well reported and known fact that as the national Covid 19 lockdown rendered them jobless, lakhs of migrants have been trying to escape hostile cities and  have been making their way back to their village homes, on foot, buses, trucks, trains even by cycling hundreds of kilometers. Photojournalist, journalists, and civil society volunteers have been documenting this massive human tragedy and exodus over the last two three months. Many have also helped scores of migrants along the way. However, it appears that the SG, perhaps at missed all of that and instead chose to quote from a fake whatsapp forward.

In the statement WNCA issued by SN Sinha, its president, and Sondeep Shankar, the general secretary of the association, stated that the photojournalists are recording the migrants’ hardships at a considerable personal risk. They are all documenting, and bearing witness to the worst humanitarian crisis in the country since the Partition and the photojournalists were doing their job by bringing the ‘cold and hard truth’ of the migrants’ situation. These images have laid bare the truth of the situation and in some cases the governments had taken notice and ordered relief measures.

However, SG Tushar Mehta chose to mention incorrect information about the iconic and shocking photograph of a starving Sudanese child and a vulture sitting closeby, taken by Kevin Carter during the 1993 famine in the country. Sinha and Shankar stated that “Tushar Mehta in his enthusiasm to defend the indefensible inaction of the government, misrepresented facts about the picture of Kevin Carter, the Sudanese girl, and the Vulture, implying that the photographer should have helped the girl instead of photographing it. As a matter of fact, Kevin, the iconic and Pulitzer winning photojournalist shooed away the vulture after capturing the human tragedy.”

“The Solicitor General misled the Apex Court by claiming and using fake news that the celebrated photojournalist committed suicide a few months later because of his guilt feeling of not helping the girl. The fact of the matter was that he committed suicide because of personal, financial problems and devastation brought by witnessing the human tragedies while covering the apartheid atrocities in South Africa and Sudanese famine,” stated the WNCA. “Unfortunately, the top law officer of the government chose to target the messenger instead of acting on the message in the august precincts of the Supreme Court. We demand that the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta should immediately withdraw his averment and apologise to the photojournalist community. We also urge upon the Press Council of India (PCI) to intervene in the case and urge the Supreme Court to strike down his statement to redeem the honour of the photo and video journalists in the country”, the statement said.

They added that  photo and video journalism to bear witness to the reality and stir conscious of the public to the cruelty of that reality and call the power to account, “Two pictures; a starving migrant worker eating a dog carcass, and the other of baby tugging at a cloth covering her dead mother, brought the horrors of migrant workers crisis to the notice of the world,” the statement said.

Legal portal Live Law had reported that on May 28, the Supreme Court heard the Suo Moto case regarding the plight of migrant labourers stranded in different parts of the country due to the lockdown. During the hearing, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta had argued that the Centre is doing a lot but there are “Prophets of Doom” who spread negativity. He also said that these “armchair intellectuals” do not recognize the nation’s effort.

He added, “All these people writing on social media, giving interviews cannot even acknowledge what is being done… State governments and ministers are working overnight. They don’t even have the patriotism to acknowledge that Human race is facing most difficult challenge”

“Centre is doing a lot to prevent #COVID19 but there are Prophets of Doom in our country who only spread negativity, negativity, negativity. These armchair intellectuals do not recognize the nation’s effort”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta then spoke about the image from Sudan, of the vulture and the child photographed by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Kevin Carter during the famine: “There was a photographer who went to Sudan… There was a panic-stricken child. A vulture was waiting for the child to die. He photographed it and the photo was published in NYT and the photographer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He committed suicide after 4 months. A journalist had asked him – what happened to the child? He said I don’t know, I had to return home. Then the reporter asked him – how many vultures were there? He said one.  The reporter said – no. There were two. One was holding the camera…”

However, as Alt news reported the incorrect story narrated by the Solicitor General was doing the rounds on WhatsApp among supporters of Prime Minister Modi at least a week before. 

The Alt News fact-check also recalled how different versions of the story of the starving child and the vulture have been circulating for years. Viral to the extent that a report was even debunked by Snopes in 2008. Kevin Carter, the South African photojournalist, had committed suicide a few months after being awarded the Pulitzer prize for the image. Alt News reports that the photograph first appeared in the New York Times on March 26, 1993. When flooded with queries about the fate of the child, in an editor’s note on March 30, 1993, New York Times clarified, “Many readers have asked about the fate of the girl. The photographer reports that she recovered enough to resume her trek after the vulture was chased away. It is not known whether she reached the center.”

Carter faced a lot of criticism from those who believed he did not help the child and shot a photograph instead. However, as Alt News found: in another article on the most iconic photos in the world, TIME magazine wrote, “As he took the child’s picture, a plump vulture landed nearby. Carter had reportedly been advised not to touch the victims because of disease, so instead of helping, he spent 20 minutes waiting in the hope that the stalking bird would open its wings. It did not. Carter scared the creature away and watched as the child continued toward the center. He then lit a cigarette, talked to God and wept.”

Therefore, as it seems, Carter chased away the scavenger to help the child. He could not lift the child because journalists were advised to not touch victims of famine because of disease. It is widely believed that his suicide was due to personal reasons including financial troubles. The Time magazine quoted from Carter’s suicide note: “…depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.” He committed suicide on July 27, 1994. The child in the photo had survived the famine but reportedly succumbed to malaria 14 years later.



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