13 Nov, 2018
A Case of Sensational Journalism? BBC Apologises for its Negative Portrayal of Kaziranga’s Anti-Poaching Strategy
BBC has issued an apology for its report about Kaziranga National Park’s anti-poaching strategy. The critics and Kaziranga’s Forest Officials always maintained that the report was an ill-reflection of Kaziranga National Park’s anti-poaching strategy. The report majorly highlighted the power and immunity granted to park rangers and how the killing of poachers was to some extent equivalent of ‘Extra Judicial Killing’.
In Case You Didn’t Know
Rhino to Assam is what Taj Mahal is to India and Assam has always faced an uphill battle against the poaching of Rhinos for their horns. The declining population of Rhinos in Kaziranga National Park pushed the authorities to take the drastic measure of issuing shoot at sight orders for any poacher who is spotted inside the park. The guards were granted immunity for any killing of poachers inside the park.
The Heart of The Matter
BBC in its documentary “Killing for Conservation” highlighted the issue of the government’s directive of issuing the order of shoot to kill poachers. BBC quoted many critics who compared the directive to that of Extra-Judicial killings. After its release, BBC has been facing an indefinite ban from shooting and recording in any of the National Parks and Reserves in India. The reason for that was stated that BBC deliberately tried to present the conservation efforts in a negative light, undermining the efforts of the Park’s rangers. However, recently BBC has apologized for its reporting about the anti-poaching strategies. The statement also stated that BBC never intended to undermine the conservation efforts and would like to be an active contributor to the conservation efforts worldwide.
What did The Report Say?
Released in February 2017, the 30 minutes long documentary talks about the current Rhino Population in India at that time. Highlighting the rapid decline of Rhino Population in India because of poaching for its horns, the Rhino population a decade ago was just a handful. However, the population rose to more 2500, two third of the total Rhino population all across the globe. The report went on to state the ill effects of the conservation effort. The major argument of the documentary was about the ethical legitimacy of the Shoot at Sight order and blanket immunity provided to guards for killing any alleged poacher inside the park. The report highlighted the point that most of the poachers that were killed were from the nearby areas, majorly local villagers hired by poachers. The actual poachers responsible behind the hunting of Rhinos never actually come in direct contact of the forest guards, rather they hire poor villagers to do the dirty job. The report also states the data to back up their argument. The deaths of poachers inside the park increased from 5 in 2013 to 22 in 2014.
In the year 2015, more alleged poachers were killed than Rhinos, the tally of rhino deaths were 17 whereas 23 people lost their lives. BBC also stated the story of a local villager by the name of Goanburah who was suffering from learning disabilities, who was shot by the forest guards after he went inside the park to search for his two cows. Forest Guards responded that Goanburah was first warned to surrender but when he didn’t the guards opened fire on him. However, Goanburah’s father said that his son could barely tie his shoe, how would he work as a poacher. There is also a case of 7 years old Akash Orang who was returning home along the main track through the village when the guards shouted at him, “Rhinoceros, Rhinoceros” and before Akash could understand anything he was shot at. Akash lost most of his calf muscle due to the gunshot wound. BBC argued that cases like these make up for an ill-effect of the current strategy of shooting immediately. BBC also went onto highlight the inconsistency of the conservation strategy for all other animals found in Kaziranga National Park.
Response of Kaziranga National Park about The Documentary
Officials of Kaziranga National Park unequivocally refuted to the accusation of rangers immediately shooting local villagers. The official side stated that rangers first issue a warning to surrender and first priority is to arrest the poachers and get as much information as they could. The rangers shoot only if they are shot at first or they deem an immediate danger to Rhinoceros residing in the Kaziranga National Park. The officials also stated that the shoot to kill strategy was only introduced after they had exhausted all other strategies and the rapidly declining Rhino population made a good argument for the directive. Assam was outraged over the declining the Rhino population and this pushed the officials to take such a bold step and it has shown to be a good deterrent for the poachers.
Response of Kaziranga National Park over BBC’s Apology
The officials are not at all pleased with the apology issued by the British broadcaster BBC, stating that BBC undermined and present them in a bad light in public forum and they can’t compensate for it by apologizing in private. BBC has publicly undermined and harmed their conservation efforts and a private apology for that won’t suffice. Officials also supported the ban over BBC, prohibiting them from shooting and recording in any of India’s National Park.
A report issued in The Assam Tribune stated that in a letter sent by BBC’s Natural History Unit’s head Dr Julian Hector to National Tiger Conservation Authority said he wishes to discuss all concerns in detail and they regret the airing of documentary which undermined the efforts of rangers and made their work harder. However, the officials responded by saying that the report misrepresented the immunity provided to forest staffs and the report in itself was a malicious and sensational portrayal of India’s conservation success story at Kaziranga.
What Lies Ahead?
Media is an essential part of how we perceive information and facts, hence, it’s a prerogative of media houses to be responsible and cautious in their unbiased reporting of events. However, also, media should be allowed to intervene and be a critique of any decision-making process. Hence, a mutual cooperation is expected between the media houses and authorities making decisions. I hope Forest officials and BBC would move past this and focus on the issue of animal conservation worldwide and in India.
Writer of this news story: Ashwini Kumar Singh