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Indian Journalist Slammed for Reporting Atop Flood Victim's Shoulders

An Indian television journalist has been fired after a news report showing him reporting on devastating floods in northern India while sitting on the shoulders of a presumed local flood victim went viral online.

Narayan Pargaien of news channel News Express was one of a number of media people who quickly reached the flooded areas in the state of Uttarakhand after heavy rains inundated the Sub-Himalayan regions of of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand on 17 June, 2013. The locals of the region were severely affected as floods and landslides swept away homes and people alike. Many villages were washed away entirely.

The death toll is estimated to have crossed 1,000 and is expected to rise beyond 5,000.

A significant number of those affected by the floods were also pilgrims and tourists as these areas have many places of religious importance, which attract a large number of pilgrims each year. Many are still stranded in the remote regions. The military and other special forces are dedicating many resources to the rescue effort.

But Pargien's news report was unlike that of his colleagues. In the video of his report, he can be seen reporting while sitting on the shoulders of a man who is presumed to be a victim of the floods. The video, posted on YouTube, soon went viral and created a huge buzz online as netizens slammed Pargaien for his actions.

A screenshot of Narayan Pargaien's report, in which he is seated on a local man's shoulders in an area devastated by floods. The report has since then gone viral on social media.

The news company eventually terminated Pargaien's employment for his “grave misconduct”.

On his part, Pargaien tried to offer context to the shoulder-ride story. He said that he was “forced“ by grateful locals to climb on top of one of their shoulders. In an interview to Arushi Kapoor, which was published on Newslaundry, Pargaien elaborated on his story. He stated:

We helped him [the victim] with some food and some money and he was grateful to us and wanted to show me some respect, as it was the first time someone of my level had visited his house. So while crossing the river he offered to help by carrying me on his shoulder, between which, I thought of reporting the flood. We offered Rs 50 as well for the help he gave me.

In the interview Pargain also accused the cameraman of intentionally including the victim in the frame to tarnish his reputation. He also complained that the footage of him perched on a local's shoulders was deleted from the news report but the clip was uploaded on YouTube purposefully, in order to malign him.

Flood waters in Uttarakhand washing away buildings in a village. Image by Jan Vikas Sansthan (Oxfam India partner). CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On her blog, The Objective Onlooker, blogger Arushi Kapoor took a satirical dig at the incident. She commented:

Recent Internet sensation, Narayan Pargaien, is a man of high stature. Well, at least that’s what he apparently likes to portray. The video of his report on the Uttarakhand flood is now viral on the Internet..If you haven’t seen it yet, the video is of reporter Narayan Pargaien, doing his job (which as much as I’d like to disagree, is ‘reporting’), atop the shoulder of a man, presumably a flood victim in Uttarakhand.

Anyway, so why do you think the man resorted to what the Internet has termed as ‘inhuman journalism’? Who knows? Maybe Mr. Pargaien was ahead of our time or a literary genius for all you know, metaphorically depicting the ‘burden on the shoulder’ of the man via journo… ahem… floods, yes floods, that took away everything from him. Poetic isn’t he? Or maybe it was just humour he (unintentionally I suppose?) wanted us all to see in a situation where that is the last thing one can offer. Well, whatever floats your boat Mr. Pargaien, or rather, whatever ensures you float.

On his blog, The Reading Room, Ramesh Prabhu was scathing in his reference to the incident. He commented:

The television journalist who towers head and shoulders above the… worst

Facebook and Twitter were also abuzz with comments and retweets of the video. Soon, the news grabbed global attention and News Express tried to distance itself from the mounting criticism and the journalist in question.

However, all his explanations only ended up fanning the fire of criticism rather than dousing it. As Arushi pointed out on her blog:

All said and done, we are still in a deep, dark, dingy place where the country’s media is concerned. There is still an enormous amount of growing up that the media needs to do. And when it comes to a tiny droplet of a mishap like this one, the Internet will make sure the ghost of your mistakes shadow you forever.

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