In 2017, news surfaced from the ever mysterious land of Jatinga in Assam that a documentary film maker has offered money to villagers to turn the area in to a site of mass suicide (read staged suicide) for birds.
Jatinga has long been famous for the mysterious phenomenon of birds “plunging” to their deaths. Post monsoon, mostly in the months of September and October and only on dark moonless nights, a number of species of birds (44 identified) become disoriented and take a plunge towards city lights, including torches. What else is interesting to note is the fact that this bizarre phenomenon happens only in a definite stretch of land measuring around 1500 by 200 metres. Again, this term “suicide” used here is a misnomer in itself. The phenomenon is highly mysterious though. Folk tales and pop culture tales have been woven around it and a number of theories are abound regarding the same. A theory suggests that high altitude, fast winds and fog causes these avian creatures to become disoriented. Another theory indicates “alterations” in the magnetic field underground. Again another theory states that the night flying birds on autumn migration were guided by moon and because of the darkness in absence of moon were misguided by any artificial lights burning in the desired direction probably enough to make the birds disoriented and drawn towards the light sources. Yet, another theory says that usually, the villagers resort to killing these birds because of some inherent superstition associating these birds with the malevolent spirit of the sky.
It has been reported that some people had killed few birds that had arrived in the village and disappeared by taking the advantage of the darkness despite of the awareness campaign by the authorities.
Phenomena as interesting yet heart wrenching are abound, but what overtakes the cited phenomenon in both the parameters, no matter how intangible, are reports that “journalists” on the quest of headline worthy news often resort to staging these. And this “phenomenon” is wrongly being stated as “suicide by birds”. It is at this moment that this metamorphoses from a “phenomenon” to a “crime”, an out right violation of animal rights.
It is pertinent to note that this is definitely not the only incident of violation of journalism ethics involving animals.
Environmental Journalists ought have an underlying knowledge of environmental ethics and should not guide their audiences through a labyrinth of confusing and often conflicting data. They have an ethical responsibility to be certain about their facts. Covering a vast subject like the environment will require a Journalist to grapple with extremely complicated technical material for a better conservation of the environment. With that being questioned here, this calls for a proper scrutiny.
Exploring the real reason behind this errant behavior, the outcome of the same, the approach and how more stringent policies can help the case which is being taken up would be a stepping stone in conservation.