Media should reflect public sentiments. However, if it
plays along every expression of public sentiment, public
interest will not be served. In the long run, such acts
may destroy credibility of the media.
The tiger scare in Wayanad is a case in point. The scare about tiger killing cattle was preceded by reports about increase in population of tigers in Wayanad sanctuary. There was also talk about the Sanctuary being declared a tiger reserve, resulting in stricter enforcement of the rules. Then, a tiger killed some cattle.
Some vested interests made use of the situation and spread rumors. The media reports only gave currency to some of the rumors. One report (in Malayalam) gave a graphic description of an ambush of tigers hunting cattle taken out for grazing in the fringes of forests. Another talked of local scare about a tiger killing a deer in the forests.
What the reporters should have done is some fact checking and assessment of the stories. First of all, tigers don’t hunt in streaks. So, the story is either concocted or exaggerated. It is also notable that the cattle were admittedly on the fringes of forests. In the second case, it was all about tiger killing a deer within the forests. Though it is a usual and natural occurrence, the reporter presented the story as if a tiger killing the deer inside the forests was a matter of great concern.
By filing such reports, journalists were playing into the hands of vested interests— who included encroachers and resort owners and people grazing cattle inside the forests besides politicians who wanted to take advantage of the situation. Many chose to report the complex issue in a superficial manner causing much damage to the cause of conservation. The unprofessional handling of the situation by the Forest Department added to the problem.
It appears that a single tiger had caused the whole problem. It might have moved on to the fringes of the forests because of ill health, possibly compounded by increased population of tigers. The Forest Department captured the tiger and released it into the forest. According to media reports that looked into the matter in depth, it was the same tiger which was later shot dead by the Department officials.
The Department conducted postmortem on the dead tiger and the tiger reportedly had lost canine teeth and had difficulty in breathing, affecting its capability to hunt. Such a tiger should never have been released into the forest after the first capture. A misjudgment in this regard from the part of the forest officials and public pressure eventually led to the killing of the tiger.
The killing of the tiger caused a backlash, with environmental activists protesting. A section of the media played this also up. The net effect was the neutralising of some of the mileage gained by vested interests. However, the fact ignored by all was that the tiger could not have survived in the forests in any case, if devoid of opportunity to hunt domesticated animals. So, its death need not have been treated as important beyond a point justified by its immediate new value.