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Monday, March 23, 2009

Jade Goody and Media Ethics

Star of reality television show Jade Goody died peacefully in her sleep last Sunday. Goody was made infamous in India by the media for her supposedly racial remarks against Indian actor Shilpa Shetty during the shooting of the British version of the reality show Celebrity Big Brother in 2007. She was detected with cervical cancer while she was taking part in the shooting of the Indian version of the show during August last year. Since then, media all over the world and especially in Britain have been subjecting her to close scrutiny and glare, at time even intruding in her personal life.The progress of her illness was chronicled in detail in the media.
It is appallingly sad to hear someone as young as twenty-seven dying of cancer. It was equally sad to observe the role media played during her painful and excruciating seven-month personal fight against cancer and her wretched attempt to get whatever was left of her life together. Goody was inching towards certain death as the British tabloids splashed their front pages with every minute details of her personal life. She was a regular item as the weather report. Media around the world more or less followed the pattern although news about her was not as frequent as in the British media. There was no second thought while writing about Goody. The terrific fact that someone is dying slowly being completely aware of it has completely failed to have any imprint on the media.
Death is certain; it will catch up with all of us one day. Death is also very personal. Still, we try to avoid it and possibly try to evade it. How many people have the courage to stare at death with calm, composed resilience? How difficult it is to accept death; when it is not someone else’s but one’s own? How does one prepare knowing that sooner than later she is going to die? Is it ethical to put her under public glare and scrutiny every day in the name of reporting and remind her of the impending death every moment till she dies? Does she not have the right to fight her own battle in peace without being subjected to public judgment for every single act? The media was not sure.
Goody and her family appeared to be more than willing to help media report her march towards death.She underwent surgery and chemotherapy in the public eye — filming part of the experience. She confessed she was doing it to raise money for her children. "People will say I'm doing this for money," she said. "And they're right, I am. But not to buy flash cars or big houses — it's for my sons' future if I'm not here. I don't want my kids to have the same miserable, drug-blighted, poverty-stricken childhood I did." But her mother Jackiey Budden told reporters Sunday: "Family and friends would like privacy at last."
The most common logic forwarded by British media in defense of their intruding into the life of Goody is that reporting the trauma and sufferings from cervical cancer will make thousands of other women aware of the danger posed by the disease and help them prevent possible death by timely and accurate diagnosis. This may be true to a limited extant. It is hard to understand how reporting in minute details on what Goody was planning for her funeral was going to make women aware of cervical cancer. The media was not acting as the Good Samaritan that it projected itself to be and wants us to believe. It was the urge to subscribe to the (in)human tendency of making most of other people’s suffering and thus increasing the circulation bottom-line that prompted media for behaving the way it did. Goody deserved a better deal from media.

Read what BBC has to say

The Strange life & death of Jade Goody

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