Indian journalist who sat on shoulders of villager during flood: "It wasn't my idea"
Narayan Pargaein wants to tell you his side of the story: It was his cameraman's fault.
By now, many are familiar with the video showing Pargaein sitting on the shoulders of a villager who had lost his home in floods in Uttarakhand.
The video shows Pargaein, a journalist with News Express TV, explaining the devastation the floods have caused. As his cameraman pans back, viewers can see Pargaein atop a thin man wearing a white tank top.
His decision to use the forlorn villager as a story prop has been widely condemned.
But Pargaein, a journalist for 17 years who was reporting on a natural disaster for the first time, says the stunt wasn't his idea.
"I have no problem getting my feet wet. But I was offered help and he was quite insistent so I complied," Pargaein said in an interview with Arushi Kapoor, a journalist for NewsLaundry.com.
"I do agree I was wrong as well. That was the wrong thing to do, and the wrong time to have shot that sequence. But what my cameraman did was even more unacceptable. More so because I am receiving all the criticism for it and there isn’t even a trace of his name anywhere. I would say, releasing that video, with the intent of it being harmful to me, or mocking me, was wrong on his part. It could cost me my career."
Pargaein said the villager simply wouldn't take no for an answer when he offered to allow the journalist to perch on his shoulders.
"It wasn’t my idea to begin with, but there was this man who took me to his home and asked me to report the damage he had suffered. His house was in a miserable condition and he had lost a lot in the flood, and was left with very little food and water. We helped him 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 ($1) as well for the help he gave me.
"I have received a lot of flack, as you know. But the intention wasn’t what the media has portrayed it to be. People are talking about us being inhuman and wrong but we were actually helping some of the victims there."
Not everyone is buying the damage control.
"One question to the journalist," said a reader who called himself Guru in a post on the interview. "The water was not neck deep. What was the need to jump on the shoulders of a malnutrition-ed man? He could have given ($1) anyways (which is peanuts if he is claiming credit for it) refusing such propaganda. The cover-up story cooked up is even worse than the truth on camera."
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead