In defence of the Sheena Bora murder coverage

  • Ayaz Memon
  • Updated: Aug 31, 2015 16:50 IST

There is something intriguing and infuriating about the constant carping by several people that the media has given extraordinary weightage to the Sheena Bora murder case to the exclusion of other stories.

“Is it the only thing that matters in the country?’’ asked a particularly indignant one I met at an event the other night, who soon lapsed into discussing the story threadbare himself.

Sanctimonious claptrap is what some people spout when a story like this breaks, mostly without conviction. But hypocrisy apart, the accusation is also patently untrue which compels me to close ranks with my fraternity.

The ‘media’ – in as much as it can be lumped together as one entity — in the same week as the Sheena Bora case, has also covered the Patidar uprising in Gujarat, the One Rank One Pension controversy being played out in Delhi, the Sensex tanking, among several other news events. Else how would anybody even know about them to draw a comparison?

How newsrooms function could perhaps make the issue clearer to both l ayperson and objector. What stories feature in a newspaper/news broadcast depends on several factors: the objectives of the media house, the audience it caters to, the sensibilities of the editor, the resources available (financial and human), the robustness of its newsgathering.

The editor takes his or her own call about how much importance to give each news event, which is why some newspapers (and channels) will ‘carpet bomb’ with one story while others may be more tempered. But the nature of news presentation is that there can never be parity.

Absurd as this sounds to actually put it in writing for it ought to be a self-evident truth, a newspaper can have only one front page. And only one headline can be announced first by a TV news anchor. Stories have to necessarily be prioritized.

That is the nature of the beast, and at the best of times, with the best intentions of editors there will f requently be disagreements: not just from readers/ viewers and media analysts, but often between journalists in the same newsroom too!

Which brings us to the question of why the Sheena Bora murder case has riveted the entire nation. This is not the first crime story we’ve come across, so why this extensive interest? Let me attempt to answer this obliquely.

Why is that when you read two Perry Mason books, you want to read them all even when you know they have similar plots and the same ending? Why did Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap run for over half a century at London’s West End? Why are crime thrillers among the top-selling books and TV series today anywhere in the world?

American writer Dan Chaon provides a clue with a perceptive observation. “People write fiction in their minds all the time,’’ he says. “Every time we read a ‘human interest’ news story, or a true crime tale, we find ourselves fascinated because we’re trying to understand why people behave the way they do, why they make the choices they do, how we become who we become.’’

From an existential point of view, this is part of the human condition.

Nothing intrigues and interests us more than the worst qualities in our own species, especially if they are well known for this makes the fall from sense into insanity stark.

The Sheena Bora murder story has all the elements to fulfill this vicarious need. A glitzy, Sobo power couple that is the toast of high society, money in millions of dollars, lies, deception, ambition, greed, sex, envy, anger, revenge -- and all of this climaxing in a diabolical, sinister murder.

Even replayed countless times in human history, it remains a blockbuster.

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