Gossip masqueraded as people in the know and the police version of events became ‘facts’ right from the moment media entrepreneur Indrani Mukerjea was arrested in connection with the murder of her daughter Sheena Bora.
Bora, a 24-year-old girl, was probably murdered in 2012 but this case is some distance from going to court, and no one knows for certain who did it or how. Yet, theories about how she might have been strangled have been uninhibitedly passed off as news – if one media house reported it was Indrani herself who strangled her daughter, the other claimed in a “new twist” that the driver Shyam Rai “confessed” it was Indrani’s ex-husband Sanjeev Khanna who did it.
All we have now on record is nothing but what the police has been telling the media, or rather “reliable sources” have been leaking to reporters. Police claim that the driver Rai has “confessed” but do we know if the confessions were made in the presence of a magistrate, as is required by law?
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But then, news and analysis about Bora’s death itself has only been one part of the entire media coverage of murder mystery. Much of the coverage has been focused on detailing Indrani’s personal life and her past relationships, regardless of whether this is germane to the investigation, and bordering on character assassination. Wherever facts were short, innuendo has been effectively utilised.
Sheena’s relationships were also dug up, and an online news portal even reported that the dead girl might have been pregnant with the baby of someone “very, very close” to Indrani. Other reports said she and her step-brother Rahul Mukerjea were in fact planning to get married.
Every news channel and publication has an opinion on who might have murdered Bora and a theory to back what they think to be the motive.
The manner in which the media reportage of the Sheena Bora murder mystery is progressing is uncannily similar to coverage of the 2008 murder of teenager Aarushi Talwar, though the cases bear little resemblance.
Fourteen-year-old Aarushi and her family’s domestic help Hemraj were brutally murdered in her Noida home. Most reports in the media were based on the police version of events and reporters wrote salacious stories on the Talwars’ life based on leaks from “highly placed sources”.
Aarushi’s parents, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar – both of them dentists – were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in 2012. The double murders became one of India’s most closely followed criminal cases in recent times and critics say it was a case of “trial by the media”.
The recently released book ‘Aarushi’ by journalist Avirook Sen questions the way in which investigations were carried out by the CBI and the Noida police and how the media got carried away with police plants.
Large sections of the mainstream media (one television anchor, Sen writes, even went on air after dipping his hands in red) and police officers, speaking off the record, went on to narrate stories of the ‘loose’ Talwars and the public lapped it up hungrily. The voyeur in us didn’t even once stop before believing stories on and judging the character of a girl who was just 14 and tragically dead.
Sen, speaking at an event called Speak for Aarushi in Delhi on Thursday, said the Sheena Bora case was a kind of déjà vu for him, considering the pattern of media coverage.
“The media coverage pattern is same. We are just doing it again,” Sen told a packed hall, adding, “Reporters should ask for evidence rather than judging the character and the conduct of the accused.”
(The views expressed by the writer are personal.He tweets as @saha_abhi1990)