When you have a panel full of journalists, it becomes difficult for anyone to complete a sentence without interruptions. This is exactly what transpired at the Trial by Media session on the final day of the Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur on Monday. Avirook Sen, Madhu Trehan and Shoma Chaudhury spoke about the phenomenon of trial by media with Rohit Gandhi valiantly attempting to moderate.
“There is a difference between trial by media made on facts” and one “made on speculations” and a further distinction of “judgment by the media” said Chaudhury. Aarushi Talwar’s murder case was a central talking point with Trehan pointing out that the media helps in creating a “certain image” to which the judiciary is not oblivious. Going a step further Chaudhury stated that the Talwars were in jail “because of the Indian media.”
Sen, whose extensive book Aarushi focuses on the case and the trial thereafter, said he believed his job as a journalist was to “question the dominant narrative”, which blamed the parents for Aarushi’s death. He said that while the media should play the prosecutor and the defense, the problem arises “when it plays the judge.”
Chaudhury pointed out that a similar phenomenon overtook activist Dr Binayak Sen, who was “declared a Maoist leader”, a label that prevented him from carrying out humanitarian work in Chhattisgarh. This situation, said Chaudhury, showed how “one of the warriors of democracy” had been “silenced by the media”.
Trehan stated that some stories go unnoticed as they did in the brutal rape case in the northeast which grabbed attention only after a group of women stripped in a public protest.
The sentiment that ran through the discussion was that the media needed to be more accountable, especially when lives and reputations are at stake. Comparing the growing dramatisation of news to Ekta Kapoor-inspired family dramas, Sen said “free speech is a privilege.”
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