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The viewer?s no fool

The electronic media?s choice of cases for its campaigns shows a fine nose for TRPs rather than for the news, writes Pawan Khera.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2007 23:46 IST

When the Delhi High Court convicted Manu Sharma and others for the murder of Jessica Lall, it was good news and renewed the belief that justice may be delayed but would not be denied. The bad news was that, perhaps, had it not been for citizens’ activism, justice may not have been done.

In the Nithari murders case in Noida, the good news is that the killers have been caught and the policemen, who had turned a blind eye to the crimes, have been suspended. In stark contrast — and this is the bad news — none among those triumphant after the Jessica Lall verdict has taken up the cause of these poor children and their families.

Through the Jessica campaign, the media had made the urban middle-class believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But to say that the judiciary passed the Jessica verdict under pressure of an aggressive media campaign is going a little too far.

The media seem to have only a one-way channel into the living rooms of the middle-class — a ‘subjective’ viewpoint. How else could they not hear the question that has been asked time and again — why was Navjot Singh Sidhu associated so closely with a TV channel for more than two years, when it was known that he was an accused in a criminal case? Where were all the candles when a Dalit woman was raped and brutally killed in Khairlanji? Instead, subjective news gave us Aishwarya Rai’s repeated visits to temples and prime time coverage of one rich child’s abduction.

News, one is told, is no longer objective. News that takes no sides is no news. But was it ‘subjective’ reporting that got the accused in Jessica Lall’s case convicted? Or was it the undeniably truthful reporting of events that moved the people? Was it not the objective reporting of the news that captured the emotions of people?

If objectivity is a shackle to be sacrificed, what does freedom of press mean? Is it the freedom to choose who and what the media want to be ‘subjective’ about? Or the freedom not to be subjective about anyone or any occurrence? Does one get to the truth by taking sides? And does prime time ‘popularity’ demand emotional tilt in the news?

The media should realise that their subjectivity is not hidden from the people. The audience knows that the truth lies somewhere between the bland facts of official hand-outs and the over-dramatised news. And the audience also wants to know what stops the media from digging up the truth diligently and consistently, without bias.

More than any campaign, what really helped the Jessica case was the exposé of Shayan Munshi by a channel, along with the investigative stories in the print media.

Now, more than ever, the media need to be objective. Not only must the media rise above all biases, it must rise above all business too. A ‘subjective’ media are enslaved by TRP ratings. The popularity of a campaign, or the subjects of a campaign, spin wonders for the financial health of a channel. That being so, one must ask what are the parameters on which cases are chosen for campaigns. For instance, does the brutal and heart-rending death of Priyanka Bhotmange in the interiors of Maharashtra merit a campaign? A campaign of the same scale and intensity as that for Jessica Lall, murdered in the capital, by the son of a powerful politician? Is Delhi really that far from Khairlanji or Nithari? Or will candles burn only for a chosen few?

It takes incisive reporting and passionate investigation to unearth the processes of exploitation. If only the media had pursued the Bhotmange case relentlessly and objectively, perhaps the sensibilities of the urban middle-class could have been evoked. The media’s power must not be waylaid by any group or influence. Not even by theatrics, glorified as popular sentiment.

To be apprehensive of objectivity will make the media vulnerable to any interest group equipped with blinding fury and blistering words. A vulnerable media will hold the viewers to ransom every day, unless our e-tigers get out of their sanctuaries to see the world as it is.

Pawan Khera is political secretary to the Chief Minister of Delhi

First Published: Jan 04, 2007 23:46 IST