Monday, March 21, 2011

Trial By Media

It was a chilly morning of February 22nd in the year 2006. However, the chill that went through the ToI reader’s body had almost nothing to do with the cold. It was the headline – the hard hitting – “No One Killed Jessica”. When no one killed Jessica, why was she not alive - because police coudn't catch 'No One' and the prosecution couldn't prosecute 'No One'. Time for some media action… And 5 years later – as we now relive the story of the power of the media through the much acclaimed, “No One Killed Jessica” (henceforth, NOKJ), I was left thinking – who will monitor the monitors of democracy?

No, I’m not against the verdict sentencing Manu Sharma to rigorous life imprisonment – perhaps the media did get it right this time and the heinous crime deserved punishment. But, what if the media did not? As Warren Buffett put it very succinctly, “The rear-view mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” Looking back, I might say the media did a right thing by adopting an activist’s role and “bringing the guilty to justice”. But can the same be said about every future campaign that a media house takes up? I’d hate to even think of the ‘proof’s that India TV can get if they set out to brand me as the incarnation of Satan… Given their propensity to videograph ‘news’, they just might succeed!!!

Jokes apart, the movie poses some serious concerns. It is good to have the Indian democracy, long plagued by corruption, monitored by the Fourth Estate. But then, where do we draw the line. What if the media itself is corrupt? It is a no-brainer that the television is not philanthropy – it is serious business – business aimed at making profits. And nothing corrupts like money. Can the evidence presented by media be considered accurate? What if the context has been deleted/edited? As Will Smith said so in the “Enemy of The State”, “We've also come to realise that we need to monitor the people who are monitoring them...” But how?

NOKJ did one thing smart – they got the ball rolling. Ram Jethmalani might not be right in his judgement (or in many cases he has taken in recent past), but he is not too wrong when he says that this case was a trial by the media – the same media that created the ‘Prince’ out of just another child from hundreds who keep falling in manholes (many not so lucky) everyday, the same media that hailed the billionth child, Astha, while well ignoring so many others born at the same time across so many other hospitals in India. No malice against the media – I’m just concerned about the “selective news” that media chooses to telecast over prime-time.

At the end, well NOKJ did a great job in its portrayal of the positive (hopefully) role played by media in the entire Jessica Lal Murder Case – but just like TZP or 3-Idiots, it can tend to mislead the gullible Indian population into believing everything that media does is picture perfect. Judiciary might be slow – even cumbersome – even corrupt – but does have some good brains (if not the best) to help it chart its own course.

Just remember, for every Jessica Lal Murder Case that media helps to solve, there is a Barkha Dutt (and others) reporting live.


@Barkha – Just in case you are reading this, I’ve full respect for you but just feel there might have been a few lapses in Mumbai – but as you said so, “Praise and criticism are twins that travel together”.

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