The manner in which both the electronic and print media handled the Aarushi Talwar case is a disgrace and the six television channels that played up the story on entirely wrong premises should each be fined a minimum of Rs 25 lakh for misleading the public and indulging in character assassination. Deccan Herald (July 14) said that the case ?is a wake-up call for investigating agencies and the media? considering that ?both the police and the media have acted in a cavalier manner in investigating and reporting?.
Pointing out that ?right from the start it was obvious that the police were botching up investigations? overlooking, tampering or destroying evidence, the paper said that the media'sreporting in the case has been ?as irresponsible as the police investigation?. The Herald said ?salacious and sensational reporting that a section of the media engaged in, is a cause for serious concerns? and that ?reporters anxious for sound bites passed off gossip and fabricated stories as facts and evidence?. And it added: ?Neither the police nor the media can escape responsibility for the events of the past two months.? The Indian Express (July 15) said that ?more than one, the imperative for learning lessons is for the media professionals, whose quest for sensationalism drove them to levels that border on absolute irresponsible reporting paying scant regard to ethical concerns?.
The paper blamed the Uttar Pradesh police for peddling scandalous stories without caring to ponder as to whether it was fair on their part. But while it is easy to blame the various private channels for the act, the paper said ?the print media, too, is to share some part of the blame for not having stuck to the conventional standards of journalism?. The Times of India (July 14) said that ?the need to reflect on the role of the media in this (Aarushi) specific case is pressing? and ?equally urgent is the need to make the police more accountable regarding the public statements? when a case is being investigated?.
The paper condemned ?the irresponsible and damaging statements? made by Inspector General Gurdarshan Singh whose comment that the dead girl was ?as characterless as her father? was an example of indulging in ?a distasteful form of character assassination?. Stating that ?the story was cast in the mould of a sensational crime-thriller?, the paper said that ?there are no excuses for turning grave issues into soap operas and abandoning journalistic ethics?.
The paper warned?and quite rightly?that ?if we in the media do not draw the lines for ourselves, someone else will?, adding: ?This case provides an opportunity for us in the media to re-examine the state of our ethics.? The Hindu (July 14) said that ?the Aarushi murder case is a disturbing example of how a bungling police and a sensation-hungry media can make a horrendous travesty of justice. The paper said that not only did the police merely bungle the case but ?they indulged in character assassination of the worst kind, sparing not even the murdered teenager?.
According to the paper, six leading news channels devoted almost 40 hours of programming out of a total of 93 hours during prime time between May 16 and June 7 to the twin-murders?. The paper asserted that ?nothing can justify the unthinking acceptance of the veracity of the police leaks and using them to build a wholly fanciful story?. The irresponsibility shown especially by the television channels is horrifying. Obviously those who control the TV channels believe that they are all-powerful and above the law and can do what they like. The moment anyone questions them, they cry aloud that their right to freedom of expression is being challenged. They have to be shown their place and punished adequately. It is not just in the matter of the Aarushi case that the television channels stand condemned. Programming in most channels is increasingly getting to be vulgar and unvarying. There is endless dancing, intimate scenes of kissing and physical lovemaking such as to make one feel like throwing up.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting either feels helpless or doesn'tcare. Or even worse, it is frightful of laying down the law lest it is charged with intimidation. Doordarshan may be conservative. But at least it exhibits a sense of value, for which praise be. In this connection it is worth quoting Shri Rajdeep Sardesai, CNN-IBN'seditor-in-Chief which cannot be proud of its record. During an IBN Live Chat he defended his channel but had the good sense to admit what went wrong.
To quote from some of the replies he gave to his questioners: ?I think the media was irresponsible in the Aarushi case, but the prime guilt must lie with the police… I think at times television news channels need to go beyond the hourly news wheel and step back a bit. We are titillating viewers with morsels of information, instead of really informing them?. The Indian media is going through a period of transition? The trend towards tabloidisation is growing?. We are becoming a voyeuristic society? I?ll concede that we are all metro-centric and that we haven'tquite been able to make rural India accessible to a wider audience?. My commitment must be to tell the story as honestly as possible. It'sa commitment we have often failed to respect? The problem is not so much consumerism. It is a general decline in ethical standards. Having said that, I do wish we could be freer of certain competitive pressures? I think the television media in general is facing a crisis of credibility?. The Aarushi case is one where both the print and the TV media have much to answer for?. If news is entertainment, then we live in dangerous times? We have failed to set an example to the next generation of journalists?.. I do believe that we could have handled the story with greater sensitivity?. There isn'tenough accountability in the media. We ask all other institutions to be accountable, but aren'table to observe the same rules ourselves?Yes, the media has plenty to be ashamed of?.? Shri Sardesai has been quoted somewhat in detail, but his confessional statements need to be placed on record.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting must take up this matter seriously and so should the Press Council. The TV media is getting out of hand and it is time for a board to be appointed that will regularly monitor the TV media to see that it follows established norms of decency. As the saying goes: Enough is enough. But meanwhile those who have crossed the Laxmanrekha on the Aarushi issue, including the Inspector General have to be severely punished. There can be no exception.