May 31

We, The Media, The Holy Cow

If there was one thing that kept me enthralled while on my hospital bed amidst the pristine white decor of the hospital rooms was the animated discussion on the “IPL gate” and the continuous breaking dope on Lalit Modi and associates on news channels. Fortunately, i was barred from taking phone calls, except for the smses I received from common friends in the media wanting to know if there was some inside dope on Sunanda Pushkar or Praful Patels daughter. One of them messaged , “Just learnt that Sunanda Pushkar ran a shady spa for arabs Sheikhs in Dubai”. On asking the source of information, the friend messaged “journalism sources are sacrosanct baby;) ”

But sacrosanct. Was anything still sacrosanct. Had 24/7 news channels left anything for the “sacrosanct”. The IPL controversy gave each and every news channel, publication the right to sit in their cushy offices and pronounce judgements. And to prove our concocted stories right we produced ‘dishy’ pictures of all the women associated with this murky affair. Whether the IPL was a money making exercise, whether it was a saga of sleaze, black money, is not the intention behind my writing this nor my expertise. For me, what IPLGate has exposed is the downfall of Indian journalism. It has exposed the fact that there no longer exists any ethics and any respect for an individuals dignity and pride. As Sunanda Pushkar said in an interview to Shoma Chaudhary in Tehelka that calling her a beautician from Dubai was not derogatory, it was just not true. Neither were a lot of things that one saw on television but were made to sound like the gospel truth with each television show on IPL having eight window chats with their respective reporters who would proudly give in whatever dope they had from their highly placed sources (yes, and that included the watchmen at the BCCI headquarters) . And if you were not convinced with the reporters source, then you were given corroborative evidence in the form of the choiciest photographs of the women in question. So while a hindi news channel made graphic plates of South African model Gabriella Demetriades and photographs from her modelling portfolio ( the woman who Lalit Modi was allegedly friendly with) , all efforts were made to telecast and publish only those pictures of Sunanda Pushkar in which she wore low cut blouses. ( That reminded me of the wedding of a fellow scribe which I attended in which most of the journalists and esteemed ‘ columnists’ present tried to compete for the deepest cut) . And there were other women in question too. There was the attractive Poorna Patel, hospitality manager and the daughter of Praful Patel. I hear that she apparently arm twisted a cabin crew member who had ‘unofficially’ lodged a complaint with Air India. And were did I get to know this. An English news channel gave me the dope who got it from a reliable source. Surprising though, that the arm twisting episode came to light only on the day when a newspaper reported the same morning that she had used her influence to get an Air India flight chartered for the IPL. And need I mention the fact that the report too was embellished with very personal pictures of Poorna Patel , courtesy the generosity of some common friend or a social networking site.

No, it was not just our attitude to women, it was worse. It was a lack of accountability, it was a desire to be the first to put the most exclusive dope without bothering to check the facts. It was an unexplained urge to write the most salacious and sexist write up of a woman , a masala write up on whom would without doubt get maximum number of hits to the website.

Ever wondered why all the incriminating evidence and the dope from the media which had been out there for the last three years only fed now. Like Pradeep Magazine, veteran sports journalist rightly pointed out in a television debate , as to why was the media suddenly so surprised and reacting with disbelief over the affairs of the IPL when most of the sports journalists were pretty much well networked with the same sources from whom they were now getting their information . So why the fuss now about the alleged murky deals within the IPL . Why now has a number one English news channel taken it upon itself and say with unflinching authority that most of the matches in the IPL were fixed. I am sure nobody tweeted this bit so this must have been in the public domain if the reporter and the Channels God( who seems to be in the know of everything) were so confident of being true. Why then was this not investigated earlier?. The answer , the IPL had the making of the perfect masala story and all it required was spicing up of the dope.

And I am sure, similar thoughts and chain of events would have led to the very serious observation by the Honourable bench of Justices P Sathasivam and Swantanter Kumar of the Supreme court in the Jessica Lal case. The same case , like cases similar to it ,which was fought less in court and more in news studios. The anchor would give his verdict at the end of the show” Guilty”. The bench observed what should have been a stern reminder to the media but alas it wasnt and I would want to reproduce a couple of lines from the observation for those who are yet to read it” There is danger, of serious risk of prejudice if the media exercises an unrestricted and unregulated freedom such that it publishes photographs of the suspects or the accused before the identification parades are constituted or if the media publishes statements which out rightly hold the suspect or the accused guilty even before such an order has been passed by the Court. Despite the significance of the print and electronic media in the present day, it is not only desirable but least that is expected of the persons at the helm of affairs in the field, to ensure that trial by media does not hamper fair investigation by the investigating agency and more importantly does not prejudice the right of defence of the accused in any manner whatsoever. It will amount to travesty of justice if either of this causes impediments in the accepted judicious and fair investigation and trial. The freedom of speech protected under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution has to be carefully and cautiously used, so as to avoid interference in the administration of justice and leading to undesirable results in the matters sub judice before the Courts. A Bench of this Court clearly stated it would be a sad day for the court to employ the media for setting its own house in order and the media too would not relish the role of being the snoopers for the Court. Media should perform the acts of journalism and not as a special agency for the Court

But we arent listening yet. We are riding high on TRP’s and circulation figures. We ( including me) do not seem to be in the mood to be asking the basic questions that were asked to when we began with in the coffee making stage. I was reminded of my own folly when in a recent conversation with a journalist from a foreign magazine, I referred to a certain person as a ‘terrorist’ involved in the bomb blast whose trial was on. To which my dear friend reminded , much to my embarassment “you meant alleged terrorist”. Yes, I meant alleged terrorist. Yes, was I not to be blamed? . But, I am brushing up on my basics. Hope my brethren are listening.

Author: Rana Ayyub is a senior investigations and political affairs journalist with Tehelka. She has extensively reported on political developments in the country and written and investigated on issues related to terrorism and fundamentalism . Prior to Tehelka, Rana has also worked with various prominent news channels in the country.

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