Saturday, January 13, 2007

stamped Impressions
Stick to facts, show restraint
Reeta Sharma

IT happens only in India, where people go ahead and comment on anything without any fear of repercussions. Whether it is Saddam’s hanging or Jessica’s murder or Abu Salem and Monica Bedi’s case or the Nithari killings, people comment without restraint. Our nation has yet to learn how not to hamper ongoing investigations or unwittingly tilt them in favour of the criminals.

The Press Council of India has laid down the ethics of journalism. But today a majority of the newspapers as well as news channels are flouting these guidelines. The Press Council undoubtedly is a toothless body and cannot take stringent action against anyone flouting these guidelines. But then the question is does one need to weild a stick to ensure ethical coverage of events? Should the media not exercise self-imposed restraint to earn the right of being the watchdog of society?`A0

Comments of anyone and everyone reach your doorstep, thanks to the media. The electronic media in particular pays little heed to what should be quoted and what should be avoided. Take, for example, Saddam’s hanging. Taking bytes from the general public only showed a paucity of ideas on the part of the producer of the programme. This was a case of intricate international politics besides Saddam’s own questionable role in it. Neither was Saddam innocent nor was the judgement fair and born out of a democratic set-up. Yet people were allowed to come on camera and display their lack of understanding of the complexities of Saddam’s case. Only experts on international affairs should have been asked to comment in this particular case.

Similarly in the case of Jessica’s murder, when the trial was being held, Manu Sharma’s father and many a friend were quoted. All friends made statements to the effect that "he was always a very sweet fellow", "very friendly", "affable and kind", "cool", etc. His father made the most obvious statement that his son was not guilty. Now, how relevant can such comments be for the investigation? `A0`A0`A0`A0`A0`A0

The media, of course, is a big help when it highlights the errors in judgements and forces cases to be reopened, like the reopening of Jessica’s case. But the media should make sure that no space or footage is wasted on statements that could lead to trial by it.

Media in the West largely does not transgress its role of being a dispassionate watchdog. The significant point to note is that they never violate the privacy of either the accused or his family members. You must have read about the recent case of a serial killer who killed five prostitutes in the UK. He has been arrested but there is no mention of his family or quotes from any friends or relations. The trial is on and the media is reporting about the court’s proceedings in a matter-of-fact way. `A0`A0`A0

But here, the trend is to chase the families of the accused. The latest to hog the space are Moninder Singh and his servant Satish, accused of killing 35 children and women. Where is the need to quote Moninder Singh’s son, who said, "My father can never do it and we are going to Delhi to hire advocates to defend him." His wife said, "The media is getting on our nerves but my husband cannot be involved in it."

Of what use are these statements. Why should we expect any immediate family member to say that their relation is guilty? Let the investigations prove whether they are guilty or not.`A0`A0`A0`A0`A0`A0`A0`A0`A0`A0`A0

The manner in which we report both in print and electronic media, we often end up making heroes of our criminals. Take the case of Abu Salem. We devoted so much space and footage to him that today he is being offered a ticket to fight election. It is also the role of a watchdog to take note that criminals are getting voted to power. Hence, we should make sure that no criminal is highlighted so much that he turns into a hero or heroine like Phoolan Devi. Even if her victimisation had led her to be a dacoit yet she did not deserve to be a leader in Parliament, as she was responsible for killings. But thanks to media’s undue coverage, she achieved what she as well as the nation did not deserve.`A0 `A0

Today, news is increasingly becoming a soap opera. Not only are we unnecessarily dragging families and friends into the news but we are also misusing our position in the media by being judgemental. Newspapers and the electronic media are using expressions like vehshi, darinda, and haivan for Moninder Singh and Satish when they are yet to be proved guilty. The manner in which the children and women were raped and killed can seriously disturb anybody yet the media should remain merely a watchdog and not intervene.