Aarushi murder coverage: Lessons media should have learnt

May 14th, 2009 - 4:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Aarushi Talwar By Azera Rahman
New Delhi, May 14 (IANS) Reams of newsprint, hours of telecast…The media went into a tizzy after the murder of teenager Aarushi Talwar a year ago, not only blurring the line between fact and fiction but also showing a distinct upper class orientation while covering the story, say critics.

They point out that besides Aarushi, the family’s domestic help Hemraj was also found murdered a day later in the same house in suburban Noida near here, but nobody’s talking about him or his family. The cases remain unsolved and the media has left it at just that.

Sevanti Ninan, columnist and media critic, said the media’s approach in covering the case was with the intention to sell the story, which is why no one pursued it later and “just dropped it”.

“So much was written about the Aarushi case…they just went to town without knowing the truth. The fact was that the media lived off the story, just like the Nithari killings’ story. The story was selling. However, after sometime no one bothered to pursue it,” Ninan told IANS.

Aarushi, the daughter of dentist parents Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, was found murdered mysteriously in her home May 16 last year. The family’s domestic help, Hemraj, who was initially suspected for the murder, was found killed on their terrace a day later.

Now that it’s nearing a year to the double murders and stories on it have started appearing once again in both print as well as the electronic media, Ninan said a kind of “class distinction” was becoming visible in the media coverage.

“There were two murders committed and neither has been solved. But while everyone is talking and writing about Aarushi - I saw a TV programme last night where her parents Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were being interviewed - no one is thinking about the domestic help (Hemraj),” said Ninan.

“I have full sympathies with the father (Rajesh Talwar) and the family. He was harassed, but later he managed to get the media’s support. But one other (Hemraj) doesn’t seem to matter for the media,” she added.

The sensational double murders had held the nation in their grip, triggering a number of stories - sometimes a dangerous concoction of fact and fiction - in the media.

One popular hypothesis that was relayed almost 24×7 on news channels and also published in newspapers was that Rajesh Talwar allegedly killed his daughter in a fit of rage after finding her in an “objectionable, but not a compromising position” with Hemraj.

In other words, it was a rage killing or honour killing - seductive phrases that became buzzwords in leading news networks.

Akhila Sivadas who heads a media advocacy group said not many bothered to find out where the stories originated. “Virtually all TV news channels and dailies had gone to town to cater to people’s thirst for voyeurism and sensationalism.

“Between voyeurism, sensationalism and character assassination and a genuine public scrutiny, we have to draw a line,” Sivadas told IANS.

“The media has to decide at what stage it comes into a criminal trial. Public scrutiny is important, but the media can’t run a trial,” she added.

Rajesh Talwar was arrested and kept behind bars for 50 days in connection with the crimes, but was later let off because of lack of circumstantial evidence.

Nupur Talwar, Aarushi’s mother, while talking about the reportage said she hoped the incident was a “learning experience for the media”.

“There are good and bad people in every profession. I can understand at the time of incident we were not in a condition to talk to anyone and the media wanted information,. They were acting on leaks. I hope this incident has been a learning experience for the media,” Talwar told IANS.

After Rajesh Talwar was let off, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had arrested his medical assistant Krishna, who was accused of committing the murders with the help of Raj Kumar and Vijay Mandal, both domestic helps in the neighbourhood.

The three are out on bail at present and the agency is yet to file a chargesheet. But fact is, the media is still not talking about what they have gone through in the past year.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.p@ians.in)

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