Spotlight turns on media overkill of Aarushi story

May 26th, 2008 - 5:17 pm ICT by admin  

By Manish Chand
New Delhi, May 26 (IANS) Fact and fiction have dangerously blurred in the sensational murder of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar with lurid speculation and slander feeding media frenzy, raising serious questions about professional ethics and media responsibilities. S. Nihal Singh, a veteran journalist and former editor of The Statesman, is “aghast” at the way the story has been covered by the media, which has brought “the profession into dispute”.

“It’s absolutely scandalous the way the story has been covered. They have thrown all professional norms to the wind. Most of the reportage has been done on the basis of police versions,” Nihal Singh told IANS.

Nihal Singh was scathing about the “media trial” based on circumstantial evidence and insinuations that bordered on the voyeuristic and the bizarre like the father having an extra-marital affair with a colleague and dark hints of wife swapping.

Nihal Singh, who sees the media coverage of the Aarushi story as part of the larger trend of news becoming entertainment in a market-driven media, said he plans to take this up with professional media bodies like the Editorial Guild.

“News has become entertainment. The 24X7 channels have made it worse,” he said.

One of the popular hypotheses that has been relayed almost 24×7 on news channels ad infinitum and dutifully published in newspapers is that Aarushi’s father Rajesh Talwar allegedly killed her in a fit of rage after finding her in “objectionable, but not a compromising position” with domestic help Hemraj.

In other words, it was a rage killing or honour killing - seductive phrases that became buzzwords in leading news networks - but not many have bothered to find out where this story originated from, said Akhila Sivadas, who heads a media advocacy group.

This was the version given by the police who did not think it necessary to do a thorough search of the house of the Talwars, located in Sector 25 of Noida, on the morning of May 16 after the murder of Aarushi in the night.

No effort was made by the police to photograph the site of the murder and no effort was made to fingerprint objects in the immediate vicinity that could have given some clues to the identity of the killer or the motive behind the murder.

There is no mention of any confessional statement given by Rajesh Talwar that would buttress this theory. Yet virtually all TV news channels and dailies have gone to town to cater to “people’s thirst for voyeurism and sensationalism”, Sivadas said.

“Between voyeurism, sensationalism and character assassination and a genuine public scrutiny, we have to draw a line,” said Sivadas, executive director of Centre for Advocacy and Research.

Although it was a case of “media overkill” with television reporters and OB vans parked almost round the clock near the residence of the Talwars, Sivadas, however, felt the media scrutiny was not wholly unwelcome but should be tempered with informed judgment and sensitivity.

“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 said.

“They were seizing on every remark and every observation by the police, family of the accused and the deceased and events as they were unfolding. This influences the course of the trial, which is not healthy,” she said. “How can you indulge in character assassination of a minor girl who is not even there to defend herself?”

“At the same time, they were criticising the shoddiness of the investigation. But character assassination is simply not permissible,” she said when asked about Inspector General of Police, Meerut Range, Gurdarshan Singh’s description at a press conference where he said the father was “as characterless as the daughter”.

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