Ranjona Banerji: More scrutiny by the media

22 Jul,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ever since the gangrape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012, the Indian media has put the uncomfortable and often unpalatable topic of rape on primetime and on the frontpage. There is no sign that the incidence of rape has reduced in India. In fact, we hear more gruesome stories every day. But the relentless presence of the media – even in areas where the media used to scarce and it was easy to get away with murder and rape – has meant that we know more and more about the society we live in.

 

The past few days have been full of horrific stories – a woman tortured and raped in UP, a six-year-old girl raped in a posh Bengaluru school by a teacher, a two-year-old girl raped by a 30-year-old man in Madhya Pradesh. In spite of all the other stories jostling for news space, none of these have been ignored.

 

The media has to be commended on this. There is a lot of cynicism in newsrooms, an understandable by-product of the exigencies of the job. Horrors are a constant and decisions have to be made almost every five minutes about what to hold and what to play up. Rape, ignored perhaps for too long, is now top of the agenda. Is there any cynicism involved in focusing on rape? If there is, the end product is more worthwhile than the intentions. The constant media spotlight on rape has exposed the misogyny and the callousness of our police forces and our politicians.

 

The media cannot find answers and cannot be expected to. But it can force society to take a closer look at itself and what it puts up with.

 

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Markandey Katju, former justice of the Supreme Court and still (?) chairman of the Press Council of India, has been out of the news for a very long time. After a few initial grandstanding announcements about how he was going to sort out India’s media, we have been treated to silence and no action. Suddenly, however, he has captured media space by attacking the judiciary and the former UPA government with an account published in The Times of India of how an additional judge in Tamil Nadu kept his job thanks to political pressure in spite of a damning Intelligence Bureau report.

 

Katju was questioned on his timing by several legal professionals and journalists and chose to pull out his ear piece and stalk off in high dudgeon when questioned by Nidhi Razdan of NDTV who is not aggressive or rude by any stretch of the imagination. So obviously a touchy point and touchy points make for good television.

 

The lesson for the media here is perhaps more exacting scrutiny on our judicial system. Concepts of respect and worship do not belong in a newsroom. If systems are crumbling around us, then the media needs to be more not less alert.

 

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Talking about crumbling, is that what is happening to the world around us? The international media is running hysterically between Ukraine-MH17, Israel-Gaza-Palestine and ISIS-Iraq. Biases are seen by all sides and all too often, the television that we see in India seems to be channels that subscribe to their government lines. War, conflict and foreign affairs seem to bring out the inner patriot in journalists all over the world.

 

At times like this, it’s good to reference the British war poets of the First World War who were soldiers, slammed the war in some brilliant poetry and died fighting. We have brains, sometimes we should use them.

 

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