Shailesh Kapoor: Prime Time News or Murder Investigations?

28 Aug,2015

By Shailesh Kapoor


In the short history of news television in India, there would be very few weeks as bizarre as the one we are currently in. We are in the middle of a full-blown investigation of the Sheena Bora murder case, unfolding in near real-time across news channels. Everything else has to take a backseat then, including the disturbing state of affairs in Gujarat.


It’s understandable that a high profile murder case would generate audience interest, especially when it has elements that point to decadence of values, much like the Aarushi Talwar murder case. I’m all for running a story that the audience want to watch. But is debating a whodunit with half-a-dozen talking heads the best way of reporting a murder case? I’m not too convinced about that.


That Indrani Mukerjea, the principal accused here, has a broadcasting lineage has created that much extra interest in media offices. If you have spent at least three-four years in the media industry, chances are very high that you are within one degree of separation from everyone else in the industry. It’s easy for journalists to find colleagues and ex-colleagues who knew Indrani. But very few like Ravina Raj Kohli have chosen to go on record with their views.


So, we end up with the same generic talking heads that we see all the time when a non-political story gets prime-time coverage. But when you see Rahul Roy as one of them, you know it’s getting really desperate.


Last month, I read Avirook Sen’s book on the Aarushi murder case. Coming from a journalist who followed the case and the trial all the way through (for Mumbai Mirror), and continues to do so even now, the book was an eyeopener in many ways. I have spent a fair share of my primetime viewing on the Aarushi case, but when I read Sen’s book, I realised how little I knew about the case till then.


I then googled a few news channel videos from the day of the verdict, and even found Sen on-air in a couple of them. But he got only about half a minute to speak on about three occasions, and while you sensed in that short time that he was the one who knew the case better than everyone on the panel, including the anchor, you never got to know his point-of-view in that short period of time.


If viewers are interested in a story, investigative journalism of Sen’s quality would engage them a lot more than debates based on half knowledge and conjectures. But then, that requires some effort, doesn’t it? As Sen says in his book, there were several days in the Talwars trial when he was the only journalist at the Ghaziabad court.


Are news channels getting addicted to this easier way out, where debates from the comfort of the studios are the new form of journalism? It would seem so, going by what we see all the time.


One hopes that there are young journalists with fire in their belly wanting to change that perception!


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