Ranjona Banerji: So how long news channels take to prove me wrong in my defence of their coverage of the Sheena Bora murder case?

01 Sep,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


So how long did it take for news channels to prove me wrong in my defence of their coverage of the Sheena Bora murder case? One day? Two days? I still vigorously defend the decision to cover the murder – surely one of the most intriguing and compelling in recent times – but the manner of coverage? O my sweet lord!


I understand that many of us fancy ourselves as crime-solving detectives. And apparently a good number of us imagine ourselves to be psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists as well. Because it was not just the prime time debates but also the all-day broadcasts which have anchors, reporters, random guests and members of the general public all attributing motive as well as diagnosing the prime accused, Indrani Mukerjea.


Television, sadly, is the worst culprit here. Again, it suffers because it puts its news-gathering process on camera. In a print or web journal, the reader does not know how you got your information and while this means that reporters do not become world famous in their neighbourhoods and their mummy-daddy’s friends, it also means that they do not become notorious. There were times, watching the coverage, when you felt you were in a movie about how bad the paparazzi and an intrusive media can be. This reporter from Times Now chasing after Sheena Bora’s boyfriend and or step-brother or step-nephew Rahul Mukerjea at Mumbai airport is the best example of how not to practise journalism. Or, at any rate, not to share it on air for viewers to be impressed with how low you can sink.




Of course tabloid journalism exists and has a massive following. Let us not fool ourselves that the human race is only concerned with the philosophy of the Upanishads, Plato and Wittgenstein. Anyone who tells you that is a liar and not even a good one at that. The worst of human nature fascinates everyone. But speculation about why someone did what they did is not journalism. It’s drawing room conversation and water filer gossip. And it’s not good journalism, no matter how much it sells.


However, thanks to the media we have found out more about the Mukerjeas, Boras, Khannas, Dases, Rais and their friends than we perhaps know about our own families. We have seen the lure of media fame entice friends, relatives, colleagues into sharing their tiny titbits of information and conjecture and for all we know, downright lies, about the Boras and Mukerjeas. Senior and not-so-senior journalists who worked with the Peter and Indrani Mukerjea have told us what they think of them and shared their experiences. We have also heard from every single person whom Sanjeev Khanna ever had a drink with at the CC&FC in Calcutta.


I want to make it clear that there is no moral high ground here for any of us, especially the media which by its very nature trawls the garbage heaps of humankind. But there is a way of going about this which is not so downright foolish. Arnab Goswami’s nightly courts border on the hilarious, if only because they have become caricatures of themselves. NewsX has been rivalling Times Now with its judgmental hysterics. These so-called high society grande dames, with enough skeletons in their own closets to rattle a few medical college storerooms, sitting on judgment in TV studios is another farce. To me in fact it exposes journalism’s biggest downfall – to have insufficient background information on your sources or public faces. The psychiatrists and psychologists who are happy to come on TV to diagnose the accused, without ever having met them, is nothing but outright publicity-seeking. This includes former police officers, some of whom had terrible track records when in office. These high-powered members of the public showcase themselves as desperate publicity seekers – and not so different from those they seek to condemn.


Newspapers meanwhile have moved on and the Sheena Bora case no longer dominates the front pages. My one beef here (if I am still allowed to use that word) is with the Times of India’s Dehradun edition which did not think the good people of North India needed anything but cursory information about the horrifying assassination of Kannada scholar and writer MM Kalburgi. That is criminal stereotyping of your readership, especially when the news of his death is all over news channels.



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