Ranjona Banerji: What’s left to discuss on primetime news TV on the Sheena Bora murder case except psychobabble?

04 Sep,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


The Sheena Bora murder case has exposed in no uncertain terms television’s obsession with primetime discussions. No matter what else is happening in the “nation that wants to know”, the human instinct is to focus on this one murder. And certainly, not just is it the sort of sleazy scandal that excites, there are also daily twists and turns to keep the issue alive.


However, what is there to discuss? The police are still investigating the case. Confessions are not enough to convict anyone. The charge-sheet has yet to be filed. The legal process is long and complicated. And yet, everyone and his mother and brother are ready to sit in judgment. Yes, the case is fascinating. But any discussion, such as it is, is nothing more than a gossip amongst friends. Since Siddhartha Das declared himself as the father of Sheena Bora and Mikhail Bora, he has been the latest exhibit on TV, his handkerchief-covered face notwithstanding. Out of curiosity, I travelled to the Bengali news channels to see how they dealt with this new Calcutta connection to the case. I was not disappointed. They were far more aggressive in their line of questioning than the English news channels and Das was not allowed to make any excuses for his negligence of his children and his sudden desire to claim them. The advent of Das only meant we were spared an endless parade of all the people who had ever had a drink with murder suspect number three, Sanjeev Khanna, at one or the other club in Calcutta.


The question however remained: what is there to discuss? The case is news but… The same moral questions, the same outrage or amazement or disgust that a mother could murder a child (although it is still an accusation so far), the same psycho-babble about modern times and social climbing, the same pat responses about why people behave the way they do. In fact, you might as well have been watching various combinations of Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer instead of news channels.


Comments in newspapers have been more interesting than the sameness of these nightly discussions and I must confess that I myself have succumbed to writing about it. Without I hope any psycho-babble. Of course, some channels have tried to move away from this case. The continuing agitation of our retired armed forces personnel for the implementation of the One Rank One Pension promise, the assassination of Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi, the 1965 war with Pakistan, the renaming of Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi, the fiddling with the Nehru museum so it moves beyond Nehru, Central ministers making presentations to the RSS, trouble in Manipur… some of these have been discussed, some have been reported.


But having ventured so far, perhaps it is also time to question why news channels have not delved into the jungle of questioning the achievements of this government quite the way newspapers have. Columnist after columnist, many of whom applauded Narendra Modi’s coronation as prime minister, appear to have changed their tune or made some adjustments along the way. Some like Pratap Bhanu Mehta have asked relevant, tough questions. Other like Sadanand Dhume wonder what’s happening. Tavleen Singh and Meghnad Desai continue to offer advice although no one seems to be listening to them…


Journalists who were once happy to be openly associated with the BJP are now shying away and trying for neutrality. Although in the popular discourse, all journalists are actually paid agents of the Congress party or Motilal Nehru’s grandfather, the reality, as everyone within the fraternity knows, is a bit different. Even the internet trolls, who reacted viciously to any slight adverse mention of Narendra Modi and the BJP appear to have lost their sting, as Shivam Vij analysed in a comment for newslaundry.com: http://www.newslaundry.com/2015/09/01/why-modi-bhakts-on-twitter-have-lost-their-sting/


The rest of the media business seems to be business as usual: Managements coming down hard on newsrooms and editors for mentioning industrialists and their wives without approval and consent and more start-ups trying to grab the internet space.


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