Who would you blame for the ongoing Media Trial?

02 Sep,2020

Published with the permission of ace cartoonist Satish Acharya


By Sanjeev Kotnala


I am not sure what is this media trial all about. As a Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) fan, his death was a shock to people like me. The only time I interacted with SSR, was during ‘Shudh Desi Romance’ promotion in 2013.


Honest to god, I don’t think SSR can commit suicide. I have no reason to say so, but that’s what I believe. And it is perfectly acceptable if you believe otherwise. We should leave it to the investigating agencies and the judiciary to get to the bottom of it.  That’s how it should be. And is never going to be.


We all want answers. We have been served different version. One version is by the Mumbai Police, and they have done everything to close the case. There is a version by the people seemingly involved and in know of things. And yet another  in the media trial on channels like Republic. 



Yes, everyone other than the culprits and associated influential stakeholders want the real truth. The chances that we will ever know the whole truth are getting weaker by the day. And what if it is not the truth that people want to hear. The truth the media trial had been amplifying and pushing. Anything less than that is not acceptable to many. Everything else  will be a blotched corrupt investigation.


There are polarised camps. People glorifying media trials, they regularly push the already strained limits in the name of follow-up investigative journalism. And another set that wants the law to follow its own course. Both camps have their reasons for the path they follow.


The cacophony of noises in the media trials on TV news channel is high. A different game seems to be on. And everyone is tuning-in to see what is new. For some inane reason, the expectancy of some big news and exposure is builds up every day. It is natural when Politics, Bollywood, Money and Drugs intersect.


In media trials, theories and scenarios are being created and destroyed on an everyday basis. So, the truth starts getting complicated. All theories supporting suicide seem hollow and of murder seems far-fetched. 



Is it still about Sushant Singh Rajput death by Murder or Suicide?

Is it not an over-amplified high decibel media trial?

Is it not only about the fight between ‘TAK’ ( as Republic calls Aaj Tak) versus Republic Bharat?

Is it about the emergence of new anchors and street journalism?

Is it about the survival of the constitutional rights of a person under the classic approach of innocent till proven guilty?

So, we have one lot of journalists from Republic conducting a media trial. Taking onto themselves the task of being the detectives, investigative agency and the jury. They seem to have a visible bias and firm conviction.

On the other side, India Today, NDTV and CNN-News18 seem to play the game safe for unknown reasons. To me, the interview of Rhea by Rajdeep Sardesai was too soft and coached to a large extent. Looked as if the interviewer was mouthing pre-agreed questions, Rhea with an opportunity to table her version. There is nothing wrong it.

I hope the channels have internalised the roles they wish to play. I hope they have made an open-eyed conscious decision on how far will they go in pursuing it. How low will they stoop? 



Frankly, I like and endorse Arnab when he says: “Bias is a part of investigative journalism, you have to believe in something and go after it”. And I equally dislike the armchair journalism of Rajdeep Sardesai. A lot more is expected of him. However, I am not sure if with the media trial, are they doing a service to the audience they represent?


Seems, the media is under pressure. It can no longer remain biased. It is forced to be polarised. Everything is up for scrutiny and to be tweaked and  coloured differently.



There are always more than two ways to see things. Come what people may say, I expected the girlfriend to be less chirpy in the interview, but it does not make her a murderer. She is listed in the FIR that does not make her guilty. She is one of the accused.


I have no right to comment on her behaviour. It’s her life, One cannot understand her internal inner dialogue. But we live in a society and if we expect the fellow member to work within the laws, norms and the unwritten rules and expectations.


The accused must be provided equal opportunity to be heard. So, when Republic is publicly shaming Rhea in a very biased media trial, it seems the other channels giving her an option, is a really a case of balancing the act. 



The irresponsible behaviours of multiple stakeholders have ensured that there may never be a clear verdict, a fool-proof-case, like the Aarushi murder or Suhaib Ilyasi case. The war will continue in the courts for long. In the end, someone will be proven right and wrong in the eye of justice. Then, it will not matter what opinion you have.


A media trial impacts many lives. Rhea case is no different.


So, if Rhea comes out as a victim with no direct involvement, who will bear the cost of destroying her life? Who will be responsible for it? Will, the person doing ‘Bhism Pratigya’ then take a willing exit from media?


No game should be one- sided like media trials. Everything cannot be under freedom of speech and journalistic immunity. 



The  voyeuristically inclined audience continues to watch the channels. The new numbers tell a different story. No doubt the channel even gives a  high pitched running commentary while Rhea travelled from the place of interrogation to her home. It was the silliest of the follow-up. Everyone knew nothing will happen. No answers will be given. Yet the audience watched it in a loop. Maybe the next round something different will happen.


And I expect the audience to continue to watch till there is some other mega episode to rule the national mindset. 



The channels cannot be faulted for the way they are covering the SSR episode. They do so because we continue to watch. The TRP numbers are clearly skewed towards the high-pitched pre=conceived clearly biased journalism catering to a majority of TV audience.


So what comes first, the coverage or the refusal from the audience to watch what is served.


Think about it.


Like every client gets the creative it deserves, every audience gets the content it deserves. It is time to check for polarity in our expectation and behaviour. To evaluate what role, we the audience are playing in these media trials and giving shape to the content we are served.


Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior business and marketing strategist and educator. He writes on MxMIndia every Wednesday. His views here are personal



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