Last night, I sat down with my in-laws and husband to watch a news bulletin, a rare occasion when we collectively sign up to bear torture at hands of Indian media, as they shout news at us. We were waiting for updates on waterlogging and flooding in our hometown, instead we ended up watching one hour of “Rhea Today” and “Rhea Now” to get the ten-second update on floods that we wanted. However, this unplanned viewing of news led us to a discussion that none of us was prepared for. What if Rhea was innocent? I don’t remember who asked it, but the question has stayed with me. I cannot stop thinking about it.
What if Rhea Chakraborty is innocent, and not guilty of any charges levied against her – abetment of suicide, money-laundering, drugging her boyfriend, black magic and whatnot. What if she is 100 percent innocent? What must be her mental state right now? What is her future? Will she ever be able to lead a normal life? Even if Rhea is indeed found guilty of even one of these crimes (by the court, and not by Indian media) does she deserve the amount of hatred, scrutiny, damnation that Indian media is subjecting her to?
The courts can decide whether Rhea Chakraborty had any role in Sushant Singh Rajput’s death or not, but it is we the viewers who need to pass the “guilty verdict” for Indian media. Our news channels deserve to be tried for making a mockery out of a person’s heartbreaking death, of turning a woman into a national vamp, of selectively broadcasting titbits from an investigation and then amplifying it with panel discussions, “exclusive” breakthroughs and recreation of events that tamper viewers’ understanding of the whole incident.
The one show that we watched last night, for instance, was a dramatisation of Rhea’s CBI probe. The news channel had hired actors to re-enact Rhea’s enquiry, mercifully, instead of relying on garish graphics. However, the show felt completely unnecessary and left us with so many questions. What was the source material of the news channel, for this dramatisation? How did they know what questions did CBI officers asked Rhea, in what sequence and what were her answers, word to word? Why did the channel feel it was necessary to air this dramatisation, instead of waiting for the CBI to complete its investigation and announce its findings formally?
To an average viewer, such programs are nothing but popcorn entertainment. There are no new films to watch, no sporting events happening, so might as well watch a skit on a news channel! But is a news channel a place where one is supposed to find entertainment? If entertainment is what journalism has been reduced to right now, why is everyone okay with that?
But did this degeneration happen overnight? Did we go as low as showing images of a dead body on prime time news in the blink of an eye? The warning signs have been around for a few years now, and we are all guilty of ignoring them. We shrugged our shoulders when Sridevi’s death lead to the indecent “maut ka bathtub” coverage. We kept watching when panellists shouted abusive words, made sensationalists claims, and newsreaders eagerly became the news. When a journalist walked into an ICU without wearing protective gear, shoving mic into the faces of doctors trying to help patients, in the name of covering deaths of children in UP, we pretended it didn’t happen.
And now here we are. I wouldn’t even say, we are at our lowest, because clearly I, like many others am incapable of even thinking, where our news channels are headed next. It feels like calling out news anchors on social media, switching off news channels is not even enough. Because there are millions of viewers who could care less about the ethics of journalism. For them, this is just entertainment. And unless the reporters armed with cameras and mics come banging at their cars and doors, shoving and pushing them or their loved ones, it is not their business. They are here to just watch everything burn. They watch in glee, as media lights its own funeral pyre. It is a pity that not many are crying for the state of Indian media today, and that says a lot.
The views expressed are the author’s own.
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