For the past few weeks, the Indian television’s audience awakes every morning in anticipation of another big break in the Sushant Singh Rajput case and the drug probe it led to. Ironically, the investigation itself has been nothing short of a drug for viewers, peddled to them through TV news channels and their anchors who have doggedly pursued this story without a break since Rajput died on June 14. Newsrooms have transformed into courtrooms that pass verdicts independent of legal judgment, while news debates have ceased to exist in a vacuum of shouting matches and singing competitions.
Not a single day has gone by that this story did not make headlines on news channels, either with sensational revelations or by shredding apart Rhea Chakraborty and now other actresses’ lives in pursuit of “justice for Sushant”. Anchors serve, audience relishes. In a moment of pause, let’s question – Has there been nothing else newsworthy apart from the SSR case since June? Does Bollywood really account for the most significant breaking news in the country right now? Is there nothing else newsworthy that deserves primetime media coverage? Have we forgotten about the rising coronavirus numbers, job loss, rapes of girls, dwindling economy, mental health, education – life outside the television?
Also Read: Coverage of Rhea Chakraborty Signals New Low for Indian Media
What About Other National Issues?
Today, September 25, Indian farmers have called for a Bharat Bandh in protest against the new farm bills, having collected from far and wide, especially from those places where the sound of anchors screaming about “drugs” and “Bollywood” doesn’t even reach. Because the plight of communities that depend on agriculture for income, close to 70 percent of our country’s population, is far removed from the SSR versus Bollywood debate. And so are the girls and women in the country who are still fearful of their safety, because even amid the pandemic, rapes haven’t curbed. In Uttar Pradesh, three minor girls were raped within a span of just one month in the Lakhimpur Kheri area. Domestic violence too has seen a sharp spike of 131 percent in the COVID-19 red-zones. What do these farmers and women care if Deepika Padukone has been named in the drug probe? Is this knowledge more important to them than life itself? And how is it even benefitting us, the TV-watching public, in any way?
The amount of attention we are paying this Bollywood story, if we did the same as people and media for education, women’s health and safety, we might press on actual change.
— Shaili Chopra SHE THE PEOPLE (@shailichopra) September 24, 2020
In an earlier interview with SheThePeople, journalist Rituparna Chatterjee had questioned the 24 by 7 coverage being given to SSR and the surrounding case. “If you think about it, is this a case that justifies 24 by 7 news coverage at the cost of everything else? There’s COVID, job loss, lives are at stake… TRPs should be driven by talking about issues that matter right now to a lot of people.”
Incidentally, the farmers’ protests are coinciding with hubbub at the NCB office, with top actresses like Rakul Preet Singh having been summoned for questioning. Any guesses on which of the two issues TV news channels are going to give bigger media coverage?
Also Read: 16-Year-Old Ends Life After Two Youths Enter Home With “Intention To Rape”: Report
How Credible Is Indian TV Journalism Right Now?
News about Bollywood right now reeks of hypocrisy. Certain anchors and the audience are complaining vehemently about how the film industry is a bad, dirty place full of drugs and wrongdoing. Republic TV has gone so far as to make a sweeping statement about the need for a #BollywoodCleanup. Calls have been made on social media to ‘boycott Bollywood’. And yet, news channels are breathlessly reporting on every single development in relation to Bollywood and its stars, in turn, feeding viewers more and more news on it, increasing the obsession around the industry altogether.
And the way this is being done is abhorrent. Times Now anchor Navika Kumar citing sources had gained access to some “drug chats” on WhatsApp which she had displayed in her studio for the national audience to see. Several people are questioning whether firstly, does revealing private WhatsApp chats count as ethical journalism? Secondly, does it count as credible journalism? On Kumar’s own show, political analyst Sumanth Raman told her that “WhatsApp chats are ‘zero’ evidence unless they are corroborated.” Isn’t it then an irresponsible move on the part of Kumar to question the role of these actresses in the case before the NCB reaches a conclusion?
WhatsApp chats are ‘zero’ evidence unless they are corroborated: @SumanthRaman, Political Analyst, tells Navika Kumar on @thenewshour. | #BTownDrugSummonsRow pic.twitter.com/aXrTymlKa5
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) September 24, 2020
Until there is some rock-solid proof in the drug case, wouldn’t anchors and journalists be better off giving space to more urgent issues at hand – such as the state of women’s health during the lockdown? Reports claim that close to 1.3 million women have lost access to abortions and contraceptives in these months. These are matters of life and death – don’t they warrant primetime 9 pm coverage? Or are they not sensational enough?
Also Read: Half Of Global Youth Population Subject To Depression Due To COVID-19, Women More Vulnerable: UN Study
Irresponsible Coverage Of Deepika Padukone
We, as the audience, have lapped up everything that TV news channels have handed to us hungrily, without question. And they have only been encouraging misogyny and voyeurism in the name of news. As soon as Deepika Padukone was summoned by the NCB in the drug case, news channels like India Today began flashing clips of the actor from her films where she had donned skimpy clothing or was seen drinking/smoking. This is what subtle sexist messaging looks like. Isn’t it a way of casting aspersions on her while telling the audience – “She deserves to be vilified, look at the kind of woman she is”?
— Abhinandan Sekhri (@AbhinandanSekhr) September 22, 2020
Also Read: AMU Journalism Student, Ghazala Ahmad, Denied News Anchor Job For Wearing Hijab
Then yesterday, India Today journalist Ashok Singhal claimed to be trailing Padukone in a car behind her to the Goa airport, from where the actor would leave for Mumbai in time for her NCB summons on Saturday. This kind of reporting received negative feedback from all other veterans from the field. And why shouldn’t it? Does hounding a woman till the airport count as journalism? What purpose is it serving? How will tailing an actor add anything to the case or give valuable information to the viewers?
Ex-NDTV journalist Nidhi Razdan called this senseless reporting out, writing:
This clip sums up the state of TV journalism today. The reporter here, Ashok Singhal, is senior to me. When I first started out as a political reporter over 20 years ago, he was a veteran on the field. This is what he’s doing now. https://t.co/ZIjCgSGhcl
— Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi) September 24, 2020
As Indian citizens and the television audience, we have a right to hold our journalists and news channels accountable. We must ask them what they are dishing out in the name of news, and why their top bosses and editors are not objecting to any of it. Has news become just a way to pander to TRPs and in the process, neglect other issues the country is currently grappling with? Since when did news channels become hubs of hate where media trials are held to burn people at the stake? Doesn’t making the voices of the voiceless people, on the rural sidelines without TVs or social media accounts, matter anymore? How will their plight and issues reach the mainstream if SSR and Bollywood news occupies the news schedule? And these questions are just the tip of the iceberg.
Views expressed are the author’s own.