A Sensational Media’s Sensation Victims
Counterpunch, September 3-5
Lynched has become a part of the Pakistani lexicon. Two teenage boys in Sialkot were murdered in full public view. It has resulted in an outcry. This is important. However, the outcry is accompanied with an almost-lascivious recounting of details and an even more exhibitionistic display of indignation. What is surprising is that it is not unlike how the Taliban happily provided video memories of a girl being shot to death or the young Iranian woman Nida who was considered a martyr because she was there at a protest rally. The important thing here is the search for a cause. Calamity Janes and Johns are not interested in anything that does not smell of YouTube blood.
A couple of days after this incident, there were drone attacks in which 11 people were killed; there were suicide bombers. In the span of three days almost 40 people died. Barely a cheep has been heard. There is no scope to upload videos. Besides, this was in tribal territory. You don’t go there. What do you say?
Recently, the Supreme Court of India restrained the media from sensational or scandalous reporting of a rape and murder case. Aarushi, the teenager, had provided a good deal of fodder to the newspapers and TV channels. The judges were perturbed that the information the media had was either leaked by the investigating body, the CBI, or was made up of “imaginary reports”.
The parents of Aarushi are concerned because their reputation is being damaged. One might add here that being educated and fairly well-placed, they can get the court to understand their perspective. Ever since the case was highlighted, there were references to the girl; then the vaginal swabs were swapped and evidence tampered with. The media reported it. Was it wrong? Was it sensational?
The judges are suddenly getting ethical about sensationalism. Have they just discovered she was a 14-year-old girl? The media had already sensationalised the case before the supposed leaked information. What is worrying about it now and why?
Most important cases have been leaked out to the media. If there are to be guidelines on reporting, will it prevent opinions? It was Aarushi’s mother who was on the TV channels a day after her daughter was killed. Was she dragged into it?
The problem is when reportage turns into an agenda, especially in sub-judice cases. The fallibility of the probable judgement notwithstanding, it is not the business of the media to pronounce a verdict. Unfortunately, news channels need stories that are not about an occurrence. They rely increasingly on the ability to play messiah. The cult of the expose is flawed for it starts with a premise and tries to prove it.
It is titillating to watch blurred faces or little black highlighters over body parts to convey that the newspaper or channel are protecting the identity of the victims. These are victims created by the media, just as they are transformed into heroes for no reason other than having once been victims before those cameras.
Does anyone remember the case of Gudiya and how maulvis were brought into the studio to decide her fate? Does anyone recall how Aarushi’s friends were giving out certificates to her? Does anyone even know that many of the ordinary people are trained before they go ‘live’ with their spontaneity?
This brings us to the objections raised by the Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti (VJAS) against the film ‘Peepli [Live]’ for trivialising the issue of farmer suicides. The main character is asked to fake death to get compensation. The VJAS has said that widows who have been fighting for compensation will be denied it. I doubt it will be due to the film. Such denial is endemic to bureaucratic procedures. There have been cases where people use tricks to get compensation.
The more pertinent question is: does a film manage to not only offend but also prevent the rightful procedures from taking place? We need to see the portrayal of real issues, their validity, their motives and their outcome. What separates reality from its projection?
Marketing farmers’ suicide may seem like a despicable accusation, but when Indian actor-producer Aamir Khan took his promotional road show and gave interviews to the media, he rarely expressed any sympathy for the farmers. In fact, Omkarnath an untrained actor who was taken from nowhere to add the rustic touch to the character of Natha, the pivot of the satire, has been talking about which Bollywood heroine he wants to meet.
We have had movies in the past made on topical subjects; the New Wave cinema in India was built on such social concerns. There were satirical moments in some of these films where swipes were taken at the establishment, but the core remained the subject being dealt with.
There is also the question about what lends itself to satire. This is a sensitive issue and the idea of the planned death comes from the family and not the media. The TV channels only land up there as vultures, and in the age of quick communication predators are seen as proactive instigators of change. The parody is almost like mutual ribbing. Naturally, glamorous icons cannot afford to rubbish the media. A producer has every right to see that his movie gets a wide audience and is talked about, but is there any reason for him to be propped up on a pedestal as the man with a conscience?
It is the hawking genius that makes the characters into caricatures of upwardly-mobile villagers who find fame in the studios. If there is any satire, it is this.