Gender-sensitive or TRP-oriented?

IN Law and Policy | 08/01/2013
TV channels had a field day attacking conservative comments on rape, women's dress and behaviour.
R JAGADEESWARA RAO thinks they went a bit overboard with an eye on ratings instead of sticking to reasoned debate.

Ever since the inhuman gangrape of a 23-year-old paramedical student by a gang of six in a Delhi bus on December 16, news coverage has by and large been women-centric. Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. It reached a crescendo on December 30-31 because of the death of the ‘braveheart’ after struggling for life for more than a fortnight. It was banner news for almost all newspapers and TV channels. The entire nation was outraged at the heinous crime and the coverage was necessary and understandable.

The main issue was rape: how and why it takes place, the mindset of men who commit such atrocious crimes, the punishment for such crimes. There are a number of suggestions, including chemical castration and death penalty for the perpetrators of the crime, as advocated by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and others as a deterrent. Now that the Verma Commission is seized of the issue, one should wait for its suggestions and watch what the government of the day does with such recommendations.

Now let us look into developments and comments  by some persons who matter and media reactions to them. Was the coverage by some TV channels the result of genuine concern over the issue or TRPs? Would the latter have reacted the same way if the Delhi incident had not taken place, or taken place elsewhere?

Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president Botsa Satyanarayana said, “Because we got freedom at midnight, that does not mean that we should roam in midnight.” The APCC chief’s observation was a matter of opinion but what was his intention? Evidently, the safety of women. When RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said that rapes  happen in urban areas and not in rural areas because of the influence of western culture in the former, he was only expressing his views, according to his information. There was no confusion, Congress spokesperson Renuka Choudhary felt. CPM’s Brinda Karat, who said that it only reflected RSS ideology, is right. But there was nothing outrageous or atrocious about these views.

President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijeet Mukherjee ‘s ‘dented and painted’ observation was stretched to its limit by English new channels CNN-IBN and Times Now. He was grilled, grilled and grilled. When Abhijeet Mukherjee said he had withdrawn his observation and his sister expressed unconditional apology on behalf of her brother, news anchor Arnab Goswami asked, “Can he get away by simply withdrawing the statement? Should the Congress suspend him for his comments?” Let us recall one incident. Times Now’s rival channel CNN-IBN repeatedly scrolled an apology to the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust for a story beamed on the channel. Will Goswami ask for the channel’s editor suspension?

Some time back, when the warden of an educational institution made an inmate drink urine because of a bed-wetting habit, Goswami sought the opinion of a child rights activist, asking her whether she was willing to resign in protest. The flabbergasted lady asked whether she was invited to participate in the debate just to resign. In a defamation case, Times Now was slapped a fine of Rs 100 crore, with the court asking it to deposit Rs 20 crore and furnish a bond for the remaining amount. As Editor-in-Chief of Times Now, should Goswami have resigned?

The Hindu faced a number of defamation cases filed by the government of Tamilnadu. N Ram, then Editor-in Chief, advocated deletion of the defamation clause. Incidentally, this was not accepted by one of his own brothers, also a director of Kasturi & Sons, the company which runs the newspaper. But when Indian Express reported proceedings of the board meeting, Ram filed a defamation case against Indian Express.

The point is: It is easy to preach but difficult to practise. And as Telugu adage Adige vaadiki cheppevadu lokuva proclaims, the questioner always has the upper hand vis-à-vis the person answering the question. Anchors have the privilege of asking questions. With his trademark ‘My question to you’, Arnab Goswamy stands head and shoulders above the rest as a questioner.

The comment of CPM leader Anisur Rahman about the ‘quantum of compensation for rape’ if Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee were a victim was, in fact, as Brinda Karat of the same party said, ‘atrocious and unacceptable’.

But why criticise leaders like BJP MLA Bhanwar Lal Singhal when he advocates a ban on skirts as school uniform when the intention was safety of girls ‘who should be kept away from the lustful gaze’. One may not agree with the BJP MLA, but one should not question his intentions. Similar is the case with the ‘home-before-sunset’ rule for women as a long as it is a safety measure.

I am a sexagenarian but when I saw the ‘bikini round’ during the live telecast of beauty contest, I was disturbed. Was something wrong with my mindset? Maybe. But  if a young man  is not similarly disturbed by such a lurid exhibition of beauty, something must be wrong with his mindset. A couple of days back, a senior judge in Andhra Pradesh said that he could not see some TV programmes with his wife by his side. Is something is wrong with his mindset? But such statements in the backdrop of the Delhi gangrape incident would probably amount to saying the right thing at the wrong time. And some TV channels are there to exploit such development to the hilt, if only to enhance their TRPs. 

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