On the prowl

BY T S Sudhir| IN Media Practice | 08/10/2010
`Justice for Pratibha’ in Bangalore on Friday could well have become `Gowramma needs to be saved’.
TS SUDHIR on how television milked the sentencing of a cabbie by reducing the victim’s mother to tears in successive TV studios.
Reprinted from the TS Sudhir and Uma Sudhir blog
`Justice for Pratibha’ in Bangalore on Friday could well have become `Gowramma needs to be saved’. The hapless mother didn’t get a moment to herself to remember her daughter when cabbie Shivakumar was sentenced to life behind bars for kidnapping and killing techie Pratibha in December 2005. Pratibha’s mother Gowramma was literally `hijacked’ by a channel, even as it bragged about having played a part in ensuring justice was delivered.
One senior journalist from Bangalore posted this on his facebook page : “Television wars to the lowest levels. xxxxx xxx reporters hijack Pratibha’s mother just to get exclusive byte and shots. Just for a few GRPs more.”
Other channels also spoke to her subsequently and each time, Gowramma would break down inconsolably. Even as viewers watched a reality show-like flow of emotions on channels that claim to be the conscience keepers of the nation.
“I lost my loved one, my beautiful daughter, only child. You don’t understand my difficulties. There is no peace for me. My house is just like a jail. He at least has company in jail, I am alone with my tears. I hope my daughter’s soul gets a little peace,” said Gowramma, fighting a losing battle against her tears.
Actor Siddharth tweeted after seeing one TV channel : “A journo asks the mother of the raped & murdered Pratibha `would your daughter be proud of you for getting her justice in court?’ Animals! She went on to hold the woman tight as she broke down, held her tighter & didn’t let her move out of the camera’s view as she tried to leave.”
To me it seemed, the already-not-gleaming image of 24×7 national and regional media, had touched a new low. The channels are accused, and rightly so, of swooping down, vulture-like, every time an emotional story comes into the news radar, to capture the tears, the sobs and the shrieks on camera. The day won’t be far before kangaroo courts are set up to try the unruly media.
Like what has happened in the Aarushi case. Aarushi’s father petitioned the Supreme Court with a plea to order the media not to “sensationalise” the murder case and to stop them from allegedly making “scurrilous” insinuations on the character and motives of the Talwar family. The court was more than sympathetic, saying it was not against “gagging irresponsible press” and criticised the “sensationalist” media reports on the murder of the 14-year-old girl as lacking in “sensitivity, taste and decorum” and in complete violation of a court’s call for restraint two years ago.
When media take a break from milking TRPs from tears, the crass politicians take over. Like they did on a Telugu news channel last month. Four third-rung leaders of four political parties on the breakfast show. Two of them using the most colourful language for each other, even as the anchor and the other two politicians looked on.
Twenty minutes into the show, the two leaders who were not getting a chance to butt in and were only turning their heads from one guest to another, like in a tennis match, decided enough was enough. And removed their lapel mikes in a huff and walked out. Not that the anchor or the show producer decided to go into a break. Instead they cut to other camera and televised the live walk out.
By this time, the argumentative politician who was losing the argument and his shirt as well got up too, showered a few more abuses and marched out. The anchor continued to sit like a smiling Buddha, perhaps realising the viewers were not reaching out for the remote. He was right, I had not changed the channel.
The floor managers were shown convincing the politicians and getting them to the show so that the anchor could thank each one of them for helping put together a `standout’ breakfast show, where everyone quite literally had `decorum’ for breakfast.
A well-known political analyst confessed he had cut down on television appearances as a guest commentator from five in a week to two, because he was irked by almost every anchor in different channels asking him to say “something provocative” so that the discussion can become a bit steamy.
But there are exceptions as well. And some of them do provide some mirth.
Like on the day `Robot’ was released, a reporter on a channel exclaimed : `Rajinikanth’s `Robot’ directed by Shankar Mahadevan’ ! Now that would have surely left the singer `Breathless’ !!
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