Saturday, July 14, 2012

Televised assault, molestation

Television channels in Guwahati seem to be consciously hunting for scenes of crime, sex, and sleaze. TERESA REHMAN presents two cases to illustrate the media’s lack of sensitivity.
Picture this. A Guwahati street. Around 10 p.m. A 16-year-old girl comes out of a bar in an inebriated condition. As she stands on the road to look for a transportation to go home, she is pounced upon by a group of 20 to 25 men who happen to be “mere” passersby. They paw her for almost 30 minutes and tear off a part of her dress before a police team comes to her rescue.
As she sits in the police van, hands creep in from the window and try to paw her. What is shocking is how the attackers are giving triumphant smiles at the television cameras while holding the girl. Some are busy filming the scene on their mobile phones and sending MMS of the molested girl. It would not have been surprising if they had gang-raped her in the full glare of the camera, had the police not arrived on time. And this was on air in some of the satellite channels aired from Guwahati. One channel was visibly angry. It repeatedly showed the slow lingering footage (blurring the face of the girl) and asked the audience to identify the attackers. One channel shrieked: “It could happen to your sister as well. Come forward and identify these attackers. Your identity will be kept confidential. These brutal attackers deserve exemplary punishment.”  

Many have questioned the role of the media here. How could the television crew keep filming the molestation of the girl? Why did they not take steps to stop it in the first place? Of late, televised “moral policing” has become common on the satellite channels aired from Guwahati. The channels, of course, were quick to defend their stand by making it clear that it was only at their reporters’ phone call did the police arrive at the spot. The police did get cracking on the basis of the video footage and rounded up some youths. And the channels kept giving updates on the police investigation spiced with the footage shown again and again.

Another shocking incident which was televised 24x7 recently was when a woman, who is also an MLA of Assam, was beaten up by a mob in a hotel. The cause of the mob’s anger was her alleged “bigamy”. Legislator Rumi Nath and her second husband Jaky Jakir were rounded by a mob and beaten up. Apparently, it was not a spontaneous reaction as the mob also had television cameras with it. So, what happened was a live exciting show for the satellite channels aired from Guwahati who repeatedly showed the clippings. Television cameras panned on the legislator repeatedly being kicked and thrown on the floor. They also showed both of them pleading to the crowd in front of them. This was followed by a never-ending series of debates and discussions.  

Nath, representing Borkhola Legislative Assembly Constituency in Barak Valley, stormed her way to media glare by announcing her marriage to a Muslim youth, Jakir, without divorcing her first husband. Her first husband Rakesh Singh, with whom she has a two-year-old daughter, had filed an FIR that his wife was missing. Earlier, there were “scoops” by some of the television channels who tried to seek out the Kazi who solemnised the marriage, and then talking to legal as well as religious experts as to whether or not it was a valid marriage.  

Meanwhile, Nath kept on insisting that these were fabricated stories and denied her alleged second marriage. Then finally one day, Nath who won the Borkhola Assembly seat for the second time in the 2011 elections, declared on television that she had, indeed, entered into a second marriage. Her opponents blamed her for hogging the limelight by calling press meets on every small pretext and the media were ready to lap it up.

With the 24x7 television channels focusing on hyper-local news, the television cameras are now seen hunting for sleaze, sex, and crime in order to enhance their TRPs. In what could be called a disturbing trend, the common people are quick to call television channels instead of the police when they catch a thief or a burglar. When the alleged offenders try to hide their faces from the glare of the TV cameras, the people around them force them to expose their faces. And many of them come dressed in their best attire to be caught rounding up and beating the offenders and donning the role of the “moral police”.

Is there something seriously wrong with the social values here? Are we not misusing the power of the media? Do we need regulations on what should be and what should not be shown on television, especially at the local level? Have we lost the difference between privacy and secrecy? Aren’t we violating the basic rights of the alleged offenders and victims? These are questions every right-thinking person must ponder upon and debate on. Otherwise, the media could turn out to be one of our greatest banes. (thehoot)

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