Friday, August 31, 2007

Media favours the famous

It was being debated as to which of the following crimes was more heinous:

A) A young man in the Indian state of Bihar who asked for food grain as part of promised flood relief from his proxy village chief, was allegedly beaten up and had acid poured into his eyes. According to doctors, the man, a landless farmer and father of two daughters, is most likely to lose his vision in both eyes.

B) A young man, also in Bihar, committed a petty crime and was pounced on by a crowd. The now infamous video clipping aired repeatedly on Indian news channels, shows the thief kicked and beaten up by a mob. When the police arrived on the scene, instead of stopping the brutalities, they chained him to a two-wheeler and dragged him across Bhagalpur town. At the time of writing, the offender was still in prison.

The Petty Crime Man's case, however, triggered, nothing less than shock across the country, that is traditionally used to viewing such scenes on a 70mm fictional format. And, so, action has been initiated - possibly even to avoid rioting in a town historically linked to communal violence. The guardians of human rights have swung into activism mode, the bureaucrats have demanded reports and we debate.

In the Acid Eyes Man's case, the offender remains free and denies any knowledge of the incident.

Shock and scare

Given the demographics, there are always crimes that surprise, shock and scare. Indian newspapers still report them. However, in today's India, it takes video footage that is high on the vile scale to set tongues wagging and feet running.

Crime seems to have hit the extremes. It gets noticed when the people are pretty and the crimes are ugly. Otherwise they're restricted to newspaper archives. And mostly forgotten. Sometimes even by the authorities.

In recent weeks the extensive words and images dedicated to celebrity arrests has been embarrassing. Mediapersons, who claim to strive for excellence in reporting the nation's matters, spent more time following the build-up to actor Sanjay Dutt's prison sentence as opposed to the floods that displaced millions of people.

Sad state

Many citizens wrote in to newspapers and ranted online, lamenting their sad state of turning to foreign channels for updates, as the Indian ones preferred to broadcast the Life of Sanjay Dutt in Prison.

And now the trend continues with another actor Salman Khan in prison. Polls on the pressures of celebritydom and the victimisation of stars are rampant. As jail sentences are glamorised and becoming a new PR tool, media men and women are lapping it up and more often than not leaving their viewers cheated.

The reality is that the majority of the Indian mass media has been "Bollywooded". Dislike it, and you're left branded (pun intended). Today, P. Sainath, one of India's journalists, who has persistently reported on rural India will be honoured with a Magsaysay Award in Manila. Agree or disagree with Sainath, but he makes for such compelling reading and can be credited as having made rural India accessible and understandable to us urban people.

Sainath's recognition is a reminder to the media of needing to remember the masses. There may be no punishment for the crime of forgetting them. But, rest assured, there are no rewards.

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