It is heartening to see this new year began with a positive note for the media.
The belated but justified interest in the unfortunate case of the late Ruchika Girotra is another instance of the media playing an activist role in highlighting the clout of the powerful in bending the system to suit their own devices and escaping unpunished from their alleged crimes.
Interestingly, in 2008 and late 2009, the media took up the case of a girl’s death and raised ethical, legal and social issues.
But there is one significant difference between the two cases.
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In 2008, the coverage of the Noida murder case (the murders of Arushi Talwar and the family servant still remain unresolved) highlighted missteps by the police and the ruthlessness of the media. Not only did this case dominate prime-time news, channels also created exclusive programmes around the murders. The range of stories and discussions included speculation, dramatization, even discussions on the ethical and judicial implications of media coverage on a case under trial.
This double murder case was given 3,464 minutes in one month (16 May to 16 June 2008) on air—almost 70 times more (on average) per month as compared with the agrarian crisis (an estimated 3,000 farmers dead in one year). This unprecedented coverage and trial by the media, especially by the television channels, crossed all lines of tolerance.
In contrast, the media’s recent interest in the death of Ruchika Girotra has positive implications.
The table shows the coverage received by this case during the 10 days of last year. All six national channels gave this case more than usual space and coverage—almost 8 times more than any news on politics and almost 30 times more than any news on agriculture related issues. Of course, this case got only half of the time and space on an average, per day, as compared with the Noida murder.
Graphics: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
While the 2008 Noida case (it is still very active on the media’s radar) highlighted the media’s intrusion into personal and legal space, this recent case has proved that the power of media is stronger than the threat of contempt of court.
In the Girotra case, the media has led the campaign for changes in ways complaints are filed, the creation of special courts for timely justice, even making molestation a non-bailable offence. This is a good example of how a healthy media can work as a catalyst for change and also make the other three key pillars of our democracy more accountable.
The case has validated the role of media as a public watchdog against the abuse of power. Hopefully, this will make our news channels more vigilant and sensitive to their critical role as the fourth pillar in our democracy.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies. Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at email@example.com