A Violent, Vulturous Prime Time News

Between the rape, brutalisation and murder of young women at Hathras and Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh, a state with a high index of crime against women, the reenactment of caste hierarchy and the violence of domination without any fear of impunity, and the release on bail of Rhea Chakraborty along with the final AIIMS panel’s verdict that actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death was due to suicide and not murder, a familiar saga seems to have opened up yet again in the Indian media. As is the post-truth, new normal scenario in contemporary India, it is yet again full of bile, toxicity and bad taste, and, day after day, reeks of bad faith in terms of media ethics, basic decency and objectivity.

Like the UP government and its formidable machinery which tried to fudge the truth or turn it ambiguous, and in turn found itself exposed in the face of ground reporting, exposing them on television screens and newspaper reports, a section of the TV channels, predictably and inevitably, chose to ignore the national outrage which followed the ‘forced cremation’ in the dead of the night of the young Dalit girl of Hathras, after her body was reportedly ‘hijacked’ from the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi, amidst protests by AAP leaders. All the evidence about the gang-rape and murder have been out in the open, including the reported testimony of the girl when she regained consciousness amidst allegations that her medical treatment too was shoddy and badly botched up. There is a concerted call that the Supreme Court should monitor the investigations.

A section of the media first decided to ignore the issue, concentrating on a death in Bollywood, which has dominated the hysterical and inflammatory ‘media trial’ without substance or evidence of a young female actor, and consequently, other actresses, and the larger film industry in Mumbai. A kind of daily public spectacle of abjectly crude and crass cacophony was enacted like an obscene circus in some of the media channels.

When protests rocked the nation, barricades were being erected, and opposition leaders were braving police lathis, these anchors quickly changed their stand. Indeed, some gutsy ground reporters, especially persistent and brave women journalists, in both print and TV, did an extraordinary job in exposing the gross injustice in Hathras, with graphic pictures of the surreptitious cremation. Barricades were finally lifted, the ‘lockdown’ of the Dalit family was removed, and the media, politicians and civil society members were allowed entry. Surely, this shift occurred because some journalists and editors did not lose their sense of professional ethics and duty, and pushed the idea of freedom of expression and justice to its limit, in the face of a hostile regime.

However, the so-called ‘Godi Media’ remained relentless. Yet, again, predictably, they switched gear to follow the ‘international conspiracy’ line, and that some vested interests were trying to trigger caste violence in UP. A PR agency reportedly played an important role to disseminate this fake news. All their cacophonic hysteria having led to nothing  in terms of the actor’s suicide and the vicious hounding of Rhea Chakraborty and other actresses, some of them started floating the bogus theory of ‘no rape’ in Hathras. The abysmal depths of their journalistic fall, witnessed ritualistically like a morbid C-grade movie, indeed, calls for a larger debate on media ethics and the rules of broadcast journalism.

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Meanwhile, the Mumbai Police on October 8 claimed to have busted a ‘TRP scam’, alleging that Television Rating Points (TRPs) were being manipulated by certain channels, namely Republic TV and two Marathi channels. The owners of the two Marathi channels have been arrested. The police have reportedly said that “whoever in Republic TV” was involved in the manipulations will be interrogated. Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami has denied the allegations and said that it would file a criminal defamation case against Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh unless he apologises.

The police alleged that certain ‘sample homes’, where barometers to monitor ratings were installed, had been ‘paid’ to watch specific TV channels. Apparently, a paltry sum of Rs 400/500 were paid per house; ironically, many of them never watched English channels. Consumers were reportedly told to keep their TV sets on even while they were outside their homes, or while they were simply not watching television. If proved, this is a major scam, because advertising revenue is determined by TRP ratings also. “If you see the data, poor uneducated households that don’t speak English were watching only English TV channels,” Police Commissioner Singh said in a press conference in Mumbai.

In another case of dark irony, veteran television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai came live on India Today TV and attacked Arnab Goswami, his former colleague in NDTV. Said Sardesai on TV, while moderating a discussion as an anchor, “Targeted me during my Rhea Chakraborty interview, and more, but today I’m going to say – Arnab Goswami, you run a banana republic channel. You run a channel that has deliberately created a media trial for whatever your ends are. But do not bring journalism down to the level that you have. This is the only advice I will give you. This is not what journalism is about…You want me to name and shame, I will name and shame today, because I have kept quiet for two-and-a-half months and listened to the c**p that you have put out on air with only one purpose that you had — to try and get rating points. There’s something more important than TRPs, my friend; it’s called television respect points.”

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Many journalists believe that while the media in India remains free as enshrined in the Indian Constitution and Article 19, it has come under very difficult and hard times of late, especially since 2014. Rahul Gandhi pointed to this uncanny reality recently, saying that the Press in contemporary times, along with other important democratic institutions, has not really been free. This is particularly true in certain sections of mainline TV which have openly toed the establishment line, to the extent of literally operating as the mouth-pieces of the ruling regime in Delhi. No critical commentary is allowed, not even independent, balanced, restrained and objective reporting from the ground. Views and opinion are driven by crass melodrama and unrefined shouting matches on prime time screens with not an iota of a rational or decent exchange of ideas, or a mutual discourse driven by wisdom, patience and analysis.

In terms of ground reports, including on coronavirus or thousands of migrant workers walking on the highways, or, the sinking economy, mass unemployment, farmers’ unrest, even important international issues including the American elections, the coverage or critique is almost zero in a media which has combined the lowest denominations of doctored and fake news, and crass sensationalism, to increase their TRP ratings.

Theoretically, no ideal editor would call this form of mass communication as journalism. This is biased and vicious propaganda, nothing else. Indeed, if anything, this is a reflection of an endless and relentless fall which goes round and round in a vicious and perverse circle and there seems no way to stop this grotesque public spectacle. Media associations and watch-dog institutions, seem to have lost their moorings. There is simply no self-criticism or self-regulation, no respect for established protocols, norms and conventions, or professional accountability and ethics. Undoubtedly, a deeply disturbing and tragic moment in Indian journalism: It’s a free for all – a free fall.

3 Arrests That Disclose Drug Mafia’s Nexus With Filmdom

In a battery of recent arrests from film industry, the most high-profile being the arrest of Rhea Chakraborty on Tuesday, an unholy nexus of Indian filmdom and drug mafia is emerging to the fore.

On September 4, Kannada actress Ragini Dwivedi was arrested for allegedly being part of a drug cartel, along with several others from Kerala and Karnataka, including an African national. According to Bengaluru Police, the Narcotics Control Bureau had arrested several drug peddlers on August 21, which led them to Kannada film personalities procuring and passing on the drugs.

The glamworld and drug mafia links become clearer from the remand application of actor Rhea Chakraborty filed in Mumbai court by the NCB officials. The plea has stated that Chakraborty had been an active member of a “drug syndicate” and at times even financed for drug procurement along with his late boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput.

The Bureau said that Chakraborty’s disclosure/statement had made it clear that she was connected with drug supplies. Her involvement in the procurement of drugs and financial transactions is believed to be linked to Dipesh Sawant, Showik Chakraborty and Miranda, all three now in custody.

On Tuesday, while the national media was busy reporting arrest of actress Rhea Chakraborty in Mumbai, yet another Kannada actress, Sanjana Galrani, was arrested by the Central Crime Branch of Bengaluru Police in Sandalwood drug bust racket (Kannada film industry is known as Sandalwood a la Bollywood).

LokMarg spoke to several narcotics experts who reaffirmed that there exists a deep nexus between the glamour world and drug mafia in the country. Besides, Bollywood and Sandalwood, Telugu, Malayalam and other regional cine industries are involved in this cartel. Other than the film world, the fashion & advertisement are also believed to be the part of this nexus.

Political Milking Of Sushant’s Death

It is a month since Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide but there is no let-up in the controversial and often unsubstantiated revelations which are continuously being aired by television networks on his untimely demise, particularly since the case acquired political overtones.

From an initial discussion on mental health of actors to nepotism in the Hindi film industry and discrimination against outsiders, 34-year-old Rajput’s death has degenerated into an all-out war between the Maharashtra and Bihar governments which are currently led by opposing political coalitions.

It is no coincidence that the Bihar government, led by National Democratic Alliance partners, Janata Dal (U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party, has upped the ante on this case as the state assembly elections are due in a few months. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s popularity ratings have dipped in recent weeks as the state machinery is unable to cope with the rising cases of coronavirus.

Fighting with his back to the wall, the Rajput case has proved to be a handy diversion for Nitish Kumar who has successfully deflected public attention by decrying the Maharashtra government’s tardy investigation into the death of Bihar’s son Rajput. It helps that the Maharashtra government is headed by his coalition partner BJP’s bete noire Shiv Sena.

It suits the Janata Dal (U) and the BJP to build pressure on the Maharashtra government by keeping up the narrative on Rajput’s “mysterious death”. In Bihar, the two parties have an eye on the Rajput vote, a small but influential community which has been demanding justice for the actor.

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It is not just the JD(U) and the BJP which are eyeing the Rajput vote but opposition parties, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, have also joined the race. The two parties joined the chorus for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation when the issue figured in the state assembly when it met recently for a day to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the state.

BJP legislator Neeraj Kumar Singh, the actor’s cousin, raised the demand first, drawing instant support from across the political spectrum. Leader of opposition Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD went a step further and proposed that the upcoming film city at Rajgir be named after Rajput while Congress leader Sadanand Singh suggested that the assembly adopt a resolution demanding an inquiry by the Central agency.

If tempers are running high in Bihar, it is no different in Maharashtra. Always on the lookout for issues on which it can discredit the Uddhav Thackeray government, the BJP feels the Rajput case is a potent weapon to mount an effective attack against the chief minister and his son Aditya Thackeray. Former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane and his son Nilesh have been particularly vocal and even suggested that Rajput was murdered. They have demanded that Aditya Thackeray should step down as minister to facilitate a fair probe since his name has figured during the course of a hearing in the Supreme Court.

Finding himself under constant attack, Aditya Thackeray broke his silence to deny his involvement in the case while his Shiv Sena colleagues are putting up a stout defence in his favour. Senior party leader Sanjay Raut, who has been at the forefront in hitting out at the BJP, described its allegations as a “political conspiracy”, aimed at maligning the government because the opposition did not succeed in toppling it.

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Though the controversy regarding Rajput’s death had been simmering since he was found hanging in his Bandra apartment on July 14, it picked up pace after the Bihar police registered a case against the actor’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty and others on July 25 following a complaint filed by the dead artist’s father KK Singh. The charges ranged from cheating, abetment to suicide and wrongful confinement.

On cue, the Bihar government dispatched a team of police officers to Mumbai to investigate the case. Furious at this interference, the Maharashtra government retaliated by placing Vinay Tiwari, the leader of the Bihar police squad, under quarantine by citing existing guidelines for containing coronavirus. 

At the same time, the Maharashtra police made it clear that the Bihar police has no jurisdiction to investigate the matter in their state as the incident took place in Mumbai. Moreover, it said, it was already in the process of investigating Rajput’s death. The Bihar police charged that the Maharashtra police was deliberately going slow in this matter as it was protecting an important person (read chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s son and minister Aditya Thackeray) whose name is said to have surfaced during the investigations.

This opened the floodgates further as charges and counter-charges have been flying thick and fast. Faced with an obdurate Maharashtra government and under all-round pressure from political parties in Bihar, an angry Nitish Kumar proposed that the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. It was not surprising that the request was accepted with alacrity by the BJP-led ruling alliance at the Centre. Normally a demand for a CBI probe is made by the state government where the crime has occurred. In this instance, rules were conveniently bypassed by the Centre which acceded to the Bihar government’s demand even though the incident took place in another state.

Meanwhile, the case gets murkier by the day. Besides the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate has been summoning the actor’s girlfriend and other associates for questioning. Rajput’s father has accused Chakravorty of siphoning off Rs. 15 crore from his son’s bank account, of overdosing him with drugs and creating a wedge between the actor and his family.

Needless to say, the media has had a field day reporting and “investigating” this case. It has essentially declared that Chakravorty is guilty. Breathless and excited reporters on television news channels have, with leaks from helpful sources, accessed details of Rajput’s holidays with his girlfriend and provided “breaking news” about the actor’s finances and mental health in back-to-back coverage. Chakravorty is predictably the villain of the piece.

With Bihar elections a few months away, it can be safely said that interested political parties will continue to work doubly hard to ensure that the Rajput case remains centrestage.