DC debate: The media is turning the Sheena Bora murder case into another Aarushi

Competitive rat race for ‘breaking news’ has lead to misrepresentation, and shrill reporting.

The noise of murder

Nandini Sardesai Vs Abha Singh

Nandini Sardesai: Media has pronounced its verdict

In the battle for eyeballs, titillation has taken over and real life is being ensationalised. The competitive rat race for ‘breaking news’ has lead to misrepresentation, biased views and shrill reporting.

When Aarushi was found dead, it was the next morning and the suspects were the parents, the domestic help and his friends. It was an in-house murder. Even today, though the case has apparently been solved, there are many who believe the verdict, based on circumstantial evidence, is not just.

By glaring contrast, the Sheena Bora murder case is baffling and intriguing. The murder happened three years ago, there is no body and the location is ambiguous. The investigation is 10-days-old, not much has been achieved by the investigators, and yet the mad whirl in the media is so salacious, macabre and chilling that trivia is passing off as news. In the battle for eyeballs, titillation has taken over and real life is being sensationalised.

Titbits of news are being vicariously pursued and accepted by the gullible public at face value. The competitive rat race for “breaking news” has lead to misrepresentation, biased views and shrill reporting. Some mediapersons are, in fact, baying for blood by abrogating powers of jurors. The media is conducting an opinionated trial and the guilty have been pronounced. The popular evidence is based on heresy, gossip and a vicarious frenzy.

The arrest of Indrani Mukerjea was a follow up on an anonymous call and the oral confession of a driver. Sounds flimsy, and yet it has the approval of both the media and the public. There has been no attempt to rationally analyse and critically evaluate the possiblities. Panellists on channels smugly express moral righteousness as if they are undergoing a catharsis of sorts.

Reporters, wet behind the ears, are sermonising and maliciously speculating. Sorry media, your prejudiced conjectures are only fanning hatred and disdain, and deconscientising the people’s sensitivities and sensibilities. It is ethically and sociologically erroneous and unsound!

The public debate on Aarushi was confined to Delhi. Now the narrative spans from Guwahati to Mumbai and even to Bristol and there are lacunae aplenty.

Just because a woman clawed her way to the top, she cannot be stereotyped as a diabolical killer till her guilt is proven. What is the relevance of her family tree and relationships with the murder of Sheena? And why are other key players — Mikhail Bora, Rahul and Peter — not being interrogated and their involvement being marginalised? Their behaviour has been very suspicious and illogical!

Why this conspiracy of silence? Why are the rights of Indrani being violated and why is she not being allowed to meet her counsel privately? I hold no brief for Indrani, but she cannot be condemned and branded just because of public pressure and, dare I say, police pressure.

Let the law take its own course and if hard facts of Indrani’s guilt are discovered, only then will bringing her to trial be justified by the media. News should be given without journalists becoming “the news”!

Nandini Sardesai is a sociologist and activist

Abha Singh: Judiciary is above the hysteria

History bears witness to the fact that not even one so-called ‘trial by media’ case has resulted in injustice being committed against an accused. In every high-profile criminal case, the law has taken its own course...

Trial by media... this rhetoric is heard time and again whenever any “sensational” murder case crops up. Frequently, the news media is accused of rousing public passions to such an extent that the judges find it difficult to dispense justice. Any judgment in “favour” of the accused becomes a tool for demonising the judiciary and painting it as biased.

With the recent Sheena Bora murder case coming to light, critics have once again risen to the occasion by attempting to portray it as a trial by media. They cite the ongoing vilification of Indrani Mukerjea a direct analogy with that of the Talwars’ in the Aarushi murder case. Trial by media proponents argue that Indrani is a victim of adverse media prejudice painting her as guilty. By doing so they seek to draw direct parallels with the Aarushi Talwar case.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Not only is this case in its infancy but also there appears to be credible grounds for nailing the accused. Further, a serious police investigation is in progress that holds a lot of promise for unearthing the truth. Indeed, the very fact that the police is keeping a cool head and proceeding in a methodical manner proves that the “trial by media” allegations are completely uncalled for.

Finally, history bears witness to the fact that not even one so-called “trial by media” case has resulted in injustice being committed against an accused.

In every high-profile criminal case, be that of Asaram Bapu, Jessica Lal or Nitish Katara, the law has taken its own course undeterred by public opinion. Judges have pronounced their verdicts on the basis of hard evidence and not conjectures and surmises drawn from public perceptions. In many cases judicial decision-making has made its way right to the top echelons of the Supreme Court.

Every accused availed of his/her right to appeal convictions awarded by the lower courts, which in turn were accepted or overturned by the apex court strictly on merit. It is pointless to argue that these judicial decisions were based on the whims and fancies of the masses.

Criminal jurisprudence in India is governed by Blackstone’s formulation, which states, “It is better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Laid down by Sir William Blackstone in the 18th century, this doctrine ensures that Indian courts do not convict the accused unless his/her guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Therefore, it would be completely immature and unfair to draw comparisons between the Sheena Bora and Aarushi Talwar murder cases by terming them as “trials by media”. The police investigation continues in the former case and has so far given no reasons to complain about.

Only once the investigation is complete and report filed under Section 173 CrPC would a clear direction of the trial emerge. Hence, we must allow the law to take its course in matter and let truth prevail.

Abha Singh is a bureaucrat turned advocate and activist

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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