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Don’t know how to take a U-turn? Learn from TV channels on Rhea Chakraborty and Hathras cases

In both the Sushant Singh Rajput and Hathras cases, men seem to be the victims and have ‘truth’ on their side.

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Er, did Rhea Chakraborty just get bail?

Did news channels just perform one of the most dexterous U-turns in the history of dexterous U-turns, in both the Sushant Singh Rajput and Hathras cases?

And, are they championing causes that appear to betray a gender bias against women?

Also, didn’t Rajdeep Sardesai just name Arnab Goswami and declare he ran a “banana republic” that demeaned journalism? Ooh la la, as the French would say….

To Chakraborty, first: All news channels, from Republic TV and Times Now to Aaj Tak and ABP News that brought you live coverage of her being taken to jail, a month ago, reporters who bludgeoned that SUV’s windows with their TV microphones to force a comment out of her and who then followed her all the way to Mumbai’s Byculla jail – after three days of relentless 24×7 live coverage during the Narcotics Control Bureau’s interrogation of her – where were they when the Mumbai High Court granted her bail on Wednesday morning?

Also read: Rhea Chakraborty deserved bail in drugs case, NCB charges were a mockery of law

Tables turn

Well, India Today and CNN News18 dutifully reported ‘Relief for Rhea’ (CNN News18) while the leaders of the pack, Times Now and Republic TV, were trying to ensure that ‘Rahul Gandhi’s right-hand man’ Shyoraj Jivan, a Congress “hate monger’’ (Times Now) winds up in jail, next, for his alleged ‘riot’ threat in Hathras, and for coercing the victim’s family in a “caste plot’’.

Not that Republic TV has entirely forsaken its ‘Fight for Justice’. Oh no. On Wednesday afternoon, it reported on the ‘Second leg of investigation — 6 top CBI officers back in Mumbai for probe’. Say this for the channel, it doesn’t give up.

Times Now seems more willing to abandon #JusticeForSSR. Last week, when the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) submitted its report to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on its investigations into Rajput’s death, Times Now announced, ‘Homicide not ruled out – AIIMS’ and, ‘No clean chit for the accused’, while flashing an image of Chakraborty.

Come Saturday and Times Now, blithely, swiveled 180 degrees: it said that according to Dr Sudhir Gupta, head of the Forensics Department, AIIMS, there was no murder — it was a case of suicide. “Will those who cried murder and maligned Mumbai police now introspect?’’ it asked.

Was this question addressed to the channel itself? Would it like to answer why it has strongly suggested, or rather insinuated, that it was a murder for the past three months? Just as it had suggested Rhea was part of the dreaded ‘drug cartel’, which now the High Court has refuted in its bail order?

We pick on Times Now deliberately, as it’s the most glaring example of duplicity by a news channel. But if you look back on SSR coverage on ABP, Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV, News18 India, India Today, et cetera, you would find a similar narrative. All of them are now, hurriedly, but without even the merest blush of an apology, rebutting or disowning their own coverage.

India Today has been more perception savvy: during the day, it peddled the ‘murder’ and the Bollywood drug-peddlers’ kahani – whatever happened to Deepika Padukone – while anchors Rahul Kanwal and Rajdeep Sardesai questioned these theories at prime time.

Kanwal has been smiling all over, this week, since the channel interviewed AIIMS doctors such as Dr Adarsh Kumar, forensic medicine, who said that Mumbai’s Cooper Hospital’s post mortem findings, disparaged earlier, in fact, appeared accurate. Kanwal denounced the “crazy media trial’’ run by “some so-called news channels’’, omitting to mention that Aaj Tak and India Today have also part of been part of the judge-jury zoo.

Sardesai was more direct in willing to “name and shame” Goswami for the “media trial” to win TRPs.

By the way, this is the rather delicious subplot in the tale: an all-out war between channels like India Today, Republic TV and, of course, Ravish Kumar at NDTV India.

Also read: Hathras to Haryana — Rahul Gandhi is active again but it won’t last

Parallels in Hathras case

The Hathras alleged gang-rape case has seen a similar flip-flop. Last week, news channels, in one voice, demanded ‘JusticeForHathras’ after the 20-year-old victim died of her injuries. They condemned her early morning forced cremation and the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to cordon off the village from politicians and the media. Reporter after reporter asked the administration and the police uncomfortable questions – what are you hiding in Hathras that you don’t want the media to see?

They discovered Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, and gave their battle on the bypass in Noida, as they drove towards Hathras, sympathetic coverage. Then came live shots of the moving meeting between the Gandhi siblings and the victim’s family.

Then suddenly, Monday, the mood changed after UP Chief Minister Adityanath’s government alleged an ‘international conspiracy’ in the case, and FIRs were filed against an assortment of people who it said were responsible for fanning caste hatred. “Anti-CAA cabal behind this?’’ asked News X, alluding to the nationwide protests that overtook India earlier this year. A dubious website was shown across channels and accused of inflaming passions in ‘Operation Hathras’ (Times Now).

Also read: Congress listened, Yogi doesn’t — Why Hathras isn’t the same as Delhi 2012 gangrape case

Next, CNN News18 said the JN Medical Hospital, Aligarh, insisted there was “no rape’’. And, eyewitness accounts appeared claiming the upper-caste accused were being falsely implicated (Republic), overnight, there were interviews with their families and friends claiming their innocence.

The ‘Big twist in Hathras case’’ (CNN News18) came when channels claimed to have “accessed’’ records of over a 100 phone-calls between the Hathras accused and the victim’s brother—an eerie reminder of all those WhatsApp chats and messages that were “accessed’’ in the SSR case? CNN News18 said this showed the two were constantly in touch with each other —er, what does that prove?

By Wednesday morning, the alleged plot, involving the Congress, was plastered all over Republic TV and Times Now and last week’s outrage for ‘UP rape shocker’ (India Today) had been lost in ‘War on Yogi, UP the target?’ (Aaj Tak).

If, by the time you read this, you hear of ‘honour killing’ instead of ‘rape’, don’t be entirely surprised.

Lastly, that gender angle: in the Rajput case, there was an eagerness to question the testimony of the women in the alleged case. From Rhea Chakraborty to Deepika Padukone, the main “accused’’ have been women—although nobody quite knows what they’re accused of—while Rajput’s family, his male friends and colleagues have ‘truth’ on their side.

Now, history repeats itself at Hathras: the account of the alleged rape victim and her family are being doubted while the men accused of rape are increasingly seen to be the victims of a larger plot. ‘

TV news has belittled the real issues: sexual violence, mental and emotional distress.

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  1. I wonder why some are aghast at what appears in the media, including TV,
    Diverse opinions on various topics of public interest is commonplace. We must realise that almost all channels uncannily function with preconceived ideas. This is not new. Even historians and commentators narrate history as they perceive the incidents. Their narrations are usually guided by what they know and more importantly by what they want to know. Nobody should be indignant. While facts can’t be changed, history (narration) changes when more “evidence” is revealed. So does the direction and intensity of TV coverage.
    These days the reader can discern a show just by the name of the Channel. Sad state of affairs. There are just no good guys. Unfortunately every media house, the world over, is opinionated – so are the “experts” and “commentators”.. – probably including this writer and self too?
    So, why fret?

  2. She is plain lucky. Got a sensible and learned judge. If you go through history you will see on many occasions whenever rulers faced tough situations either due to a massacred army or dire economy, they scapegoated females ,( whether vestal virgins of Rome or Matahari in France). Human nature bays for blood. They like to watch gladiatorial sports even verbal.

  3. Watching and expecting real NEWS from a TV Channel in itself is a Crime.Gone are those days of DOORDARSHAN and 9pm English/ Hindi news.
    Indian Electronic media is a joke and Collosal waste of time.Would rather prefer staying away. No hard feelings for any channel or journalist.

  4. Fine, Rhea has been allowed bail, does not mean she has been exonerated of the case. This whole article it seems a piece of Rhea PR exercise lime one was done by Rajdeep Sardesai.

  5. Shallow & superficial journalists like you supporting Rhea means she is guaranteed a long stay at the Byculla Hilton.

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