Crime and the media
By now none of us are very surprised when the media goes overboard over murders which take place in metro areas and the victims are upper class people…and even more so if the killer/s are upper class people.
The two murder cases hogging the headlines of late are  Neeraj Grover’s murder by a Naval lieutenant (Jerome Mathew) in Mumbai after which his girlfriend (Maria Susairaj, a Kannada actress) helped him dispose of the body and  the murder in Noida (near Delhi) of 14-year old Aarushi Talwar and 47 year old househelp Hemraj – allegedly by Arushi’s dentist father (Rajesh Talwar) after which Rajesh Talwar’s Nupur gave him an ironclad alibi. The reason the first murder grabbed headlines was because the killer was a Naval officer and his girlfriend Maria a small-time actress. The victim Neeraj was the creative head at Synergy Adlabs. In the second case, the alleged killer is a wealthy doctor who allegedly brutally bludgeoned his own 14 year old child to death and then slit her throat…after which both he and his doctor wife went to bed. The servant’s body was found on the terrace.
The Mumbai murder seems to be a crime of passion…it happened (according to police reports) after an insanely jealous lover hacked to pieces the man he found in compromising circumstances with his girl-friend. As for the other murder, the coldbloodedness of the crime is spinechilling to say the least…as is the icy demeanor of the mother who is giving interviews.
As a TV news viewer and a newspaper reader what I find irritating is that these murders have been in the news even if there is nothing much to report (the picture on the right is yesterday’s newspaper). And on TV, the same clips were aired repeatedly…five second clips were shown at least 25-30 times in one news report! Even if the media bosses feel that viewers want to see crime, this is hardly the way to go!
This is what one media boss ( G. Krishnan, CEO of Aaj Tak, a Hindi news channel) said at a FICCI meeting just this May. It was reported on wharton.edu:
Today, the consumer demands the 4 C’s, namely cricket, cinema, comedy and crime…
I had defended the Indian media once saying that they are giving people what they want, but I am not sure that they are giving people what they want anymore. Even if viewers are interested in crime no one wants to meaningless reports, and nor do people want to see the same video clips ad nauseum.
We readers and viewers deserve more. We deserve to get a balanced picture about crimes committed in the whole country…villages, semi-urban areas and in the poorer city areas and it doesn’t matter if the victims are poor and/or the killers are poor. Crime news needs to be suitably balanced.
Poor news analysis
What I have found quite horrifying was the news analysis of these two crimes…one article bemoaned the deteriorating urban culture and called the murders the “sweet deathly smell of success” and called the Neeraj’s murder by the Naval officer as the “sordid reality behind all the dazzle”!! What does a crime of passion have to do with razzle dazzle or tinsel town? This is a case where a jealous lover catches a man in a compromising position with his lover and attacks him in a fit of murderous rage and this kind of thing has happened since time immemorial!!
The same article goes on to talk about the second murder, that of Arushi, and calls it the face of “a changing Indian urban landscape where not only values and attitudes but also crimes are undergoing a metamorphosis.” But fathers killing daughters is not a new thing in Indian society. It’s worth thinking whether the doctor (if he is guilty) would have killed his child if she had been a son…in the same circumstances. I am quite sure that if the father killed his daughter, it’s because he felt (probably imagined!) she had “shamed” him in some way and not because she found out about his extra-marital affair. I have never heard of parents killing their teenage children because they found out about an extra marital affair. But honor killings are an age-old practice in feudal India, so why write that this murder is some sort of modern afflliction or in some way against Indian “culture?”
Update: According to latest reports (July 12th) Aarushi was allegedly murdered by Krishna, an employee of Aarushi’s father’s and also neighboring domestic help. No hard evidence is out yet but this has been revealed by narco-analysis of Krishna.
Even Rediff talked about how “emerging lifestyles are changing the way the urban India lives.” The murder may have happened in urban India, and the reasons for the murder may be complex but eventually this is a case where a father kills his daughter…and as I mentioned above I think it’s something to do with feudalism and skewed gender relations in a our society. The Rediff article goes on to talk to parents and experts who feel that the murder happened because of the “lifestyle” of the family and some even hinted that Arushi was a disturbed child because of poor parenting. I don’t know whether this is true, but I am quite sure that the murder didn’t happen because Arushi’s father was having an affair, or because he was rich or because he and his wife were bad parents or because Arushi was a troubled child. I don’t even think any one of these factors were catalysts…take away any of them and the murder would still have happened. The doctor clearly thought he owned his daughter’s life and set different standards for her behavior than he did his. Sick.
The power of the Media
The media has helped solve murders and uncover scams. That’s really wonderful, but I think it’s time that homicides in the country are projected the way they really are. We need to see these crimes in the context of the Indian social fabric, and we need to know what they mean. If they mean nothing, they mean nothing and we don’t want to hear lies about lifestyle trends. Just because the killers and victims were not poor homeless creatures it doesn’t mean the crimes are some bizarre blot on the Indian urban horizon! We get fairly good and comprehensive political news, we get good sports news too…so why can’t we expect balanced and intelligent coverage of crime?
(Photo credits: The first photo is from ibnlive, the second is by me, and the third is from the Hindu)
Related Reading: An example of pathbreaking media
A taste of the front pages of newspapers
Is Print readership falling in India?
An example of how political parties gag the media
Fake stings and fraudulent journalism
The media dishes out what the public wants