The Aarushi murder case, which once gave the Indian media a fine opportunity to pander to its basest instincts, is back in the news with the acquittal on appeal of the Talwars. In the years since the crime in 2008, precisely nothing has been cleared up or discovered. If this had happened in the US, the Talwars would be much sought after today, by legal firms eager to help them sue the TV lynch mob that had baited them. One particularly remembers a picture of the Talwars being taken away, with Rajesh Talwar circled in a red bubble bearing the legend, “Dhongi Papa.” Nine years after, it’s impossible to recall which Hindi channel ran that image, but surely the Talwars themselves remember. Unprovoked attacks are hard to forget.
Elsewhere, too, reality is much altered. The grapevine seems to have anticipated publication of The Wire’s story on Jay Shah by 48 hours. Nothing suspicious about that. Presumably, it got out when it was offered to the subject for rebuttal. But what happened in the 48 hours after publication was amazing. On the first day, when both the BJP and the Opposition were holding press conferences, TV channels were at pains to blank out the Congress. ABP News and NDTV were visible exceptions, but the the other major national channels were focused on the Rs 100 crore suit filed by Jay Shah against The Wire. These were the very channels whose anchors and reporters used to see themselves as crusaders against corruption. They turned Anna Hazare into a cult figure. Now they’re being taunted by the #DaroMatMedia hashtag.
Dow’s Newswire momentarily ruffled the markets on Wednesday with a headline claiming that Google is to pick up Apple for $9 billion. The copy claimed that the move had been discussed between Larry Page and Steve Jobs in 2010, but had been kept secret and would come (this should have set alarm bells ringing) as “a surprise move to anyone who is alive”. Steve Jobs is presumably the only unsurprised party, being deceased.
Apple stock rose by $2 for a few seconds. It will prompt some deep thought about fake news in market wires, where it can do a lot of financial damage. Not as much as the political damage of fake news on national TV, of course, but markets react faster, and recklessly. And the speed of response in this incident is a reminder of how much trading is done these days by bots and algorithms, rather than humans, who would have understood right away that it wasn’t the end of the world.
But the world is ending much more frequently than ever before, as contemporary Nostradamuses read dire meanings into the latest uproars, gaze bleakly upon climate change, Trump and Kim Jong-Un, look up at the stars and make prophecy. There have been two scares in the last three weeks, the latest by American numbers guy and doom prophet David Meade, who depended on the discredited Planet X or Nibiru to wipe the floor of the universe with the earth on Saturday last week. In a move worthy of bot-dom, human editors at Fox and numerous print publications connected him with a teacher and mind-reader in Northern Ireland who is also called David Meade. BBC reports that the latter Meade, an innocent bystander in the grand narrative of the universe, has received five death threats from people who had the living daylights scared out of them by the former Meade. On him, at least, the planetary influence of Nibiru has been baleful.
But what the stars foretell is not necessarily fictitious. On Monday, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) HQ in Germany will present a “groundbreaking observations of an astronomical phenomenon that has never been witnessed before.” The last time such a claim was made, it concerned the observation of gravitational waves by the laser interferometer Ligo, which won the Nobel prize for physics this year. No discovery on that scale is expected in astrophysics, though stuff like dark energy is always hanging around in the desperate hope of being found. Whatever this it, it will bear watching.
Finally, in a completely unprovoked manner, an audit committee set up by the University Grants Commission has urged the secularisation of names like Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University. Delhi’s Hindu College seems to have eluded the purge. And oddly enough, the press brushed off the whole thing as a funny-haha joke. Even though, if the principle were extended from education to the media, The Hindu newspaper would lose its masthead.