Telescope: No news like bad news

A mysterious mass death and Mumbai deluge have TV channels going tabloid

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Updated: July 5, 2018 12:02:39 am
Burari deaths, delhi family suicide, burari suicide Burari deaths: The house where the bodies were found, in the Burari area of North Delhi. (Photo: Gajendra Yadav)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we all love bad news: The worse it gets, the better it is. A good murder, a whiff of mystery? Bull’s eye. A mass killing, a hint of the occult? Donald couldn’t trump that and Neymar couldn’t cry foul.

So the deaths of 11 members of the Bhatia family by “suicide” or murder transfixed the attention. We wanted to know, no, not about Rahul Gandhi’s latest holiday, or the “Grand Alliance” to oust Narendra Modi, but about pipes: 11 of them, precisely, on the wall of the Bhatia home, shown repeatedly on TV news. What secret meaning had they held for the family now dead?

Nobody knew, no one could tell. TV news, Hindi and English, questioned the Delhi Police, relatives of the family, neighbours of the family, without revelation.

Had it not been for the diaries found on the premises, we would have been even less the wiser about possible reasons for the deaths: The surviving Bhatia daughter/sibling, told news channels her family was as ordinary, normal as yours or mine; when ABP spoke to Rishi, who delivered 20 rotis to the family that fateful night, he insisted the Bhatia daughters behaved perfectly ordinarily. Who could believe them?

Not the media, which along with the police, went through Delhi’s “House of Horrors”(India Today) with a fine comb; psychologists and godmen were consulted — on Tez, psychologist Soumya Tandon spoke of the power of persuasion, belief and faith. Did Lalit “brainwash” the family into seeking “moksha”? The truth, alas, had died with the 11 deceased and by Tuesday, the trail was growing cold.

To send a shiver down the spine, some news channels went tabloid: They showed photographs of the dead, blindfolded, the noose around their necks, with a mosaic as flimsy as gossamer, no, as thin as the air, ineffectually used to camouflage them (Aaj Tak, India Today and India TV). Sickening.

It is also a universal truth, which we must acknowledge, that such lurid photographs and reports will be watched, often at the cost of other terrible crimes. However, the “What’sAppDeaths” (CNN News 18) were widely reported and became the subject of TV debates (NDTV 24×7), possibly because of the social media connection in the lynching. Nowadays, lynching has become the site of political contestation with the actual murders forgotten in the heat of ideological confrontation, so common in the battles on the box.

Another truth: Everybody loves the weather report and if there is a flood, well, mud in your eye. The rain in Mumbai that felled a bridge and caused distress to lakhs of people saw TV news question authorities on the recurring nightmare: Zee’s visuals showed that in the last 11 years, the rain has brought the city to a standstill; ABP had floods damaging different parts of the country again and again; India TV accompanied a city train on a water ski through the city.

This we also know to be true: If there is any news that may be good news for opposition parties, it will be overlooked for other “news” on certain channels. Thus, on Wednesday, when news of the Supreme Court judgment on AAP and the LG was announced, Times Now was busy tut-tutting that those behind Gauri Lankesh’s murder were “scot free” and Republic had obtained another “letter” with the IB on the “UrbanNaxal” link to Kashmir. No mention of the SC verdict — even Doordarshan News reported it, albeit with strictures against AAP’s habit of playing politics.

Salman Khan brought up his encounters with the courts while he played money games on 10 Ka Dum (Sony). He referred to his earnings and how they were spent (on courts), by way of endearing himself to the contestant, already quite besotted. Between interacting with the superstar and making moolah by guessing “how many Indian parents speak about sex education to their children?”, or “how many Indians make crores without working?”, a question better put to the likes of Nirav Modi, the contestants can hardly believe their luck.

Likewise those who look at photos, find the correct answer to questions like, “Wahan pe kuch likho” — the answer is to write “kuch” wahan pe — and end up winning lakhs (Sabse Smart Kaun, Star Plus). That’s how easy it is to make money without working.

Finally, do watch Musakan about a sex worker and her daughter, if only for the subject matter; also, Mitegi Laxman Rekha (&TV) where Kanchan faces the consequences of abduction and molestation (rape?) with the help of Vishesh. A TV serial with a contemporary theme? Har Shaakh Pe Ullu Baitha Hai (Star Plus) in which politician Gainda Devi challenges chief minister Chaitu Lal to a fitness contest.

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