Did you watch the vultures’ feast on our news channels last week? It made me sick, but no matter which channel I turned to for news, I was forced to watch the feeding frenzy. Forced to watch gangs of so-called reporters reporting from ‘ground zero’ on every move that famous Bollywood stars made after being summoned by the Narcotics Control Bureau.
‘I am outside her hotel in Goa. Now I am tracking her on her way to the airport. That is her Mercedes car. This is an exclusive shot.’ Speculation, innuendo and half-truths were used to attack women whose guilt is unproven. These ‘reporters’ did not hide their schadenfreude. And, they made it clear that they believed NCB officials were doing a fine job. They praised them for trying to stop big traffickers from bringing drugs into India. They did not ask why the NCB has so far not been able to catch a single big trafficker in decades.
What worried me most was that they did not ask why the NCB was leaking private conversations to news channels. They did not ask if it was wrong for the Indian State to permit its officers to cross all the borders of privacy. These ‘reporters’ were so drunk with their power to smear Bollywood’s biggest stars that they could not be bothered with such things as fulfilling their primary role, which is to curb the powers of the State. If they had, they would have noticed that in the times of this pandemic when the State already has more power than it should to interfere in our private lives, it is the duty of the media to try and stop it from crossing boundaries.
They forgot that in a democracy like India the right to privacy is not a privilege but a right. Even for Bollywood stars. As someone who was sickened by this vultures’ feast, I consider it my duty to ask the questions that I did not hear asked, except by a couple of anchors on English channels who seemed to become as sickened by what they saw as I am.
The question that troubles me deeply is why the NCB thought it was within its rights to make public private conversations taken from WhatsApp chats. Had these conversations been between our own Pablo Escobar and some other drug lord there would be some merit in making these WhatsApp chats public. But, between a famous actress and her friend?
If the NCB thinks that these conversations will stand up as evidence in a court of law then it should be in that court that we should have first heard them. To make them public was wrong and makes the NCB’s motives suspect. Did they want the world to know that some of the biggest stars in Bollywood were being summoned by them? Did they want the media feeding frenzy that they knew would ensue? What did they want to achieve?
Such suspicions arise because BJP spokesmen popped up on every primetime show to make it clear that at the highest echelons of the government of India there was support for this ‘cleanup’ in Bollywood. Some of these spokesmen adopted tones of deep disapproval as they pontificated on how people who were role models for India’s youth should not indulge in breaking the law. When it was pointed out that in most cases the only evidence that they did actually break the law were WhatsApp chats, they said, as if they had inside knowledge, that the NCB was hauling actresses in for questioning because it hoped through them to get to the big dealers. Really?
If this is what is happening then the NCB is behaving like an amateur sleuth. Does it not know how many layers separate the big international drug traffickers from the lowly dealers who operate in Mumbai?
In any case what is most worrying about the NCB’s activities is that they seem to believe that they have the right to trample roughshod over the right to privacy of people who have not so far been caught with an illegal quantity of drugs.
The only reason they have been summoned to the Bureau’s offices for questioning is private conversations on private cellphones that happened long ago and whose context we do not know. It is hard to believe that these conversations would persuade a judge to send Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan or Rakul Preet Singh to jail, but what has been achieved is their public humiliation.
If any of them at some point finds the courage to take on the mighty Indian State, they would be well within their rights to sue the NCB for criminal defamation. What would be easier and less dangerous is to take some of our primetime anchors to court for libel. But, as we know, the libel law in India is weak and it takes so long for justice to be done that by the time the ‘law takes its course’ people have often forgotten the crime.
As a veteran member of the media, what I would like to put on record is that the vultures’ feast at which I saw people who call themselves journalists partake turned my stomach. Shame on all of you. Shame on the owners of these news channels. Shame on them for allowing their channels to be used as weapons of the State.
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