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Monday, July 23, 2018

Telescope: Judge, jury and prosecutor

News did what it does best during SC crisis — impugn motives, pass judgement

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Updated: January 18, 2018 6:59:57 am
Supreme Court Judges, SC Judges, Dipak Misra, Television Channel, India Today, CNN News 18, Indian Express, Indian Express News Justice Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph at the press conference. (Express Photo/Abhinav Saha)

“The biggest story” (CNN News 18), ever, on the Supreme Court of India, allowed many news channels to treat the highest court in the country the way they do mere mortals. Alas, we know only too well what that means: Play judge, jury and prosecutor, not to mention, havoc.

And so it came to pass, last Friday, when four senior judges of the SC held a press conference in New Delhi to express their anguish over the conduct of certain court proceedings involving the Chief Justice of India. This presser presented the news channels with something of a dilemma: Since many employ hyperbole for far less momentous events, how could they do justice (yes, well) to such an unprecedented situation? “Mutiny in SC” (India Today), “Stunning Move Against CJI” (Times Now), “#JudgesAtWar” (Republic) was about the best they could come up with under the circumstances.

Now, you may have thought that such an unusual and delicate matter of grave national consequence should be handled with care and sensitivity. No such thing. By Friday afternoon, many channels were doing what they like to do best — reading minds, imputing motives and passing judgment. When a CPI leader visited one of the four “mutiny” judges, some immediately saw a “left” hand in the press conference (Times Now) and have been running with conspiracy theories since.

In the last week, the Supreme Court and the judges have been subjected to relentless media and social media speculation. There’s no need to go into the details but it seems unfortunate that we have had to witness the public disrobing of the judges. Did the four learned judges realise that their press conference would leave them — and their colleagues — facing a bench of “expert” TV panelists and TV news anchors in a nightly TV trial?

Perhaps we require the services of TV news troll police who could call out news anchors and keep them in check — especially on Times Now and Republic. The bullying of and the insolence to guests on debates needs policing. MTV could help here. In a new show Troll Police, it hunts out trollers (is that what they’re called?) and confronts them with the person they troll, asking hard questions. In the first episode, actress Taapsee Pannu came face to face with the man who has been her nemesis and along with anchor Rannvijay, put him through a grueling inquisition. Will he troll someone again? Hopefully not.

By the way, it says something else about our news channels’ sense of news and the occasion that on Wednesday, at around 2.45 pm when PM Modi was speaking in Ahmedabad on Indo-Israel cooperation with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu by his side, Hindi news channels like Aaj Tak, India TV and ABP were playing, in the latter’s words, “saas bahu aur saazish” games. On the other hand, seeing what violence is being done in the name of news on some channels, maybe they are right not to take the news so seriously.

And let’s hear it for Mirror Now for choosing to debate “#HaryanaHorror” on the recent spate of rapes, CNBC TV 18 for looking at India’s widening trade deficit, and NDTV 24×7 for assessing the impact of rising oil prices — rather than judging the judges. In other news, Bigg Boss (BB) has found a winner in Shilpa Shinde (Colors), thereby allowing Salman Khan to flex his muscles elsewhere before the next (oh no!) season of the reality show.

This year, the entire show was a wrestling match — actual bouts were often held on the weekend — pitting two contestants against each other until they rubbed each other the wrong way and sparks flew. The Shilpa and Hina Khan stage-managed “dangal” was the centrepiece. Little surprise, then, that they were in the ring to the very end.

Goodbye Bigg Boss, hallo India’s Next Superstar (Star Plus). From the little on view so far, this is a cross between BB and India’s Got Talent. Twenty young women and men will live together and do whatever is asked of them by head honchos, Karan Johar (who else?) and Rohit Shetty. At the end of the day, one of them will win a three-film contract with Johar’s Dharma Productions. Too early to pass judgement — remember this is not one of your all-knowing news channels — but these shows do get somewhat exhausting.

Lastly, if you have been watching India playing cricket in South Africa, you will have been disappointed by our losses but might welcome the change in the commentary box. This is a Sony Ten presentation, not Star Sports, so the commentators are different, barring the ubiquitous Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar — not to forget Harsha Bhogle with Murali Kartik in Extraaa Innings. Comprising mostly former South African cricketers, it has been far more measured, not your regular BCCI cheerleaders’ “ra-ra” India.

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