Three days and many television debates later, all of them reached the conclusion that since nobody knew anything, it was better not to comment

Flix Friday, January 16, 2015 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth| The News Minute| June 17, 2014|  Tavleen Singh arrived rather late on the scene. The media trial had begun long before she made her comments on Preity Zinta’s complaint.On June 14, when actor Preity Zinta lodged a complaint with the Mumbai police, sections of the media took it upon themselves to investigate the merits of her allegations. Three days and many television debates later, nearly all of them had reached the conclusion that since nobody knew anything, it was better not to comment. So what really happened? According to the FIR filed with the Marine Lines police station, Zinta has accused Wadia of abusing and manhandling her. Police have registered a case under Sections 354 (assault or criminal force to a woman with intention to outrage her modesty), 509 (word or gesture intended to outrage a woman’s modesty), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (criminal intimidation). The gathering of evidence On June 15, television channels accessed the CCTV footage from the stadium and began to telecast portions of it, in which nothing except a mass of people and two red circles and a few arrows were visible. Reporters, anchors and tickers generally suggested that “no conclusive evidence” was available to prove that the argument had taken place. Channels also quoted sources from “the Wadia camp” in a bid to get both sides of the story. The Tavleen Singh episodes Well, by then Tavleen Singh discovered the case, and she appeared on television debates on Headlines Today and on NDTV on the same day. Singh’s argument was that Zinta should not be spending public money by making a big deal out of the incident on May 30. “A little pushing around does not outrage anyone’s modesty”, she pronounced on Headlines Today’s show. To bolster her argument, she said that the incident paled in contrast to the gang-rape of minor girls in UP. She too argued that Section 354 was being misused by Zinta. Kavita Krishnan who also appeared on Headlines Today, said that it was the police who invoke the law based on the complaint they receive. After, investigation, it is only when the charge-sheet is filed that a person is actually charged with a particular crime, she said. Singh also implied that Zinta could have given an interview instead of wasting the time of public officials. She said on NDTV, that “an educated woman” like Zinta should have “been ashamed” to make such a big deal out of a small thing. Singh said that Zinta’s complaint would have been understandable if “she had been attacked on the casting couch by a director”. Responding to Singh’s remarks, lawyer Madhu Mehra on NDTV said that just because the majority of women did not use Indian law to seek redress in such cases, it could not be used as a standard to stick by. The Newshour on Times Now, was high on decibels, as ever. Its anchor and channel Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami started by asking questions to Zinta’s lawyer Hitesh Jain. He asked why Zinta took “two weeks to file a complaint, why was there a delay? What transpired in these two weeks to trigger her to file the complaint. Why is she not in Mumbai?” Jain said that it was a complaint on a sensitive issue and that it was not right to ask about the delay in the filing of a complaint. He also said that the police would investigate the case and that it was not appropriate for him to comment on the police procedure.  Although Tavleen Singh’s points were debated in fairly reasoned manner on NDTV and Headlines Today, the show on Times Now lacked any coherence. Goswami also questioned panellists on whether they thought Wadia was being given special treatment. With the hashtag #PreityNessMess displayed on the channel since the story broke, The Newshour's screen had been divided vertically. On one side was a visual showing Shobha De on the left, as a “pro-Zinta” speaker, even as De says she is just a concerned citizen and has nothing to gain. On the right is a shot of Parvez Damania, former executive director of Kingfisher Airlines. Next to the visual of De was a photo of Zinta and displayed next to Damania’s visual, was a picture of Wadia, with the ticker: Claim vs Claim. Below Zinta’s photograph, the channel carried a caption saying: “Ness abused me in front of a group of people” and below Wadia’s image: Preity insulted my mother”. The channel framed the debate as a Zinta vs. Wadia argument, completely missing the relevant points. Such as- an FIR was registered, the police were following due procedure, and that the media’s job is report, not to conduct a trial. At one point Goswami asked Jain to solemnly swear: “Say it very clearly tonight… Hitesh Jain say clearly. This is a matter of principle and there cannot be, at any point of time, an out of court settlement, an amicable understanding after creating you know, a media furore about it, because you can’t have it both ways.” It would be unfair to say that there was a complete absence of any substance in the television debates. Two things stand out. First, in an acknowledgement of the media’s role, Nidhi Razdan ended her show on NDTV by saying that it was pointed out that the media was also responsible, along with others, for the hype around the case. Second, Kavita Krishnan, a panellist on Headlines Today said that just because Zinta’s ordeal was not shocking, it did not make it unimportant. She said that tolerance for the kind of cases like Zinta’s gives rise to “our tolerance for this kind of thing is what leads to more horrible crimes, like Badaun and California”. But just when a television debate allowed a panellist to get to the root of the problem, the show was over.