Deepthy Menon| The News Minute| September 21, 2014| 6.00 pm IST
A week ago, an angry Deepika Padukone accused the Times of India website of using a video that focuses on her cleavage to promote traffic to their entertainment page under the garb of journalism.The media interrogation that ensued in the next few days is a commentary on how mainstream media cannot dissociate from the yellow journalism that they willingly engage with to increase the clicks on their webpages. While an abashed but unapologetic TOI published a ridiculous response, its competitors were busy trying to â€˜objectivelyâ€™ report how Deepika had gutsily taken on one of the giants of Indian journalism. Are the webpages of these holier than thou competitors any different? I ran a search on â€˜wardrobe malfunction bollywoodâ€™ and found links that led me to the hallowed Indian Expressâ€™ webpage, the ABP, NDTV, Yahoo pages. So can any news site objectively report on Times of India being the only one guilty of gross journalism?
I caught a couple of prime time news discussions too that happened on the issueâ€“ the question of media propriety in using means rather foul to direct traffic towards their website was unfortunately not the discussion point. It was whether women in the media business should complain about how they are portrayed. Shobhaa De, for one, did not think actresses who put it out had any right to shut them up! And then there was the model Shivani Wazir on another television show who couldnâ€™t figure out how a demure outfit could yield such a peek-a-boo show. In these discussions, one got the impression that the topic of discussion was how much objectification can be construed as flattery and where the line between flattery to crass yellow journalism has been crossed.
And this is the dangerous turf, for in Indian television debates, as voices rise, the automatic inference is that TRPs are bound to rise too. No one stands to watch two individuals having an calm peaceful exchange of words about cleavage, crotch or even the vagina do they? Then they must surely be doctors or psychologists discussing boring biology or making small talk. Even, on the streets, the attention of the masses is drawn only when tempers begin to flare and voices begin to rise. The shout-fest that are news television discussions, nine out of ten times would have veered off the main topic of conversation five seconds into the beginning of the debate. But who cares? Indian logic would suggest that channel surfers pause to check what the brouhaha is all about and not whether a sane debate throws up valid points, right?
That is how amidst all the noise television offered the online fight, the impropriety of using surreptitiously shot cleavage footage got buried under the stereotyping of Indian menâ€™s titillation with feminine â€˜boobs and bumsâ€™ and debating whether Indian men will even learn that its neither proper to peer down a womenâ€™s blouse or talk while staring at her breasts. Meanwhile, NewsX decided that calling Deepikaâ€™s breasts just that was derogatory and decided to create a graphic plate that mentioned Deepikaâ€™s b******. They wanted to stay puritanically away from any controversy, it would seem!
Deepika Padukone needs to be lauded for chiding off a powerful news media group for cashing in on voyeuristically shot footage that should never have gone into the public domain. Whoever shot it knew that they had footage that had the potential to be internet hot property. No one expected the actress to protest its use to increase traffic to their site. Nor was a rare show of solidarity by Bollywood for the actress. How many media houses were prompted to introspect on the methods they use to direct traffic to their sites. Or if there should be a watchdog that restricts mainstream media houses from going the tabloid way yellow rags do by using paparazzi photos and footage to grab eyeballs. That is the key question. Not whether an actress by lieu of her profession and her on-screen, off-screen persona is fair play for such stories.
The moral of this story for me is that there is no nobility in any media houseâ€™s pursuit of a storyâ€“ neither flattery nor objectivity. Nor is there a sincere attempt to create or nurture a debate on a issue like this one. If titillation gains you numbers, then media titillates. But to make the effort of raising the discussion beyond or above the din is something no one is willing to do. Not the media, nor the audience that invests in it. It suits everyone just fine.
(Deepthy Menon is a burnt out TV journalist, with no political allegiance, left or right. Her current avatar as a mercenary writer and communication strategist is largely her way of funding her insatiable lust for travel and stories).