The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A dark and deserted parking lot. A pair of male legs in dark trousers, walking. They stop next to a car. There is a blur and the scene shifts — back to the anchor.

No, it couldn’t have been — and wasn’t — the real criminal who raped a diplomat in the capital last week. It was NDTV 24x7’s version of what could have happened — dramatization, in TV parlance. Or tabloid television, in the word of critics.

Such post-hoc reenactment of real situations is common enough on television, as anyone who has seen India’s Most Wanted or Police Files knows. Or the more laudable documentaries on BBC and Discovery. But how can such “creative interpretations of actuality” (one definition of documentaries) be shown on prime-time news' It’s not just unsettling, it sounds unethical too.

Rape, with its inevitable absence of real footage, is a favourite with our news channels in their determination to give viewers “the feeling of being there”. In August, this is how Aaj Tak reported the rape of a junior college-teacher in Agra by her own students. The channel dramatized the entire incident, showing a woman being forced on to a bed and then a vague shot of a woman’s hand forcibly held down by a man — just like in Hindi movies.

The glib defence will be, dramatizations help bring home the horror of the crime and could even help apprehend the culprits (as shows like Most Wanted have). The real answer can only be, reenactment of rape scenes in the name of news can be a great viewership draw.

Always a journalist

Once a journalist always a journalist. So there was Arun Shourie last week, pouring out his frustrations on the pages of the Indian Express, venting his abundant spleen on “one of the remaining bastions of the licensing regime”, his very own telecom sector. The four-part series was replete with sentences like “civil servants, judges, to say nothing of ministers, are least equipped to anticipate technologies” that the communications and disinvestment minister could well have written in his glory days as the editor of the Indian Express.

It is, of course, so much easier to write long pieces on what is wrong than to put them right. (There was always a politician in the journalist too, Shourie never limited himself to 10 words when he could use 100.) Every time the minister has a problem with his government (and he’s had many), he metamorphoses back to his earlier self. Multi-part articles “special to the Express” follow, which lay down what is to be done (and what he has failed to do).

It is unlikely that the minister believes the Express, with its dwindling circulation, is a great vehicle to win over hearts and minds to his cause. It’s more a reflex action. Shourie still hasn’t got over those Express days. Last month, days after his aborted plans to sell off HPCL and BPCL, he told reporters, “I told them [Parliament colleagues] I am a journalist belonging to the Express school. I will exhaust you. And I did. The last debate on disinvestments had to be cancelled for lack of quorum.” Fortunately, politics is not so easy to give up.


Most journalists I know are stunned by the poll in the current issue of Outlook. No, they have no quarrel with politicians being near the bottom of the heap in middle-class perceptions of “Who is most useful to society”. The hacks have worked hard enough to put the pols there. They are gobsmacked by their own ranking: Number 6 among 16, at par with lawyers, a smidgen below judges, three rungs above computer engineers. And this after all that talk of the media dumbing down and abdicating its public service remit. A recent American study even says that the Indian media is the 25th most corrupt in the world. No matter. If anyone takes the Outlook seriously, journalists should henceforth command a far better price in the marriage market.

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