Pronounced guilty

Indian Express News

North East West South, together they make the news, our professor joked. Silly it seems now, but the first time I realised this in one of my journalism classes, it was a sense of wow! I had spent all my life not ever having made that connection, how foolish was I…And with that little joke, began the love for the subject.

Many may argue, Really how much can you learn? What all can be taught? It is after all, one of those things that you just have to figure as you go along, one byline into another, one goose chase after the other. But for someone like me, the theory was a masterpiece, you just could not know enough, have enough. A bachelors in journalism, led to a masters and I even cleared the papers for a MPhil in the subject.

But through the six years of learning to write for different mediums, somethings never changed. The basic grounding for every report was the news value it delivered. The structure of the story was a choice you made, the lead or lede could be direct or delayed, you could go for the inverted pyramid or not but there was one thing you need to be sure-the story got its facts right and that it delivered an unbiased, objective and fair view. Year after year, we were drilled about sources, corroborating stories and including viewpoints. Long arguments went on in the classroom-both as a student and a teacher. How does one stay emotionally disconnected? How does one validate a source? How far should we go? How much is too much? Could there ever be a too much?

Inverted Pyramid in Journalism

“Inverted pyramid in comprehensive form” by Christopher Schwartz is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

As much in love as I was with the theory, reality has always been a disappointment. Working with a news channel in the beginning of my career, I had to get used to the newspaper being scoured through for interesting news pieces. As a PR person, I end up looking sheepishly at my clients when their stories get published, facts misrepresented, genders changed, random quotes – disappointed I have to agree with them that a wave of laziness has hit journalists. Often I am forced to wonder what has gone wrong with our media.

September 22, Sunday – it had been a long weekend. My husband despite the restraining had found the school my son was studying at, called them and inquired about transferring him to another school. I had panicked and had spent the day before running from pillar to post to ensure that my son would be okay and under no harm. I did not have my help over that weekend and the fortnightly migraine had been fighting its way through my body. Just as I wished the day would end soon and we could head to bed, I was hit with calls and messages. 

I was on the news!

“A man was fighting for his dying wish and hosting a dharna outside town hall in Bangalore with support and help from an organisation called Crisp.” In the days to follow, TV9, News9, Kasthuri TV and others came up with various reports. 

“The man was terminal. He had been falsely accused of Dowry Harassment and Domestic Violence. His wife had left him once he had been diagnosed with cancer. His son was not being allowed to meet him. She had taken him away to Delhi where she was living now. She had gotten the dying man beat up by her father and brother. The father was planning to build a school with the alimony she received. The man had not seen the child in 9 months.”

The news reports said all this and more. Pictures of my family, me and my son were all over public television. The news reports were then posted on Facebook and Youtube. Public support was called for. Messages circulated that a dharna be called for in front of my house.

My question today to the media is not why you put up that news story or what news value it has. I am not asking you what you aim to achieve or how you plan to change the world by airing that news story, over and over again, across all your network. My question to you is that if you have picked up that battle for a dying man, 

  • Should you not have verified if or not he was actually dying? 
  • Should you not have shown me, as a viewer, medical records that stated his condition?
  • And even if that was true, why did you choose not to speak to the ‘stone-hearted’ woman once?
  • Should you not have asked me if I had something, a little tiny something that could possibly have justified keeping him away from my son? 
  • Did you not even think it was important to find out who this woman is, was she actually in Delhi or Bangalore or was she available for a comment?
  • Did you by your story mean to say that the Court which had heard me and ordered a restrain on the man and his family was not reasonable enough to do so?

Had you bothered to at least approach, if not me or my lawyers but the court, you would know that the son had met the father just ten days before the incident in the court premises.

That I had been told that the man needed a surgery and it was his wish to see the child before he was wheeled in for surgery and hence, on humanitarian grounds alone the man had spent time with the child at the Bangalore mediation Centre. 
(FYI – the surgery still has not happened, four months later.)

We were still reeling from the effects of that meeting when you decided to play judge and throw in some baseless, opinionated, one-sided plot and called it a news story.

I have stayed silent for this long.

Justice would come through, the court had to see the plight of a woman who had been cheated, abused and abandoned by the system. I had to take responsibility to protect her and her child and give them their due. 

Friends asked me leave the city. 
My parents received many a calls asking me to go into hiding. 
How would I manage? 
What could a single woman with no organisation backing her, no support systems and no great influence do; the media and public having made a judgement without a trial.

Some called and assured me. Who watched these channels after all and what more could you expect from a tabloid news channel. They asked to me stay put and battle it out. And so I am still waiting to hear from the courts what they have to say about these attempts to harass and malign the reputation of my family and me.

Why then am I speaking about it now you may ask?

24 December, The New Indian Express covered a story. ‘Court lets dying man meet his son’, the headline read. You read about the meeting in my blogpost, My Child or Yours. I was aghast. How could a paper like the one in argument publish a story like this? I spent a day outside their office yesterday to understand what went behind the reporter’s mind and how the editor could allow it. 

I did not meet the reporter. The Resident Editor was very kind to me. I was seated and asked to explain my version. I did.

Again my questions were,

  • did you see proof that the man was dying?
  • And even if it was true, did you not think it was appropriate to find out why was he not being allowed to meet the child in the first place?
  • Why was I not informed before my child’s image got published in your paper
  • How was it okay to not have another side to the matter?

He apologised profusely, offered me coffee and tea, said he was responsible for everything that was published but unfortunately he had not seen the piece. He didn’t know if or not the reporter had seen any validating documents but he would check and get back to me.

I am waiting to hear from him.

Again, I throw some questions in the open. How did the media get the right to pre-judge a case that is in contention in front of the medium that the constitution asks us to go to when things go wrong?

But no. The report says “…had to take back the toys, dresses and other gifts he had bought for the kid as his wife rejected them.” The report talks about the opposing lawyer’s argument which was actually never sought for. Neither has my lawyer, or the colleague who felt sorry for me going to court alone and accompanied me or I, been spoken with.

Had the reporter been on-site to witness the meeting, he would have known that the ‘dying’ man who could not live for a minute without his son was an hour late for what he calls on his facebook profile ‘The D-Day’. He would have seen me being threatened and stopped by the mother and brother of the dying man at the gates of the court. He would have seen that the dying man rolled the wheel chair in front of my car, blocked the way as the ten-odd people attending the father’s visitation surrounded the two women we were, and forced the toys to be put into the car. He would seen the way we were intimidated within the court premises and the state of panic we were in as we drove out of the gate of the Bangalore Mediation Centre.

So here I am, asking you media persons about those journalistic principles you and I learnt about in those classrooms? Have you forgotten them, and in case you have, here you go. They include truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability
Had you merely read through, you would know that my son’s name, who let me remind you is a minor, should not have been mentioned in your report, let alone his picture published.

Today, the youtube video has over 1800 views. People have wished me dead and my parent’s who have worked hard all their lives and are known for the principles and values they have stood by, have been mocked, ridiculed and insulted. And you journalists have our blood on your hands. 

And incase you didn’t know, with a system like ours, we, women, need not have cancer to die a death every day.

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