By Vincent Van Ross
The Arushi Talwar murder case has been one of the most deplorable cases of callous investigation and media trial in recent times. The case relates to a 14-year old school girl and a domestic help, Hemraj, who were murdered at NOIDA in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The girl’s father, Dr. Rajesh Talwar, was arrested and detained for 40 days as the main accused in the case and released for want of evidence.
The way the investigation of the case has been handled is far from satisfactory. Both at the state level and at the central level. But, the role of the media in dislodging the process of natural justice cannot be overlooked.
Except for a few newspapers and television channels, most of them acted irresponsibly subjecting the case to a media trial which was uncalled for. Television channels may be TRP (rating upon which advertising depends) driven. But, that does not give them the licence to sensationalise or trivialise issues. Highlighting or underplaying a story is opposed to objective journalism. It is unethical.
Television journalism is instant journalism. And, it makes an immediate impact on the minds of the viewers. Hence, reporting needs to be done by seasoned journalists who can handle information with alacrity and discretion. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs of the electronic media that some of the reporters and editors from the new crop of journalists are not sure of the criteria for a news breaking story.
The mudslinging on the child’s character and that of Dr. Rajesh Talwar by the police and the media without sufficient evidence is unpardonable. There is an old saying: Bear no grudge against a dead man. Apparently, they did not even spare an innocent child. Much of the graphic details of Arushi’s calls churned out by the media were in bad taste that could have been avoided. If Dr. Talwar is innocent, on what basis did the police make him the main accused? Is our investigation system devoid of any procedure?
There was a lot of tampering with evidences. It is a serious offence. Did anyone try to find out who tampered with the evidence and why? Several of the frames in the camera were deleted. Why did it take the investigating agencies so many days to recover the deleted pictures? It is such a simple procedure. If there was nothing worth deleting in the deleted frames what was the need to delete the pictures in the first place?
Now Dr. Talwar has been released for want of evidence and Krishna and his friends have become the accused. Is there enough evidence to make them the accused? Or, has one scapegoat been replaced with several scapegoats?
From day one the Talwars were hounded by the media. There are hundreds of newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television channels and internet sites in India. One of the things that Dr. Talwar’s beseeched of the media was to leave the family in peace. Is there no way to regulate this? Can’t we have news and photo agencies cover these sensitive issues and distribute the stories and pictures to newspapers, magazines and the rest of the media? Can’t we have syndicated footage to cater to the needs of hundreds of television channels? This is something we must apply our minds to. Otherwise, it could turn out to be a harrowing experience for anyone who is struck by tragedies.
Besides, every reporter who is sticking a microphone into the mouths of the relatives and friends of the victims is generating and influencing public opinion. Such views need to be aired with discretion.
The job of the media is that of a watchdog. Therefore, the role of the media should have been to keep tabs on whether the case was being investigated properly
Instead, it assumed the role of a greyhound trying to investigate the case without much of investigative skills and went further and carried out a media trial thereby influencing and dislodging the course of natural justice.
The role of the investigating agency, the judiciary and the media are clearly defined. The media has no business to step on the toes of the other two unless there is sufficient ground to believe that there is something wrong with their functioning. In this case, the media unwittingly took over the role of the other two and messed up on its own role.
Now, we have an Uttar Pradesh Police version of the Arushi muder investigation. And, we have a Central Bureau of Investigation version. But, there are lots of questions that are still unanswered. Who will provide the answers to these questions? Who will lead us to the bottom of this case?