Guilty till proven innocent

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Last night Mumbai’s Joint commissioner of police Himanshu Roy was on CNN-IBN, to talk about the Vijay Palande-Simran Sood duo, accused of four murders. No doubt this story has been a talking point in Mumbai over the last few days, with newspapers devoting a significant share of newsprint to how much the plot sounds like a Bollywood potboiler. Palande is accused of using small-time model Simran (also his wife) as honeytrap to allegedly lure men and kill them for money. What appalled me however, was that Roy played `Judge’ Himanshu Roy, sans the black robe. Roy admitted the probe is at a preliminary stage but after the pronouncements he made, no doubt based on investigation, no viewer would have been left in any doubt that the couple was guilty on all charges.

They perhaps are. But then the due process of law is meant to ensure that under no circumstances can someone be declared `guilty’ without a trial.

Details now emerge that former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan is not quite the un-Adarsh politician he was made out to be. That the land belonged to the government and not the defence ministry and flats in the Adarsh housing society were not reserved for defence personnel or Kargil war heroes, taking the sting out of the moral outrage this country expressed when the `scam’ broke. If the findings of the two-member judicial panel are anything to go by, it is obvious India, led by its shouting brigade – opposition + media – damned Chavan in a kangaroo court. (The flip side is that the opposition says the terms of reference of the panel were tailormade to suit Ashok Chavan).

Will we, the lynch mob of India say sorry, if Ashok Chavan walks out clean? Unlikely. But a mere sorry may not even be enough. And that is what is worrying. In the world of soundbyte journalism and retweet social media, heroes and villains are being created 24×7. There are no longer any shades of grey. You are either black or white.

As was the case with B S Yeddyurappa. A combo of bad temper coupled with knife-carrying BJP-ites, saw his end. Whether he did any wrong is for the courts to decide, but the fact that he made no bones about his love for the chair, was held against him. A court ruling in his favour in the mining case, did no good to him. In public perception today, Yeddy is labelled as a power leech, troublesome leader, corrupt. It is no more innocent till proven guilty but guilty till proven innocent.

Mamata Banerjee is the latest target of this mob on the rampage. True, she has gone over the top with her not-so-diplomatic reactions to several sensitive issues that have cropped up in the recent past. But there are several past and present chief ministers who have done worse – whether it is to buy or browbeat the media, to curry favour with industrial houses for personal benefit and more – and got away with it simply because they had better and more smart PR machinery.

The problem is that today’s mainstream media and social media, and its consumers, are constantly on the treadmill. `Monsters’ that constantly need to be fed a dose of new `villains’. When a story goes viral, you know things are going to get hot under the collar for someone. In this race to hit the G-spot to reach the climax, the casualty is foreplay. Or to put it in media parlance, decent research.

Of course, there are exceptions. Like Vinita Deshmukh with the Moneylife story on President Pratibha Patil’s post-retirement plans. Investigative journalism has an important place in India but there has to be a method to the madness. This practise of damning and labelling people as `guilty’ because you do not appear on my prime time show, has to stop. Like it or not, TV does manage to make or break public opinion for or against someone. It is time that power was used with responsibility.

The same goes for the social media. Twitter and Facebook are great platforms but they have to stop looking like hired killers on the prowl. As a journalist I can tell you, many a time, you could be `chosen’ to leak information through CDs that arrive in anonymous covers at your office. It would be foolish to assume that they have been sent by neutral, well-meaning citizens, who want to expose the `corrupt’ or `criminal’. That is no reason to consign it to the dustbin. But what you certainly need to know before you use the story is what motivated someone to send you the `information’. Do the math and the research and then take the call. Because 2 + 2 is not always 4.


  1. April 21, 2012

    T S Sudhir

    Thankyou Suresh and Saye

  2. April 20, 2012

    A. Saye Sekhar

    Very appropriate piece at a time when the Supreme Court is debating on the vexatious ‘Trial by media’ and the reportage of court proceedings. Highlighting of one-sided arguments, and unrestrained comments by the presiding officers which indicate which way they are going to tilt the scales even before pronouncing judgments have all attained menacing proportions. Great.

  3. April 19, 2012

    Suresh Dharur

    “In this race to hit the G-spot to reach the climax, the casualty is foreplay…..” Hey, Sudhir, good one!

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