All this week, television has been judge, jury, prosecutor, defendant, pop psychologist, upholder of the law, denouncer of its mockery, self-appointed custodian of the nation's conscience and its self-anointed spokesperson. Above all, it has unabashedly chased police vans and TRPs alike ever since the court allowed Maria Susairaj to walk out of jail with her plastic bags, her tacky dress and her feigned look of injured innocence.
We have witnessed the utter 'Foxification' of our own news channels. Television has been guilty of a multitude of crimes in its response to the sensational Neeraj Grover murder case - from seriously undermining the court's verdict to overkill. Anchors have excelled themselves as circus ringmaster and Grand Inquisitor. Hyperventilation has seldom been higher or emotional manipulation more sinister.
This is hardly the first time that TV has been in the dock for targeting TRPs rather than injustice, corruption, criminal negligence or whatever they brandish as their current crusade. Some channels are openly ghoulish. My point is that even those whose hearts have so ostensibly bled for the bereft Neelam and Amarnath Grover have been no less guilty of exploiting their tragedy for prime-time power and glory.
The Baddies of TV are the soft target. They are the programmes which 'celebritised' Maria Susairaj. They endlessly replayed her passage from court to police van to prison to the SUV on which she sallied forth to freedom. They showed over and over again every smug expression, every tear wiped camera-consciously away as she knelt in the Mahim church. They breathlessly covered her barefaced press conference, and were accessory to her lawyer's callous display of the photograph of Neeraj's desecrated body to prove a disgustingly irrelevant point.
Yes, the Bad Guys are an open and shut case. But the jury is still out on the Good Guys, the anchors who showed a socially responsible sense of outrage, and even misty-eyed empathy. It's difficult not to name names, but i'll have to try because, one, they're my friends, and, two, it's an (admittedly) overstretched requirement of media etiquette.
Our topmost, serious English prime-time news shows went for the surefire cocktail: six-parts emotion and four-parts rage. They were riveting and goose bump-raising. On one of them, the verdict-shattered Grovers were visibly lifted on a wave of support, encouraging them to resume their fight. But it still filled me with a deep sense of disquiet; i found myself asking, 'Hey, aren't these very correct programmes also exploiting this tragedy of horrors to the hilt? They're doing so more subtly, more acceptably, but they are still cashing in on it, right? So, where does the media buck really stop?'
For the record, i greatly admire, even envy all these anchors. Not for a moment do i suggest that the lump in their throat, the quiver in their voice were as fake as Maria's demure act for the ravenous cameras. But even the most empathetic show is still a show; unfortunately bodies can become just one more rung on the ladder, just another prop on the cynical battlefield of TRPs.
It is, alas, the nature of the media beast. This is the story of the day, and we cannot say, 'We will not add to the blood lust by covering it, and instead fill prime time with a lyrical feature on the monsoon landscape.'
There's only one thing that can be said in extenuation. The media may be a ruthless, unrepentant ambulance (or police van) chaser, but, more than any other forum, it has the power to fling open the doors to reveal the mangled injustice inside. On occasion, it has even brought justice back to life. For this alone, forgive us our trespasses.