The steady erosion of media ethics has been bothering some of us for quite some time. What India TV did on February 27 – airing sexually explicit videoclips about two Bihar politicians – was quite disturbing. The following post was first sent to thehoot.org, a mediawatch website. Am posting it on this as well.
The airing on India TV of some sexually explicit clips of some well-known Bihar politicians indulging in some sexual dalliance once again throws up the question of where our TV channels draw the line. Nowhere, it appears to be right now.
Rajat Sharma’s India TV chose election results day to expose some politicians, one of whom was a candidate for the Bihar legislative assembly. What India TV did crossed all lines of decency. Hardly anything was left to the imagination in spite of some blurring of images and a black board saying Censored blocking off some images. What was even more disgusting and was the repeated airing of the clips, and the anchor prompting all the while, `look carefully, why do we need to censor this visual’. And in the next breath they would say, these visuals are so disgusting, we don’t know what to say! There are so many issues that this raises about media ethics.
One, the question of where to draw the line between public and private. The channel repeatedly said, look at the public face these politicians show and look what they do behind closed doors. Band kamre ke andar. Well, if it was behind closed doors and the politicians were not raping anyone, what business is it of anybody whom they have sex with? Were the women in the visuals under some kind of pressure? Or were the politicians using their clout in some way? The channel was silent on that. If this was not the case, what business is it of the media to intrude into someone’s bedroom or hotel room and violate their privacy?
Two, the India TV anchors kept harping on the morality issue. `In harkaton ko zara dhyan se dekhiye, kya yahi hamare neta hain? (look at these images carefully; are these our politicians?)’ `These are our representatives.’ `This man has three sons and a daughter.’ `This man is fifty-three years old.’ So? Fifty-plus men with grown up children don’t have sexual urges? Since when has having sex inside a closed room between two consenting adults become a crime? Or does getting into public life mean that politicians have to turn celibate?
It was perhaps only former information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad – whom the channel had invited to the India TV studios – who raised the issue of propriety of airing the visual. He roundly ticked off India TV on two counts. He had been invited, he pointed out, to what he thought was a discussion on the Bihar election results, only to have the anchor seek his reaction to the tape and focus the discussion on politicians’ behaviour. Prasad has a point. Can TV channels call someone for one discussion and then take the discussion on to some other issues, even if it was as serious as the sexual escapades of politicians?
Prasad raised a second, more pertinent point. Very bluntly he asked the anchor whether this was being done just to push up TRPs. He wasn’t denying the media the right to expose politicians, he said, but wondered whether not the electronic media should draw a lakshman rekha about what they show, especially on a day when everyone was gathered in front of the television sets.
Far from being chastened, the anchors wondered why the media was being lectured and whether politicians shouldn’t adhere to some lakshman rekha in public life. One even wondered why Prasad was pointing this out when other politicians had roundly condemned the politician caught on camera, hinting that Prasad was being lenient towards the concerned person.
If that wasn’t brazen enough, the channel invited public comments via SMS and displayed all the congratulatory messages it got. The channel will no doubt use this flood of congratulations to justify what it did. But was the public reacting in an informed way. By constantly dubbing the actions `kaale kartoot’ (black deeds) wasn’t the channel influencing public opinion by ignoring the fact that those in the video may have been two consenting adults?
This issue raises far more questions about media ethics than about the behaviour of politicians. `Naitikta ke saari haden paar kar gayi hain’ (all limits of propriety have been crossed) said India TV about these politicians. Looks like it was India TV which crossed all the limits.
But let's not blame India TV alone. It has only gone one step further than others. When the Delhi Public School MMS scam (in which two school students were shot having sex and the MMS clip was sold across the country) was talking up space in the print media and airtime on the electronic media, some channels said they had the clip and showed blurred images of the offensive clip. And when a controversy raged over Mid Day carrying explicit pictures of film stars Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapur kissing in public, TV channels kept showing those visuals, even as they organised sanctimonious debates about the issue of privacy of public personalities.
Does this mean the electronic media should be subjected to some form of censorship? NO WAY. But the media generally needs to debate the extent it will go to in order to improve circulation or TRP ratings as the case may be.