Aastha Manocha has a post-graduate diploma in journalism. She worked for The Indian Express portal for close to two years as a sub-editor. She is young and idealistic in her journalistic pursuit. We don't know what she's doing here either.
Expecting sensitivity from Hindi news channels is pretty much like expecting sanity from them. Their coverage of the recent death of Fiza Mohammad, formerly Anuradha Bali, proved that their notoriety is well-earned.
The following video has the tasteful visuals of her partially-decomposed body being taken out on a sheet so that the viewers can see the rotting arm. Also shown are the images of the bed on which her body was found. If that’s not good TV we don’t know what is.
When the news of her dead body being found first came in, ABP News, like many others we presume, put it under “Breaking News” – because it is just as important as floods, or mass murder.
The voiceover repeated, “Fiza ka shav mila hai” (Fiza’s corpse has been found) almost seven times in the first 50 seconds. Probably to fill up the time before she can reach out to the reporter on site who mercifully had some more details.
News 24 decided to confuse viewers. While their visuals (and their anchor) said that Fiza hung herself from the ceiling fan, the blurb accompanying their YouTube video says that her body was found on the bed. Incidentally, that is what their own correspondents said as well.
The anchor kept repeating that Fiza committed suicide. Bear in mind that this was just a little while after her body was found and there was no official confirmation of it being a suicide, no matter what it looked like. Finally, after 21 minutes the anchor herself changed track and asked one of the correspondents if this was a suicide or was the police looking at other angles!
She also went on to educate us that politics and glamour “ka tadka” (a taste of) is something that makes people take such extreme steps. And what was her authority on these facts? How many politicians do we know who committed suicide? Would she bother to point out that while Chander Mohan aka Chand Mohammad was accepted with open arms into his family and political circle even after dumping his first wife and kids, Fiza was relegated to anonymity, with just societal judgment for company? No. Instead we got umpteen details of how Fiza had political ambitions, was suffering from depression and often fought with her neighbours.
The news of Fiza’s death hit the airwaves around the same time as the suicide of former MLDR airhostess, Geetika Sharma. In Geetika’s suicide note, the 23-year-old had blamed former Haryana Minister of State for Home, Gopal Kanda and HR manager of MDLR, Aruna Chadha for her suicide. The similarities between the two cases are there for all to see – the role of Haryana politicians, the scope for women to get grievance redressal, even that of suicide helplines. But channels such as News24, in all their wisdom, decided to ask, “Netaji se mahilayon ki dosti kitni khatarnak hai?” (How dangerous is it for women to be friends with politicians? – we refuse to use the word ‘leaders’ for such people).
And who else but “social activist” Alka Lamba to grace this debate! She went on about how “compromise” and women mixing their personal and professional lives is a problem. Former NCW member, Yasmeen Abrar also did women proud by saying that it is up to women to see how they maintain their “character” and “sanskar”. She had to be reminded by the anchor that the “character” argument could be applied to the politicians in question as well. Score one for the media.
Lamba went to the extent to say that it wasn’t surprising that Fiza’s life ended in tragedy. The “behavioural physician” (whatever that means), Swati Kashyap, said that when you are completely frustrated in life, the only thing that can prevent you from suicide is your belief in your God, which in her opinion Fiza (and not Chand) made fun of. So does the same logic apply to Geetika as well? And by what standards do any of these “experts” have to right to come and pass judgment on these women who can’t even defend themselves? Is there a dearth of broad-minded, sensitive and intelligent women out there who talk sense?
To be fair, CNN-IBN also had a similar debate on Face the Nation on Tuesday night with Sagarika Ghose. However, the quality of panelists and their opinion was slightly more well-informed and balanced. The arguments involving “ambitious women”, “moral”, “using the body” were all bandied about here as well, but panelists such as Renuka Dagar – Social Researcher and Ranjana Kumari – Director, Centre For Social Research were able to point out the basic bias against women, which is why we never hear phrases like “fallen men” or see the politicians involved in exploiting women being shunned by family and society.
Hindi channels, it’s not that hard not to sensationalise death. Try it. You might just earn some respect from your audience.