It’s not out of the ordinary to hear of an actor or actress being misquoted by the city supplements in their gossip pages. That seems to be par for the course. Stories are cooked up, facts aren’t checked and half-baked “news reports” are commonplace on page 3 and in film magazines. But when the same thing happens in a mainline paper – not once, but twice – and is passed off as a news story, there’s cause for concern.
Actress Deepti Naval found herself in an unenviable position owing to certain callous and mischievous media reports associating her with a “prostitution racket”. In an extreme case of quoting out of context, Naval fell victim to the media’s penchant for sensationalism and what can only loosely be referred to as “news”.
The incident being referred to was sparked off by a Mumbai Mirror news report published a week ago, which related the details of an argument that took place between Naval and the society members of her Oceanic residence during an interview for TV with Rajeev Masand. According to an update posted by Deepti Naval on her facebook page on March 26, 2013, the society residents thought that she was shooting for a film and thus protested against “such activities” in the society premises. Even after Naval explained that she was not shooting for a film but only giving an interview along with her co-actor Farooq Shaikh, the society members were not convinced. Upset, the duo refused any further interviews and Naval briefly shifted to her Madh Island house. A week to eight days ago, the actress while speaking to her friend, Ali Peter John, who is also a journalist with Mumbai Mirror, supposedly said: “The Society treated me so badly and kept threatening me with ‘WE’LL CALL THE POLICE, WE’LL CALL THE POLICE’, as if I’m running a RACKET here!’”
Following this conversation, on March 19, 2013, Mumbai Mirror published a news report with the headline: “I am not running a prostitution racket: Deepti Naval”. The headline can only be construed to mean that someone had accused the actress of running a prostitution racket and she is commenting on this accusation, which was not the case. As if this wasn’t bad enough, other websites replicated the headline word for word – almost giving credence and definitely more visibility to the erroneously titled news. Be it mainstream English newspapers like The Times of India or entertainment sites such as www.naachgaana.com, all carried the same headline on their websites. However, it was Daily Bhaskar which added insult to injury by concocting up its own version of the already baseless news report. Daily Bhaskar’s headline read: Deepti Naval, Farooq Shaikh shamed and ousted from her ‘prostitution den’.
It is following the appearance of so many news reports carrying this misleading headline that Naval wrote the facebook post on March 26, 2013.
Newslaundry spoke to both Ali Peter John and the Entertainment Editor of Mumbai Mirror. According to John, “Deepti is overreacting. This is part and parcel of an actor’s life. My long association with her has ended. If she wants to take a legal recourse [sic], she is free to do so. Mumbai Mirror is a powerful newspaper”. He also added that headlines are an editorial decision and that he had tried to explain to Naval that assigning a particular headline is the editor’s prerogative.
The editor, Chandrima Pal stood by the story and said, “In her long telephonic interview Ms Naval said several things to the reporter, Ali Peter John. One of the things that she said was she was left hurt by the behaviour of her housing society members. This was her exact quote: I was the first occupant of the building when no one dared to buy an apartment here. I have had many parties and the press has always found in very pleasant to meet me in my house. This is the first time that I was made to feel as if I was running a prostitution den. I have never felt so humiliated in my life.”
However, Pal accused Dainik Bhaskar of being responsible for the entire fiasco and hijacking Mumbai Mirror’s story. She said, “We do not see how it is an out-of-context representation. Ms Naval herself is not denying any of the quotes given to Mumbai Mirror. However, if other newspapers have chosen to shamelessly hijack Mumbai Mirror’s story and give a wrong headline, this newspaper cannot be held responsible for the same”.
While this does not explain Mumbai Mirror’s headline or why it chose to quote Naval out-of-context, it is Dainik Bhaskar which has stolen the sensationalism thunder in this entire fracas. After Naval’s facebook post, Dainik Bhaskar did rework the headline of the article which it had picked up from Mumbai Mirror, in its online edition. Not being too tech-savvy though, they forgot to change the URL of the article, which still contains the misleading words. The Hindi version of the paper is still carrying the story.
Newslaundry also spoke with Deepti Naval. After this incident, Naval said that she wants to stay away from any kind of media interaction. She said, “Media is so sick. I will definitely fight for my rights and freedom of speech. My real fight was with my society members and my right to give interviews at home but such reports have diverted the issue. I want to get back to the real issue”. On the question of taking legal action against the websites and newspapers that quoted her out of context, she said that she hasn’t decided anything yet but also didn’t completely rule it out.
However, amid the rogue behavior of our newspapers and websites, what is bothering us the most is the silence of the Chairperson of Press Council of India Markandey Katju on the issue. Not only because Katju is seldom silent on any issue under the sun but because his job involves (as stated in the official website of PCI) “preserving the freedom of the press and maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India”. While novel (or hare-brained) ideas such as making it mandatory to have an educational qualification for journalists are all very good, this issue hasn’t got him interested. We called justice Katju to ask if he was aware of this case and if so what can be done about it. The honourable Justice answered his phone himself and told us in one sentence that he didn’t know anything about the issue and therefore won’t say anything. Before we could tell him about the case, he hung up.
Maybe it’s slipped his notice that he has been allotted a government bungalow and given a monthly salary not to take up mercy pleas for the Munnabhai of Bollywood – but to keep an eye on the press. If he is done with writing reams of essays in the Op-ed pages of newspapers and appearing every night on most channels claiming he is not a headline-seeker protecting superstars, maybe he needs to comment on what he has been hired for. Possibly he could take up cudgels for another thespian – only this time the attention from him would be warranted.