By Nithin Sridhar
The filing of First Information Report (FIR) on October 3 by Saharanpur police in Uttar Pradesh against Delhi’s Ritu Rathaur (@RituRathaur) received extensive media coverage especially by Hindi channels. She was booked for attempting to disrupt communal harmony by posting rumors and sensational posts on social media.
The FIR was registered after Rathaur posted the photo of a dead sub-inspector with the comment that he was mowed down after he tried to stop the truck carrying beef. Refuting the claim, the UP government claimed that the sub-inspector was killed by a truck carrying river-stones. The tweets of Ritu Rathaur (which she has apparently deleted now) and the UP government can be seen in this image.
Anchors of media channels kept reiterating that Rathaur is a BJP leader and tried to instill into audiences’ mindset the BJP was behind communal disharmony (read riots) across India.
Rathaur is neither a leader nor an office bearer in BJP. Arvind Gupta of BJP IT Cell has tweeted, saying she is not part of BJP IT/SM cell.
— Arvind Gupta (@buzzindelhi) October 4, 2015
One channel even opined that Ms Rathaur was well linked with BJP top brass as she frequently shared tweets from BJP leaders. A media house failing to differentiate between a party cadre and a leader points towards the degradation of journalism standards. Jumping to conclusion and acting as the judiciary further made the situation atrocious. Before the probe reports were filed, media houses pronounced Rathaur to be guilty. Rathaur differed with the UP government’s version on the death of sub-inspector Tyagi but that does not make her a liar or rumor monger.
The issue of character assassination is nothing new in media. The case of Jasleen Kaur too had similar features with news channels literally framing the accused Sarvjeet Singh before the probe was even completed. The callousness of the media resulted in Singh losing his job. A repetition of the same phenomenon can be seen in the coverage of the Ms. Rathaur issue. The news channels repeatedly upheld the account of the UP government as final unquestionable truth and pronounced Ms. Rathaur as guilty of spreading rumors. But, there are some questions that remain unanswered by the UP government or the media. Senior journalist Surajit Dasgupta has pointed these gaps in his tweets.
— Surajit Dasgupta (@surajitdasgupta) October 4, 2015
Hence, the manner in which the news anchors became the police, judge and the jury in portraying Rathaur shows the downtrend in professionalism.
The channels further tried to give a communal flavor to Rathaur’s tweets by questioning her motive behind her posts about an earlier incident at a time when the situation was charged with tension due to Dadri incident.
Moreover, the YouTube videos of the news reported in all these channels are biasaed saying that an FIR against Rathaur has been filed for linking sub-inspector’s death with Dadri lynching. But, the tweet of Ms. Rathaur reveals no such intentions. From the tweet, it appears that the tweet was a response to Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s article wherein he squarely blames PM Narendra Modi for all communal tensions including that of Dadri.
So, how did a tweet which does not even mention Dadri link the sub-inspector’s death with the Dadri incident? The tweet was clearly a commentary on the media that tries to criticize Modi for every ill in the society but showed no communal motive. One channel went even further and clubbed the issue of FIR against Rathaur with the statements made by Mavia Ali, Chairman of Deoband municipality in Saharanpur district, who virtually called for the killing of Sadhvi Prachi.
How are the issues even related? Why did the news channels try to attribute non-existent communal motive to Rathaur by clubbing her with known communal elements or with communal incidents? There can be only one answer. In this case, the media was avoiding the real sensational events and trying to rake up a controversy by making a person a scapegoat
The coverage of Rathaur issue has again exposed the pseudo-sensationalism that is practiced by the media for the sake of TRPs. It has also exposed the crass biasness and the hidden agendas of many of the journalists and media houses. Irrespective of whether Rathaur is guilty or not, the media should have exerted restraint and exhibited professionalism in covering the issue. Sensationalism, biasness, unprofessionalism, and fostering hidden agendas do great harm not only to the reputation of the fourth estate but also to the nation as a whole.