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Crime Reporting in India: Publicising Criminals than condemning Crimes
"Today, Crime reports have taken a major place in Newspapers, Magazines, portals and also TV News Channels. This trend in Indian media has hardly helped checking crimes in the society but has definitely made substantial contributions in creating some dons out of petty criminals."
Basudev Mahapatra : May 11, 2008
With the boom in media industry in India, News has become a product to be consumed by the readers and viewers and, thus, sold in terms of attracting revenue by boosting circulation and TRP (Television Rating Point) than providing pure information to aware the mass and empower people. In most cases, news is determined on the basis of public craze, not requirement. This fact of Indian journalism has led to over emphasis on Sensational, Political and Crime Reporting. Today, Crime reports have taken a major place in Newspapers, Magazines, portals and also TV News Channels. This trend in Indian media has hardly helped checking crimes in the society but has definitely made substantial contributions in creating some dons out of petty criminals.
Among the recent cases is the murder case of Judo Coach Biranchi Das in Bhubaneswar of Orissa that took place on 13 April 2008. Since the day it happened, both police and media treated it as a high profile murder case as Biranchi Das was the man who made a slum child Budhia Singh the youngest marathoner to be featured in the Limca Book of records. This achievement as a coach also pushed him into regular controversies on charges of ‘using a child like Budhia Singh for personal achievement and popularity’ and ‘misappropriating the donation money came to the trust made in the name of child marathoner Budhia Singh’ of which Biranchi was the managing trustee and chief operator.
The first to bring the news to public were TV News channels who not only carried the news as a shocking information but presented the story as a sensational one both in its nature and in terms of visuals. Almost all the stories carried visuals of the blood-splashed body of Biranchi Das, close up of bullet wounds, blood spots at the place along with some bytes of the brother and few students of the victim Biranchi Das. In the bytes, the name of Raja alias Sandip Acharya – a gangster who was into crimes on ransom and for personal interests – came as the killer. Since then all the reports – be it in the form of print, TV, radio or web – made Raja, a gangster, the central theme and the crime, its gravity and the reason and motives behind it came as passing references.
Investigations were made on the criminal history and operations of Raja and placed as lead stories in newspapers and TV news bulletins. Gangster Raja and his criminal records grabbed most of the front-page space and airtime. Visuals and photographs of Raja came in abundance on TV channels and newspapers. Every move of the gangster resulting failure for the city police in nabbing him got a priority place everywhere.
Details about police raids in different places, possible hideouts of Raja were served as spices for news consumers. Media diverted the public craze from the basic crime of murdering a coach to an upcoming criminal gangster Raja Acharya. Instead of presenting Raja as an absconder fearing police arrest, media presented Raja as a challenger to Police. The hype for a gangster was so much that Raja became the most dreadful don in the state even though he was absconding to avoid a police arrest. Even the police couldn’t keep itself free from the influence of media reports. The massive security arrangements in the airport, hospital and judicial court on the day of Raja’s arrival in Bhubaneswar, after he was taken into custody in Goa, clearly indicated how media had weakened the moral strength of Orissa Police in general and Bhubaneswar – Cuttack Commissionerate Police in particular.
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Media’s craze for spicy items inspired Raja to utilise it for creating confusion by giving statements to newspaper and TV channel offices directly. And unfortunately without bringing the statements of a criminal to the notice of the investigating police team media brought it direct to public to give a fresh clue in the morning for coffee shop discussions. Apart from the statements of a projected criminal, even rumours found a place in the TV news bulletins and front-pages of newspapers. Full half an hour slots in TV fell short to narrate the story of the culprit and crimes he committed.
But what is the impact? Did the elaborated and sensationalised stories made people aware to come forward for stopping further crime in their city? Were people encouraged to bring any criminal act to the notice of Police?
Rather, police was so presented in the stories and the nexus were so highlighted that people would have lost faith on Police and, possibly, in future they wouldn’t even dare to inform police about a crime happens in front of them or is about to happen.
In contrast, the small town gangster Raja Acharya was given so much importance that public sees him as a don. Now everybody is scared of his name and picture. Tomorrow, after being released, it would be very easy for Raja to continue collecting money forcibly from people.
So, what our crime reporting did? It simply helped a criminal rather than checking further crime.
Biranchi Das Murder case reporting is just a tip of the iceberg. Boom in Indian media industry of mushrooming of TV channels and media houses have started dealing with news like a consumer product where saleability matter more than the real purpose of news and ethical reporting. With this the chronic problems of people and communities are not getting a proper presentation.
Like when the Raja factor ruled all news bulletins and newspapers, the voice of Orissa MPs raised to safeguard the interests of the state and other mineral rich states just found a mention and no follow-up was made on the very important aspect of development.
Biranchi Das was murdered when people’s plight in Vedanta University project area and the issue of former speaker’s alleged involvement in a sexual harassment case in the state assembly were in statewide discussion. Both the issues vanished from all media since the Murder of Biranchi Das took place and a hint of Raja’s involvement sparkled in some bytes.
As an aware and responsible citizen representing as well as impacting the common mass, journalists should act with more caution while reporting crimes. Just to create sensation and draw some individual mileage, it is quite unfair to publicise things that would influence or obstruct a normal investigation and add power to an evil element of the society.
In order to check any irresponsible act in crime reporting, there should also be some kind of regulations to restrict over-publicity of criminals by highlighting their criminal records and publishing their photographs and live videos as these acts would hamper an investigation, promote criminal activities and generate fear in the civil society for certain criminals.