Thursday, 31 December 2009

Vigilante Justice, Courtesy Media

My revulsion for S P S Rathore - especially the sight of him coming out smiling after the six months imprisonment verdict - is in danger of turning into sympathy. And all because of my profession.

I was watching television news this afternoon and saw the news flash about Rathore being unrepentant. Why? Because while coming out of the court after applying for anticipatory bail, he told the news cameras hounding him: "the day you can satisfy me you are a constitutional power on judicial matters, I will speak (to you)".

What is wrong with that? He is correct. He and other criminals are answerable to the courts where they present their defence. Not to hysterical television journalists.

I completely agree with Abha Rathore’s comment, “There are editors sitting in newsrooms passing judgments on the case, behaving like saviours of law and gaining mileage out of the entire episode.” She also has a point when she says that the media has already started the trial without waiting for them to file an appeal against the conviction by the lower court. The deadline for that was January 4. We may be aghast at the temerity of the man to appeal against the conviction, but, let’s face it, it is his right.

The Rathores have asked the court for protection from the media. And I am ashamed to admit it is probably a valid request. His behaviour all these years does not justify the media behaving like a pack of wolves. (Incidentally, it is only today that I learnt that the Rathores had filed a defamation case against one newspaper some years back. It is typical of the ostrich approach of our profession to our failings that we have kept silent about this).

Though nothing should surprise me any more about the electronic media, I was still aghast at the way they were conducting themselves. "The law is catching up" with Rathore, one channel said. Overlooking the minor point that the law had caught up with him and given him six months jail and then bail (which is also under the law). The point in question is that the sentence wasn't seen as adequate.

Rathore's wife was also the subject of sarcasm for mocking television cameras, saying don't push, take all the pictures you want. But what else can one say when being jostled by camera crew? And when she is being followed by a persistent reporter saying "anything you would like to say? anything about the case?" What is she supposed to say? If she says her husband is innocent (which is obviously what she will say), then she will be inviting further sarcasm on prime time.

There was this other gem on one channel in relation to the Madhukar Tandon case (the Rajasthan police officer who has not been arrested in 13 years on a rape charge): “Two states have either refused to track him down or arrest him.” Refused? Do these reporters/anchors know the meaning of the words they use?

And what has all this media hype resulted in? Things unheard of – like filing fresh FIRs in cases where conviction has been handed out. Legal experts including Ram Jethmalani and K T S Tulsi have pointed out that a person cannot be convicted for the same crime twice. Surely these people know more about the law than journalists do.

I am providing a link to an editorial in The Indian Express editorial, Call off the mob, which highlights the danger of the kind of media-generated public hysteria.

Indeed, the travesty of justice should not become an excuse for vigilante justice.

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