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Columnist
Can media play role of prosecutor and investigator
By Lalit Sethi
Are the TV channels supposed to be dispensing authentic information abiding by the time-honoured practice and dictum that new is sacred and comment free? Are they and even web sites and some in the print media truly good purveyors of news? Or are they overtaking the social media on the net, where personal perceptions can often hold sway?

Since the web sites and 24x7 TV came into vogue in India more than a decade or two ago, has the print media been forced to spice up and lace the already stale news with analysis and even comment when newspapers get to the news-stands or homes by the morning? Does that give the right to all kinds of media, be it TV or entertainment, to engage in exposes at will and serve more of debates, often dragging away on the beaten track and tedious for viewers and listeners?

Or is it that the blazing heat of midsummer and mid-May is raising tempers and anger overtakes cool-headed attitudes of news anchors and their aides with tokens of personally perceived information, not always backed by solid, documentary proof plus more than one or two witnesses who have partial information?

Yet it might be unfair to lump all kinds of media with black tar and leave the hard-working and painstaking foot soldiers, who ferret out investigative reports and analysis of honest good work. There are many a warrior, who has laid down his or her life in pursuit of news and brought out scams and misdeeds of the high and mighty, rich and famous and all powerful, who thought that they were beyond the long arm of the law as they could buy up or hoodwink those who might nab them.

The police and courts, who seek to protect the citizens' rights, are overworked and grossly understaffed, and thereby unwilling, to be able to take suo moto action on the millions of disclosures which have not just a grain of truth but deserve intervention of the authorities. It does happen at the level of the courts and public interest people who diligently move the balancing scales of justice? But don't they take years and even decades for the legal processes to get started and move at nothing better than the snail's pace for the judgment day to arrive in the life times of the victims of highhandedness?

Those affected by the way news media depicts them are, of course, entitled to cry foul when the hot or cold news highlights their achievements or finds fault with what are perceived as great deeds as well as shenanigans depending on how their actions are portrayed. This is how it goes and news media or public spirited people or even the rulers for that matter have to take approbation or the rap for the way they carry out their duties or neglect them.

That is the way of the world; rough with the smooth; pleasure and pain; two sides of the same coin, heads and tails. Flowers and bouquets as well as water cannons, tear-gas, caning and being marched off to police custody followed by bail or jail for the fighters for truth and campaigners against corruption or for the right to freedom of expression: all this is the name of the game.

For the politicians the biggest prize is victory in general elections and shambles for those thrown out of power and office; but if the rulers are not routed and are returned in good numbers, the Opposition space is quite a good place to be in, though power and pelf, perks and goodies of office are gone, but not completely.

It is in this area that the scams of yesteryears about civil aviation, 2G or second generation spectrum, coal scam, oil and gas debates and many other issues of wrongdoing, on which the Comptroller and Auditor-General may have sent reports to Parliament and Government or the President, but do they get locked up in Standing Committees, Public Accounts Committee or Public Sector Committee and the Ministries or courts with partial action taken, legal verdict or dismissal or resignation, but freedom at large for the culprits or alleged culprits.

The latest fall guy in this area is the crusader by the name of Arvind Kejriwal, who has been a loud-mouth beyond control, who has been a wintry midnight protester and sit-in man near the Republic Day Parade Rajpath, beyond restraint, but also a winner of a grand Delhi Assembly election twice and two and a quarter years through his second term of five years. Will he able to serve the full term? Time will tell.

But he is beginning to feel the heat and find crusaders against himself. Of course, he has not been able to control himself in breaking rules and remorseless criticism he has for long been throwing at his detractors. Did he over-reach himself in defying the Prime Minister and the Union Government as Chief Minister of the Delhi Union Territory, which is under near total control of the Lt.-Governor and the Union Home Ministry as well as other authorities at the Centre? Could he have been restrained when he tried to do through what he thought was his anti-corruption bureau, which the Governor told him was not his nor for him to frame Union Ministers in the bygone UPA Government?

Did he over-reach himself in appointing 21 parliamentary secretaries and exposing those 21 MLAs from possible disqualification as well as being unseated? Did he realize that his own detractors within his own fold could turn out to be his own worst foes as is the case with Mr. Kapil Mishra, a Minister in his Cabinet, who was sacked by him and expelled from his own Aam Adami Party?

Mr. Kapil Mishra has gone to the CBI with a formal complaint alleging Kejriwal had accepted Rs. 2 crores from his own Health Minister, Mr. Satyendra Jain, who has denied these charges. Mishra insists he will not join the BJP but remain an MLA and harass his ex-boss, Kejriwal, in the State Assembly. When some news channels, some of them played up this story, were they being fair to Kejriwal or were they giving Kejriwal a taste of his own antics as ever since he came to power, second time round, he has barred the Press from going near him or his Ministers and has been lampooning them in season and out of season, though it was the media that really helped him come to power by applauding him and relaying the ovation that he received during his public activities. Now even Anna Hazare, his mentor, is unhappy with Kejriwal as he had told him long ago to stay out of power games, but the lure of office is too great to be resisted.

Shashi Tharoor, the handsome youthful Congress MP from Kerala, a former senior United Nations official plus a former junior Minister in the UPA, is now facing music over the alleged murder of his wife, Sunanda Pushkar. His oppressor is Arnab Goswami, a former boss of the Times Now TV and now heading the Republic channel, who has gone hammer and tongs, with one of his women aides testifying to having met Sunanda in her hotel room before she died four years ago. But is that proof enough? Is she relying on any post-mortem report, if there is or was one, which would alone testify to an unnatural death or solid evidence of murder by anyone? Her word may or may not be of any legal value against Tharoor in spite of strong haranguing by her and Arnab on the channel? Will the case go back to legal scrutiny or deep freeze in due time?

But the Kingfisher scams and Vijay Mallya are in a different category as the Supreme Court has held the playboy tycoon guilty of contempt of court and asked him to appear before it in July. The Government has discovered that he has property worth Rs 1500 crores and assets of many millions of pound sterling in four British bank and Cayman Island secret accounts ending with the numbers and a few Xs. Will he continue to avoid extradition? The apex court has ruled that Mallya has "misled us about his wealth".

His Indian lawyers hope British courts will use their own rigid and inflexible rules to protect him, but is it so? These courts have completed four or more of the seven rounds of assessment of Mallya's protestations. Will the British Government protect the indefensible rights of a man like Mallya and will those courts let him enjoy undeserved sanctuary?

Lalit Sethi a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.

—[IFS]


News Updated at : Friday, May 12, 2017
 
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