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Updated: May 20, 2013 17:44 IST

All but lynched by the media

Shohini Ghosh
Comment (31)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
WILD SPINNING: By demonising the Talwars while the judicial process is in progress, the media have failed to uphold the basic ‘presumption of innocence’ principle. Here, Rajesh Talwar is injured after he was assaulted by a man outside a Ghaziabad court.
PTI WILD SPINNING: By demonising the Talwars while the judicial process is in progress, the media have failed to uphold the basic ‘presumption of innocence’ principle. Here, Rajesh Talwar is injured after he was assaulted by a man outside a Ghaziabad court.

Those who want justice done in the Aarushi murder case must stand up against the unethical coverage of the trial

Those who claim to respect the “rule of law” should feel concerned about the unfolding of the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial and its reportage in the media.

On May 14, the print and electronic media triumphantly reported that the Supreme Court had rejected an application submitted by Aarushi’s parents, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, who are the main accused, asking for additional witnesses to be summoned.

The couple was directed instead to approach the High Court.

In the media, however, it was made to appear as if the Talwars had tried to bend the system and failed. But why did they approach the Supreme Court? What relief were they seeking?

The Talwars had submitted an application to the Ghaziabad Trial Court asking for 14 persons, including 9 police officers who had investigated the case in its early stages, to depose before the court as witnesses. This list included Uttar Pradesh Additional Director General (Law and Order) Arun Kumar, who headed the first team of CBI investigators. These names had figured in the list submitted by the CBI, but were later dropped. In an order dated May 4, Judge Shyam Lal turned down the application. Given the persistent problem of delayed listings in the Allahabad High Court, the Talwars approached the Supreme Court for relief. Taking cognisance of the problem, the apex court ruled: “Learned counsel for the Petitioner seeks permission to withdraw the SLP with the liberty to approach the High Court. Permission is granted. In case the matter is mentioned for being taken out of turn, we request the High Court to consider it sympathetically.”

The media gave this simple order a different spin. Mail Today wrote: “The Supreme Court’s dismissal of an application from Rajesh and Nupur Talwar to summon 14 witnesses in the murder case of their daughter Aarushi and domestic help Hemraj clears the decks for progress in the trial case. The apex court rightfully censured the Talwars for attempting to leapfrog the Allahabad High Court....”

Excuse me, but where exactly is the “censure” in the order?

I would imagine that it would be of utmost importance to record the testimonies of these 14 witnesses given the complex history of the case. It is common knowledge that the incompetence of the U.P. police compromised the forensic evidence in the early stages. Even before the investigations had begun, they had ‘solved’ the case by famously declaring that Rajesh Talwar had killed his daughter after discovering her with Hemraj “in an objectionable though not compromising position”.

The first team of the CBI found no evidence by which to charge Rajesh but enough to name Hemraj’s friends Krishna Thadarai, Raj Kumar and Vijay Mandal as the prime suspects. The second CBI team turned this conclusion upside down even though their closure report categorically stated that there was not enough evidence to chargesheet the Talwars.

The report, however, left a trail of damaging insinuations on the basis of which the magistrate of the Ghaziabad court charged Aarushi’s parents with murder and destruction of evidence. The media did not question the glaring contradictions of the closure report, the peculiar logic of the magistrate’s order or want to know why the role of outsiders in the murder was not even being considered given that a crucial piece of evidence, a pillowcase with Hemraj’s blood and DNA, had been recovered from Krishna’s room.

While the prosecution may have its own reasons for dropping certain witnesses, why should the courts not want to hear all sides of the story? Similarly, the push to “clear the decks” and “provide closure” is nothing more than an attempt to railroad the judicial process. On May 15, the Hindustan Times reported on its front page that, “fed up with the repeated adjournments sought by Rajesh and Nupur Talwar”, the CBI court “threatened to cancel their bail”.

Guilt, a no-brainer

While efficiency in a legal system is certainly to be desired, speed cannot be privileged over due process. But since the trial by media has already declared the Talwars guilty, the legal process seems a mere formality, perhaps even a waste of time.

Having demonised the Talwars (as decadent perverts, corrupt manipulators, neglectful parents, honour-killers and so on) the print and electronic media have failed miserably to uphold even the basic tenets of professional journalism. On April 16, when Investigating Officer AGL Kaul declared the Talwars to be the killers, it made headline news, even though the allegation was neither new nor backed by corroborative evidence. When the very next day, Kaul’s neat thesis kept falling apart during cross-examination, the media never bothered to report it. What went unreported in the process was Kaul’s claim that he continued to stand by every word of the closure report. But the same closure report also says there was not enough evidence to chargesheet the Talwars.

So how does it all add up? Actually, it doesn’t.

Here are a few examples of what the media never told us. The media never told us that the Talwars’ domestic help, Bharti, the first to enter the house after the murders, had inadvertently confessed to being tutored by the CBI. The media never told us that Dr. Naresh Raj’s observation (having conducted the autopsy on Hemraj’s body) that the “swollen penis” on the cadaver was proof that he was either having sex or preparing for it was based not on any “scientific authority” but his own experience as a married man! Medical science explains that a cadaver exposed to extreme heat commonly manifests such swelling. Hemraj’s body lay in the heat for 36 hours before it was discovered. More importantly, the CBI is now claiming that the pillowcase with Hemraj’s blood and DNA had been recovered not from Krishna but Hemraj’s room. Why the turnaround? The muddle they say was created by a “typographical error.” From no angle does this appear to be an open-and-shut case.

The presumption of innocence till guilt is proven is a cardinal principle of criminal justice. Those who genuinely want justice for Aarushi and Hemraj should insist on a fair trial as well as ethical standards from the media. There must be room for reasonable doubt and a realisation that since none of us was at the scene of the crime, we cannot know what happened.

As the May 2006 Supreme Court judgment in Zahira Habibullah Sheikh and Others vs. State of Gujarat categorically states, there can be no fair trial without “an impartial judge, a fair prosecutor and an atmosphere of judicial calm.” What is unfolding around the trial is a travesty of this idea.

We can only hope that the courts will uphold a rule of law that believes as much in protecting the innocent as punishing the guilty and refuse to be persuaded by the “collective conscience” of a lynch-mob.

(Shohini Ghosh is Sajjad Zaheer Professor at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia)

Note: Due to an editing error, the 14 witnesses that the Talwars want to testify in court were wrongly described as police officers. Only nine of them are with the police.

More In: Comment | Opinion

I have been following this story since the beginning and have enjoyed
reading Shohini's piece. I absolutely agree that ..."Those who genuinely
want justice for Aarushi and Hemraj should insist on a fair trial as
well as ethical standards from the media."

from:  Shahana
Posted on: May 19, 2013 at 10:00 IST

Has this not been the course charted by our good old legal and law
enforcing institutions from time immemorial. EVIDENCE- or for the lack
of a better word has been the most manipulated, stripped and raped term
in the present context. Evidence planted is more convenient than
evidence found. This is still a cloak and dagger case. Leaving it to the
"law abiding" citizens to fill in the blanks.

from:  Rakesh Menon
Posted on: May 19, 2013 at 01:37 IST

The writer has done well to identify that Indian "media" has a huge problem in terms of bias. However, the writer needs to go deeper. Within the "media", the real problem is editorial control or lack of it. Reporters routinely write in a biased manner without producing the relevant back up. The correct way for a writer to express an opinion is to find somebody qualified to express that perspective instead of rushing to do it themselves. Furthermore, the editors do not require reporters to find somebody to express the other perspective. It is not even clear that these standards have even been articulated by the editors much less put into practice. Indeed, this esteemed paper is just as guilty as most other media outlets.

from:  gopal vaidya
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 22:51 IST

Yes, thank God, a balance report come out. I feel sick of reading all the funny reports come out from the press before the accused are found guilty.

from:  iri
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 19:25 IST

Thank God, The Hindu is getting back to its balanced reporting. The article is well balanced. I wonder how people can conclude that it is 'pro-Talwar'?. I think many readers are like the Media and Bush 'If you are not with us , then you are against us'. No one questions the surmise 'Rajesh Talwar had killed his daughter after discovering her with Hemraj “in an objectionable though not compromising position”. I ask, even the most conservative parent, if he sees a servant 'compromising' his daughter, would kill the servant first and then the daughter after querying about it. What this statement implies is that 'Aarushi was habituated to this sort of thing, her father knew about it, ultimately, when it became unbearable, he killed her'. How did the police, CBI reach such far reaching conclusions ? What was the 'clinching evidence' ? Why should a child of upper class background 'need' a 'cook' in that way ? Implausible this theorey. May be her father killed her, but for what reason ?

from:  Ashwaruda
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 16:48 IST

This is the first balanced report I am reading on this case.

from:  SPar
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 15:47 IST

These days the media, especially TV jumps to conclusion very fast and
lot of private matters that have no public relevance are reported. I
also wonder why defense and prosecution lawyers and family members come
on TV and expose themselves to humiliation.

from:  Rajgopal
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 15:36 IST

if arushi parent are guilty then all the prosecution is fine but if they
are not guilty then cbi and local police more precisely our justice
system is doing biggest crime from more than five year on the mourning
parent. none can return the loss he is bearing.

from:  vinay kumar yadav
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 15:03 IST

This article, while professing on the virtues of objectivity, has gone on to pass judgements on complicity of media and innocence of the unfortunate Talwars. The author is conveniently forgetting that it was not media but the learned judges who ordered the trial of the couple, based on the stataments of circumstantial evidence in the closure report.

from:  Rajeev
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 14:38 IST

Some of you have mentioned that this article is in favor of Talwars.
Actually, nowhere in this article has the author claimed innocence of
Talwars. The author just mentioned few gaping holes in the case and
the way media was biased against Talwars without giving the full
details. So the author was just being neutral.
In any case, media doesn't have the right to decide the culprits.
They must only report the events and not pass judgments. Quite often
many newspapers quote "according to some sources", what are these
sources? Are they reliable? Why do we forget that every person is
innocent till proved guilty of the charges? Is it so difficult to
give an unbiased coverage of incidents? Yes, a neutral report may be
boring, it may not sell and make money, but that must be the way to
go. These publicity seeking and TRP hungry media is curse for the
democracy.

from:  Arjun
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 14:18 IST

Author has made valid points and I agree with him. Media does not play a mature role in our democracy - It either makes you villain or hero .... there is no neutral reporting we can chose who is hero or villain.

Media does not do any follow up on cases as well as tries to sensationalise to catch eyeballs.
But there is no educative role which media plays in terms understanding the situation in a comprehensive view.

from:  Jayesh
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 13:39 IST

One more thing I would like to add -- just like how many TV channels
and papers declared Talwar couple's guilt, there is one particular TV
channel that I saw which behaved as if they knew that Talwar couple is
absolutely innocent and vehemently defended the Talwar couple
repeatedly. Is it really so difficult to be unbiased?

from:  Yashwanth P
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:50 IST

Then who killed little Arushi,Ms. Ghosh? They need to answer. Don't support the media
version myself, but why are the parents concealing the facts? Is it only the police who is responsible? If parents have not killed Arushi, they know who killed her. Appreciate your support to the parents, also expect you to support the prosecution. Facts know only facts no legalities.

from:  PVS Sarma
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:50 IST

Is this really a good article? I do not think so. This article is biased. I know there are questions to be answered but no one should be judgemental at this stage. Why you think Talwars are innocent? Let court decide the matter.

from:  Md Marghoob Inam Naghmi
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:50 IST

The media globally, but especially in India, has become completely commercialized. This is especially true of the TV news channels, but the newspapers are not too far behind. Where is the commitment to journalistic integrity? Where is the commitment to do a thorough fact checking before dishing news to the general public?

The junking of high standards of journalism in favour of the most sensational news, and the competition to be the first to a 'scoop' is sad. Even more worryingly, it might lead to the erosion of media's credibility over time.

from:  Vipin
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:50 IST

Kudos to the author for putting the situation in right perspective. There seem to be vested interest who are out to distort the facts. There are many in the media who have sold their soul for few nickels and are playing havoc with the lives of concerned persons. People need to be careful of such sharks.

from:  Shivkumar
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:43 IST

Nice to hear a rare objective voice on this issue. This is a tragic
issue that must raise our collective consciousness towards justice being
discharged in an environment of trust, transparency and neutrality.
While a sense of empathy towards the Talwars is inevitable, to find them
at the receiving end of such abuse under these circumstances is
bewildering. It exposes a degree of collective violence that is barbaric
and unfortunate. More power to people like Shohini Ghosh - may your
tribe increase and help us redeem our democracy and humanism.

from:  Ananda
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:29 IST

A thought-provoking editorial. Media must surmise that its updates have long-lasting impact on the people. Pseudo-judiciary and farce journalism should not come in the way of transparency. It should take neutral stand notwithstanding the short-term gain through TRP. Needless to say, we all want speedy trial and celerity in the prosecution but not at the cost of "rule of law". Justice should prevail.

from:  Anish Bhardwaj
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:28 IST

This is precisely the reason why minimum qualifications must be made
mandatory by the Press Council for anyone to become a journalist.
Also a refresher course on the rule of law and to define fine line
between ethical and unethical as well as between legal and illegal
needs to be taught to the aspiring journalists -- or else any
voyeuristic, predatory, uncivilized or perverted person can start
calling himself a journalist with a mike in hand and subvert the
discourse on important matters -- which is exactly what is happening
in most of the TV media today. Same thing could be seen in other
professions also such as teaching, police, etc where completely
incompetent people are joining the profession on a large scale.
Needless to say, I don't mean any disrespect to some of the great
media institutions which strongly follow the standard processes in
recruiting and practicing journalism.

from:  Yashwanth P
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:25 IST

I completely agree with the point of view expressed in this article.Personally I can not believe that father & mother duos can slit the throat of such a lovely daughter Arushi.

from:  arvind kumar
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 12:01 IST

It is appreciable that there are such sane voices to be heard in this
absurd media, police and CBI circus that this case has turned out to
be. It is obvious that the investigating authorities have made no
competent effort to solve this crime and have only engaged in fanciful
accusations to conclude the case, with some of the irresponsible media
fueling and benefiting from these fantastic unsubstantiated
allegations. Thankfully, the judiciary has so far played its essential
part without malice and I hope it continues to do so till it is
concluded.

from:  Ekalavya
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 11:43 IST

This case is another shameful episode in the history of the Indian
police. Blaming the media is small consolation. The entire drama
and blarney from the police would be comical, if it were not so
tragic. They have been unable to solve this murder using logic and
forensic science, so they have resorted to cheap conjecture and
used that to base their case.
I hope justice is eventually served. Maybe in the next 25
years....?

from:  Amu
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 10:59 IST

In a democratic country, the press should act much more
responsibly given the size-able freedom of speech that they
enjoy. Contrary to being unbiased and fair, the print and
electronic media is sensationalizing sensitive cases like these
to grab cheap TRPs.
An average working Indian doesn't have much time or energy to dig
deep into social issues or news on a rational, open manner each
day and the source of news shortcuts are these 24-hr news
channels and newspapers. From what i have watched and analysed,
the media is all about hyping things, exaggerating events and
taking things out of their context these days. There are only a
handful who truly imbibe the ideal of fairness, truth and justice
as a result of which people as a whole are misguided,
misinformed, brainwashed and fooled.
If the barrage of nonsense from media continues this way, it'd be
better for the broadcasting ministry to clip their wings. May
truth prevail!

from:  Shridevi
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 10:52 IST

Even though the article is camouflaged as neutral and objective,it is written for Talwars

from:  Abhilash S
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 10:46 IST

I commend the writer and her excellent article for the lone voice of
sanity in the midst of the media cacophony holding the Talwars guilty.
When it comes to the Sajjan Kumars, Jagdish Tytlers and the Pawan Kumar
Bansals the greatest latitude is given under the " Innocent until proved
guilty" maxim, but not when it is about an average middle class family
such as the Talwars, even though better off by Indian standards. Clearly
there is one code for handling the Talwars and another for politicians,
particularly of the ruling party variety.

from:  N.S.Rajan
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 09:38 IST

Media is quite young in this country and in today's time it has become
an important and sensitive way to lead masses. Respectful laws and
equally important, action in accordance to that law should tame and
punish such paid journalism who have their irrational verdicts in cases
like these. Now is the time when we need some independent censorship
over media else this shall be the reason of our fall, the 4th pillar is
becoming weaker with each day passing.

from:  Siddhartha
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 09:31 IST

Why is the professor only talking about the system like CBI and courts ? Rajesh and Nupur Talwar also cannot prove their innocence hence it is a common people interpretation that people in the house may be knowing the truth. Also note that what is logically correct may not be legally correct hence media can interpret and give logical correct statement which common people can understand. The legally correct can only understood by only few intellectuals like the author or few.
This legally correct is making India corrupt and preventing punishing corrupt people.

from:  Rajesh kumar N
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 09:07 IST

Kudos The Hindu on championing the cause of ethical journalism by the Media. For a nation thirsting for sensationalism, and impatient with the existing judicial system, such biased and incomplete investigations should actually be used by the Media to better the judicial system and ensure justice and equanimity, rather than feed the masses with a sensational thriller, that considers everyone guilty until proven innocent! Time to wake up and shake ourselves out of the stupor of false sensationalism, and begin to take responsibility for ensuring that the real culprits of any crime are brought to justice.

from:  Meenakshi Kumar
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 08:25 IST

Well said! Popular opinion seems to be the way of life now, but we
cannot let it take over justice too! The right thing cannot be derived
based on something that everyone agrees to, it should be regarded with
knowledge and insight.

from:  bumble
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 07:51 IST

A very well written article - time for media to start paying attention!

from:  R V Menon
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 04:26 IST

This is really surprising and unfortunate. I had also believed that there was some ulterior motive of the Talwars in approaching the courts to examine the 14 officers. The media has twisted the story. Thanks for clarifiying and putting in what had actually happened.

from:  Suresh P
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 02:26 IST
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