How media went overboard in Padmapriya case

A. NARAYANA writes from London: Enough and more has been said about the media’s overzealousness in the Padmapriya Bhat case.(The wife of a law-maker in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, Padmapriya went missing for three days and was later found dead in the national capital, New Delhi, 2500 km away.)

More than the overreach what also stood exposed was the regressive thinking—and the immaturity of men and women in the media—in their understanding of human lives and relationships.

In some cases, it was not just the media’s drive to sell more copies or clock up more TRPs which seemed to have prompted them to put out what they did.

In question is their very motive.

Consider these:

# “He has got an MA in sociology but what has he chosen to do?” questioned a headline in the Manipal edition of Udayavani, referring to Atul Rao, the aide of Udupi MLA Raghupati Bhat, even when no one knew the facts behind his role in her death.

And Udayavani wrote as if it was an established case of ‘Kidnap’ even after home minister V.S. Acharya‘s own admission that it was a ‘half-kidnap’ case. He is yet to clarify what that ‘half’ really is. What was Udayavani‘s source or motive in pronouncing prematurely that it was a case of kidnap?

# A Kannada Prabha report summarily suggested that it was a murder. On what basis?

#Vijaya Karnataka‘s reporter questioned Padmapriya’s decision to discard “a life in which she had wealth and prestige”. “Idella bekitte (was all this required?)” he asks. How did the reporter know that the woman was happy in her marriage?

# The Hindu, of all the newspapers, found it fit to publish every word that Padmapriya’s mother uttered while grieving in front of her young daughter’s body, that too with the wrong translation from Tulu. These are the words every bereaved parent in such a situation would utter. Should they be published verbatim? Et tu, Hindu?

# Deccan Herald and Praja Vani are sister publications produced in the same building but while the English paper said Atul was an engineering diploma holder who resigned from his government job and did civil contracts, the Kannada paper report said Atul did his MA, continued in his government job and did contracts in his wife’s name. (However, it is also a fact the best matter-of-fact reports were filed by the Delhi bureau of these two newspapers.)

# All Kannada newspapers in their esteemed judgment started addressing Atul in the singular from day one while the police still maintained that he was only a witness and not an accused.

There are many more things that could be said about the media coverage of Padmapriya, its ethics, its calibre and its self-righteousness. But, more importantly, there is something to be said about the role of the State.

From the statements of the police and the home minister, it becomes amply clear that they came to know from the second day, if not the first day itself, that it was a case of strained personal relationships and Padmapriya chose to go to Delhi on her on volition.

If this was the case (and there is nothing on record to suggest otherwise so far), the State had absolutely no role to play except making it clear to the public what it came to know.

Going by the facts of the case known as of today, it is also a case of the State exceeding its limits to save an MLA of the ruling party from what would have been considered in our society a loss of face for him.

(A. Narayana is a scholar at the Institute of Development Studies, UK)

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: 20 unanswered questions in l’affaire Padmapriya

Cross-posted on churumuri

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