‘Is this what journalism has been reduced to?’

Be it the Jessica Lal murder case or the Aarushi Talwar murder case, be it the November 26 siege of Bombay or fill-your-favourite-story-here, it has now become a ritual for the media to get properly roasted for overkill, trivialisation, titillation and worse in the race for circulation and ABC, eyeballs and TRP.

Former Hindustan Times editor Vir Sanghvi writes in the New Indian Express that the Delhi-Bombay media coverage of the death of “super model” Viveka Babajee, who committed suicide last week, is another indication of tabloid excess showing up in the mainstream media.

Although with her family releasing pictures of the model with her boyfriend to prove that she was in love with  businessman Gautam Vora, you ought to wonder if we are once again just shooting the messenger.

“When Viveka Babajee was alive, the media ignored her…. It is ironic, then, that she had to die to make the front page. She became famous once again only because of the manner of her passing. Suddenly, we were all vultures picking at the carrion of her life, going over the details of her romances, and discussing whether she had hoped to marry her boyfriend. In death, she went from being a once famous model to becoming fodder for celebrity gossip.

“That we in the media should be so obsessed with her suicide tells us something about how the values of tabloid journalism and page three have taken over quality papers and page one. It is absurd that the details of her love life and the culpability of her boyfriend should be a lead headline on news broadcasts and it would be comical if it were not so tragic that respectable news channels should devote their air time to debates about whether the boyfriend was responsible.

“Is this what journalism has been reduced to?

“Do not be fooled by the claims of journalists that we are acting out of concern for Viveka or Nafisa Joseph and their families. Hundreds of women commit suicide every year. Ordinary people suffer terrible heartache. Farmers kill their children and then commit suicide because they know that they will never be able to feed their families. These tragedies, these heartbreaks, and these suicides get very little space in the media.

“Nobody cares for ordinary people and their stories. We don’t give a damn about poor farmers destroyed by the crushing weight of debt. We never focus on young women — of the same age as Nafisa or Viveka — who take their lives in similar circumstances. When an ordinary person commits suicide, it is not even a footnote. When a model, no matter how faded, kills herself, it is breaking news on some television channels….

“We are not acting out of grief or out of some sense of compulsion. We are merely pandering to the lowest common denominator for commercial considerations. We know that stories that combine sex, glamour and death find a ready market. And so, tossing aside all our normal standards of newsworthiness, we plunge headlong into the cesspool of tabloid sensation.

“I make no distinction between print and TV. Some TV channels have been more responsible than others. Some newspapers have behaved better than others. The worrying thing is that the journalists and editors don’t even realise that they are doing something wrong. The new credo is: if it sells, let’s do it. Journalists spend a lot of time diagnosing society’s ills. But sometimes, we should look at the state of our own health.”

Read the full column: Didn’t we kill Nafisa?