India’s media play judge as the justice system fails

India’s media play judge as the justice system fails

NEW DELHI – A well-connected Indian lawyer convicted for raping and murdering a young woman, senior politicians caught taking money under the table, guards suspended for throwing open the doors to a high-security jail for cash.

All were caught thanks to an increasingly aggressive Indian print and broadcast media, which is trying to plug some of the gaps left by an overburdened justice system and a corrupt police force. “I think it’s a sort of coming of age of the Indian media,” said Poonam Saxena, media critic with the Hindustan Times daily.”Where institutions fail, civil society has to step in.I wholly support campaigns run by the media to get justice for those who have been denied,” she added.Last week, a sustained media campaign helped get justice for Priyadarshini Mattoo, a Delhi student who was brutally raped and battered to death in 1996 by Santosh Kumar Singh, the lawyer son of a former police officer, who had been stalking her for months.The Delhi High Court convicted Singh, seven years after a trial court had acquitted him.”I can’t thank the media enough,” Chaman Lal Mattoo, the woman’s father, wrote in the Indian Express newspaper.”If it was not for the media, we may have lost the spirit and the battle.”Seven years ago, Mattoo and others had accused police and prosecutors of subverting evidence to protect the accused.An appeal had been pending for six years but was fast-tracked only after the media highlighted the case.Supporters held candlelight processions and street vigils, organised an SMS and e-mail campaign and petitioned the president.”We applied for an appeal as soon as Singh was acquitted,” a senior official from the Central Bureau of Investigation, told Reuters.”But the courts are also burdened with cases so proceedings were slow.It’s true things started to move because the courts also took notice of the repeated media attention.””This is a victory for the media,” said Indu Jalali, Mattoo’s childhood friend, who had been campaigning for justice for years.”Had it not been for the media, this case, like many others, would have rotted in the files.”MEDIA ACTIVISM …Before Mattoo’s case made headlines, the media had championed the case of model Jessica Lall, allegedly shot dead by a politician’s son in New Delhi in 1999 because she refused to serve him a drink in a bar.All the accused in the case were acquitted, but a public outcry, with the media leading the campaign, forced the police to go back to court with a fresh appeal, which is now being heard.”I think journalism has to have some sort of activism,” said Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN news channel, which is among those campaigning for justice for Mattoo and Lall.”I don’t believe in a passive media.It’s a healthy trend.We are only asking questions.We are doing what we should be doing.”But critics warn that risks of populist media campaigns can sometimes misfire.”Media intervention without serious research can be dangerous,” said PN Lekhi, a veteran lawyer.”There is a paucity of evidence in such interventions.”Santosh Singh was sentenced to death for Mattoo’s murder, a verdict welcomed by most Indians.That in itself worries newspapers like the Times of India which oppose the death penalty.”Justice is not always served by appeasing the popular will,” it wrote in an editorial last Wednesday.”A society consumed by outrage easily confuses punishment and revenge, justice and vendetta.The media plays along or abets these tendencies.”… OR SENSATIONALISM? The Lall and Mattoo cases caught the public imagination.More controversial are the increasingly popular “sting operations” conducted by television channels, which Lekhi calls sensationalist.With more than a dozen national television news channels in India, competition for ratings is fiercer than ever.Stings have been a major part of the quest for “exclusive” news.Politicians have been filmed taking bribes using secret cameras, guards at Delhi’s high-security Tihar Jail were shown doing the same to let in visitors, and film stars were recorded seeking sexual favours from wannabe actresses.”Sting operations are nothing but entrapments,” said columnist Saxena.”Its sole purpose is to increase the viewership.”Nampa-Reuters”I think it’s a sort of coming of age of the Indian media,” said Poonam Saxena, media critic with the Hindustan Times daily.”Where institutions fail, civil society has to step in.I wholly support campaigns run by the media to get justice for those who have been denied,” she added.Last week, a sustained media campaign helped get justice for Priyadarshini Mattoo, a Delhi student who was brutally raped and battered to death in 1996 by Santosh Kumar Singh, the lawyer son of a former police officer, who had been stalking her for months.The Delhi High Court convicted Singh, seven years after a trial court had acquitted him.”I can’t thank the media enough,” Chaman Lal Mattoo, the woman’s father, wrote in the Indian Express newspaper.”If it was not for the media, we may have lost the spirit and the battle.”Seven years ago, Mattoo and others had accused police and prosecutors of subverting evidence to protect the accused.An appeal had been pending for six years but was fast-tracked only after the media highlighted the case.Supporters held candlelight processions and street vigils, organised an SMS and e-mail campaign and petitioned the president.”We applied for an appeal as soon as Singh was acquitted,” a senior official from the Central Bureau of Investigation, told Reuters.”But the courts are also burdened with cases so proceedings were slow.It’s true things started to move because the courts also took notice of the repeated media attention.””This is a victory for the media,” said Indu Jalali, Mattoo’s childhood friend, who had been campaigning for justice for years.”Had it not been for the media, this case, like many others, would have rotted in the files.”MEDIA ACTIVISM …Before Mattoo’s case made headlines, the media had championed the case of model Jessica Lall, allegedly shot dead by a politician’s son in New Delhi in 1999 because she refused to serve him a drink in a bar.All the accused in the case were acquitted, but a public outcry, with the media leading the campaign, forced the police to go back to court with a fresh appeal, which is now being heard.”I think journalism has to have some sort of activism,” said Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN news channel, which is among those campaigning for justice for Mattoo and Lall.”I don’t believe in a passive media.It’s a healthy trend.We are only asking questions.We are doing what we should be doing.”But critics warn that risks of populist media campaigns can sometimes misfire.”Media intervention without serious research can be dangerous,” said PN Lekhi, a veteran lawyer.”There is a paucity of evidence in such interventions.”Santosh Singh was sentenced to death for Mattoo’s murder, a verdict welcomed by most Indians.That in itself worries newspapers like the Times of India which oppose the death penalty.”Justice is not always served by appeasing the popular will,” it wrote in an editorial last Wednesday.”A society consumed by outrage easily confuses punishment and revenge, justice and vendetta.The media plays along or abets these tendencies.” … OR SENSATIONALISM? The Lall and Mattoo cases caught the public imagination.More controversial are the increasingly popular “sting operations” conducted by television channels, which Lekhi calls sensationalist.With more than a dozen national television news channels in India, competition for ratings is fiercer than ever.Stings have been a major part of the quest for “exclusive” news.Politicians have been filmed taking bribes using secret cameras, guards at Delhi’s high-security Tihar Jail were shown doing the same to let in visitors, and film stars were recorded seeking sexual favours from wannabe actresses.”Sting operations are nothing but entrapments,” said columnist Saxena.”Its sole purpose is to increase the viewership.”Nampa-Reuters

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