Lokmat editor slams NDTV story on Vidharbha widows
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Lokmat daily, one of the country's top ten newspapers with a readership of millions, has devastatingly criticised NDTV's bogus story (in 'Witness') on the widows of Vidharbha's farmers' suicides. The mass circulation Marathi daily has come out in strong defence of the struggling widows and their reputation which was savaged by an NDTV story that maligned them as prostitutes. The scathing piece in Lokmat carries the byline of the newspaper's editor, the highly-respected journalist Vivek Girdhari. Below: his article
Who is doing the 'business?'
This profession too follows rules and ethics. Television channels may not agree. In the recently concluded DSK discussions in Pune, representatives of the TV channels strongly claimed that they are aware of social responsibilities. That is why they avoid airing programmes that would endanger law and order situation. But this is a business, not charity. Therefore they have to show what the viewers want. Amidst the competition for TRP ratings, TV channels ought to be market-driven and technology-oriented. But should we equate market-driven as market-savvy? And should the social responsibility be only restricted to law and order issues?
A serious and fairly dignified channel like NDTV recently aired a bogus story as a sensational scoop. The widows of farmers who committed suicide in Vidarbha are taking to prostitution, the story claimed. The widows are falling prey to the sex mafias. They show a so-called widow called Rekha on the screen. Actually, she isn't either a wife of a farmer, nor has her husband committed suicide. She's in fact a commercial sex worker. And the entire Amravati town knows that.
Yet, ironically, clinging on to Rekha's drooping apparel, NDTV cooked up this story of farmers' helpless widows taking to prostitution. While doing so, they tactfully tried establishing a connection between the decked up commercial sex workers in Mumbai's Kamatipura area and mourning widows of the debt-driven Vidarbha farmers, who are no more. What's the link between the two?
The story shows many prostitutes who tell you that they have come from Satara, Latur and Solapur. None of these is actually a Vidarbha town. But the market-driven journalism does not stop here. It goes beyond. Showing the inconsolable widows and the photographs of the farmers who have committed suicide, the reporter says in the narration that these widows are taking to prostitution. Even Rekha, interviewed in the beginning of the story, never claims even once that she is a farm widow. The reporter claims it for her in the narration!
We also get to see the reactions of two other women – Neerja and Sulekha. They never say in their interview that they are into prostitution. Again, the reporter says this for them. The reporter shows another woman named Reshma and says, "they are forced to sell their bodies." What follows on the screen thereafter is a collage of condoms. What sort of investigative journalism is this?
The story tells us that a prostitute named Seema is a daughter of cotton farmer. Seema herself doesn't say it anywhere. The news channel then claims that it had even unearthed her 'adda' (meeting point). The reporter converses with her near Mumbai airport on a spy camera and tells the viewers that her agent "brings the girls especially from Vidarbha and sends them to Mumbai and Vadodara."
Basically, this one's is a rabidly fake and cooked up story. But NDTV showed it as a hundred per cent true story "only on this channel." What could be the long-term social fallout of this story? By defaming the widows, who are trying to resurrect their lives, suffering unending hardships and penury, how much TRP ratings must this news channel have clocked? Vidarbha has seen thousands of farmers commit suicide in few years. Their widows and children are resolutely fighting a battle for life. What has NDTV gained by maligning them?
Television has a remote control. But there is no remote control to reign in the journalists who run such blatantly irresponsible and untrue stories. The advent of technology should actually serve to reinforce the foundations of journalism and increase its maturity. Here, journalism and business are losing their tenets.
A segment on Latur in this story is extremely serious. They show a very old CSW named Shantibai. Her grouse: "My business is being affected because young girls are coming into it." What has this got to do with the Vidarbha farm widows, who are trying to live with dignity after the death of their husbands?
Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti lodged a complaint with NDTV. He got an assurance for an inquiry. Nothing has been done yet. A news channel sold this blatantly false news item as its market-driven business. So tell us, who's actually in the business?