Keep your (k)nose to yourself

Brangelina breaks up and my inbox gets flooded with news on the how’s and why’s of the failure of their relationship… (among others) by an art and craft website no less! One would think a celebrity break-up is no business of an art and craft website, but apparently we’re wrong.

The site’s newsletter reads –

A minute of silence for Brangelina…

and then…

Check out how celebs are reacting to Brad and Angelina’s Divorce!

Ironical isn’t it? I am ashamed of having subscribed to their newsletter in the first place. I’m not going to name the website because its no use; they aren’t the only one’s making hay while the sun shines. Ever since news broke out of their breakup, there has been a torrent of articles (should I even call them that?) about what really, really, really happened between them (yes, they talked to you exclusively, didn’t they?) and about the 10 relationships with more staying power than Brangelina (are you their marriage counselor?) and how he begged her to stay (were you recording the incident? tsk, tsk, tsk…) and how old flames have reappeared (gimme a break!).

One man’s misery is another’s bread & butter

I don’t think the media quite understands the term ‘personal‘ crimes and ‘personal‘ tragedies, or for that matter the term ‘personal‘ or ‘private‘ anymore. And that’s probably because we ourselves have forgotten that our lives should be private. We tweet, post and insta-something compulsively.

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www.computerstories.net

It could be any mundane thing in our lives – the contents of our last meal, or our latest acquisition from Gucci or Forever 21, or a subungual hematoma on our finger (guilty 😦 ), or our oh-so-fun road trip to la-laland. And now take this and multiply it to the nth time for celebs. You give a peeping tom an excuse and he will peep. That’s human curiosity; and the media has it down pat.

Just because someone’s a public figure, doesn’t mean that the private in their lives is gone. But at least for a public figure you can make the excuse that they are…public (not free for all). But what about victims of personal crimes; why make their lives public, especially at a time when they need anonymity the most? Why do the people need to know how the man who raped a fourteen year old had ‘satan rocks‘ found scrawled on the cover of a nondescript magazine found in his backyard?  Now I’m no journalist or reporter. But using my commonsense, can I not draw the distinction between actual news and sensationalism? Can I not distinguish between how a piece of reporting is crucial to the public’s understanding of the crime/incident vis-à-vis creating unwarranted panic over a triviality not pertinent to the crime/incident?

I was recently writing a paper on media bias in rape cases and came across the Central Park Jogger’s Rape case. For those who do not know about it, the case was an infamous, shocking example of justice gone wrong, where 5 teenagers were wrongly implicated in the brutal rape of a woman who nearly died and suffered severe memory loss because of the incident. Years later when the real culprit confessed to the crime, no one raised a hue or cry, because the story had gotten too far.

The case is an apt study on the ill-effects of media fueled frenzy over gender, class and race stereotypes, and the pressure it exerts on the public, the investigation and the jury. Worse still was the character assassination of the 5 boys involved; and the publicized details of the victim, where apart from her name, everything else about her – where she worked, how old she was, how successful she was, her alma mater – everything was out in the public. All you needed to do was put two and two together, make a few inquiries and her name would become public knowledge too. So much for ‘name changed to protect identity.

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In India, the latest in the shocking news on rapes is the Highway Gang-Rape case, and yet again, every personal detail of the mother-daughter duo who lost their everything that fateful night is out for public scrutiny. Every local politician, every media house, every social rights activist is hounding them for their piece of 15 minutes, so much so that the father broke down under pressure… and that was aired as well!

I’m not here to attack all of the media. I’m not talking about media bias to a political party. I’m not even talking about news channels that portray ‘commissioner’s lost dog found‘, or ‘ghost caught on tape cursing the temple‘ as breaking news (for shame, do you have nothing else to report?). They are a genre of bad reporting unto themselves relevant to another discussion.

I’m talking only about the nosy media nosing around on people’s lives and events where they have no business to be. Or rather I’m talking about  the distinction between telling the truth versus inventing the truth. One such example I remember is when poor Katrina Kaif’s itty-bitty bikini episode while she vacationed with her boyfriend was reported in the news as vociferously as a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. What followed was the curious public baying for more and fundamentalists baying for her blood for baring her bottom. Come on people! She has a life too.

The point is, the media has the responsibility of reporting responsibly, then why is this cornerstone of media ethics languishing in the media attic? The point is when did the media go from reporting the news, to constructing… make that inventing news? When did our lives become public property and what’s the distinction between right to information and intrusion of privacy?

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These are questions we, as readers and viewers of news, have the power to answer, if only we tried. If we denounce biased reporting and condemn the intrusion of the media in private lives, we very well can put a stop to the sensationalism. But it has to start with our own lives… our own (k)noses. Keep them out of private lives.

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