Jug Saraiya in The Times of India
Is there a conspiracy of silence in the Indian media?
The media have been loud and clear about government corruption, crimes against women and other derailments of the rule of law and order and the delivery of justice.
Which makes it all the more strange that a hit-and-run incident, in which two people were allegedly killed and several others injured, and which is said to have taken place in Mumbai on December 7 this year, has received scant, if any, attention in either the press or on TV.
However, social networking sites such as Facebook are buzzing with it, creating a web of rumours in the absence of any hard facts, or indeed any discernible attempt by the media to try and sift through whatever evidence there may be and present the facts of the case.
According to the rumour mills, the lethal hit-and-run driver was the young son of an extremely wealthy and powerful business tycoon who enjoys political patronage at the highest levels. The recklessly speeding car is said to have rammed into two other cars, resulting in two deaths and several people injured.
The driver of the car allegedly fled the scene in one of two SUVs which were escorting the car. A day later, a middle-aged man presented himself at the local police station saying he was the driver employed by the business family and that he had been responsible for the previous day’s accident.
A sole eyewitness to the incident, who had earlier said that the driver of the speeding car had been a young man, is believed to have retracted the statement, allegedly under pressure.
The case is similar to what has come to be called the BMW hit-and-run incident involving the son of a powerful Delhi family, and in which more than one prosecution witness became ‘hostile’, presumably through intimidation or bribery or both.
But while the media had had a field day in the BMW case, giving it full coverage, there seems to be total silence about the recent case in Mumbai. A silence which becomes strange when it is contrasted with the clamour the case has caused on social networking sites.
Is the alleged involvement of the tycoon’s son only a rumour? It might well be. But surely the insistence with which this rumour is being spread is itself worthy of notice by media, particularly when that rumour implies the accusation that there is a conspiracy of silence on the part of the press and TV channels. Shouldn’t media investigate the rumour and expose it for what it is?
Indian media pride themselves on being both free and fair, a self-congratulatory pat on the back which more often than not is well-deserved. TV anchors are particularly outspoken – some would say strident – in righteously denouncing all manner of foul play.
So why this silence about media’s alleged conspiracy of silence about the Mumbai hit-and-run? It makes one wonder how many other instances, regarding all manner of wrongdoing, go deliberately unreported, or under-reported, by media.
Such selective silences – if indeed they do exist – can and will be highlighted by social media, as is happening in the current case. There is much talk and controversy about appointing a political Lokpal. Should the media have their own Lokpal to look into alleged irregularities? By default, social media might become the unofficial Lokpal of mainstream media, breaking the sounds of dubious silence with irrepressible electronic chatter which brooks no censorship either state-imposed or self-imposed.