Researchers Move SC Against 'Toxic, Polarised' Coverage and 'Media Trials'

The applicants claimed that TV anchors were deliberately creating false constructs and bombarding audiences with 'conspiracy theories' even before prosecuting agencies could complete their investigation.

New Delhi: An application has been filed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday by Kota Neelima, journalist and wife of Congress Party spokesperson Pawan Khera, and Sangeeta Tyagi, widow of Congress national spokesperson Rajeev Tyagi, alleging that “renowned journalists” like Arnab Goswami and Navika Kumar had been conducting “media trials”.

The applicants moved the Supreme Court to intervene in a pending case against Sudarshan TV’s ‘Bindas Bol’ programme, which accused Muslims of “infiltrating” the civil services and sought the court’s permission to file additional documents and place the detailed study on ‘media trials’ on record.

The affidavit states that Kota Neelima evaluated the content of news discussions and debates undertaken by two journalists through a study, done by Rate the Debate, a research platform. The study included a detailed analysis of 32 week days’ news content, 55 hours of programming and 76 debate topics conducted by Arnab Goswami on Republic and 24 days of news content, 20 hours of programming and 32 debate topics conducted by Navika Kumar on Times Now.

The study concluded that 65% of debates conducted by Goswami between July 31, 2020, and September 15, 2020, and 69% of debates conducted by Kumar between June 16, 2020, and October 6, 2020, were on actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. The affidavit further submitted that that not only was an inordinate amount of time is devoted to a single topic, but that “the manner, tone, tenor and content” of the coverage was “highly toxic, polarised and filled with innuendos, salacious gossips, wild allegations and character assassinations”.

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The application further claimed that TV anchors employed a tried-and-tested modus-operandi whereby they first deliberately create a hypothesis or a false construct, then insinuate that a powerful personality was behind the “cover-up” and finally bombard the audience with “Evidences” and “Conspiracy Theories” which would convince views of the hypothesis even before the prosecuting agency completed its investigation.

Citing the developments in the case of Sushant Singh Rajput, the affidavit said that the AIIMS report held that it was a case of suicide and not a homicide and the prosecuting agency had not filed any charge sheet either. “However, certain TV Anchors have consistently created a false narrative through ‘Media Trial’ influencing the public opinion towards their covert objective,” it said.

The application claimed that media trials were another facet of “hate speech” and can take place for reasons ranging from garnering higher Television Rating Points (TRPs) to “something more sinister whereby certain private television channels act as proxy propaganda machines for the Central Government”.

It further maintained that the content of such news debates, promoted under the “garb of press freedom” was a cause of concern. It also singled out headlines like ‘National Anger Against Bollywood Lobbies’ and ‘Sushant’s WhatsApp Chats Slay Suicide Theory’ on Republic TV and ‘CBI Betraying “SSRians”’, ‘Why Rhea “drugged” SSR?’, ‘Was Sena Sarkar behind SSR Post-Mortem Botch-up?’ on Times Now as debates that were launched with “a predetermined agenda”.