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The other is the Priyadarshni Mattoo rape and murder case in which the son of a high-profile IPS officer has been sentenced to death after the lower court had let him off despite its own admission that it was convinced the accused had raped and murdered the victim.

There are some striking similarities in both the cases. In both, the sons of high-profile fathers are involved – The former, a Haryana Congress minister (now ex), wine merchant and a hotelier. The latter, an ex- IPS officer who invisibly pulled the strings for his son from behind the scenes.

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In the former, accusations of a bribe offering were openly flung and reported by the media. Even one of the sitting judges was alleged to have been thrown the bait, which he refused to swallow!

The most striking feature of these two cases, however, is the emergence of a new phenomenon – mal by the media. It had always been there in its anaemic form. Newspapers and magazines always carried reports, special articles, editorial comments, letters from readers, and pictures which tended to affect public opinion.

They did their job as watchdogs of democracy. They carried a. spectrum of ideas because democracy is a market-place of conflicting ideas.

The phenomenon in its new form has acquired a sting and a force Because TV is a visual medium. It enters the drawing-room and the bedroom and lingers on, and it is difficult to shake off, like the proverbial burr on the coat!

Its range and impact can be judged from the following factors. Each channel, not to be left behind, catches up the theme. It puts up a hastily, often rashly, selected team of “experts” and launches on an “objective” analysis and ends up pronouncing judgment. Most discussions are highly subjective and irrational. The panelists’ slip shows!

Worse than this is the kind of show in which an anchor, man or woman, is shown surrounded by a huge and unmanageable studio audience. It’s a babble house If there is one. After the vociferous discussion, the judgment is passed by voice vote or show of hands. People’s court in action!

The more unwholesome aspect of this trial by media (read trial by TV) is that the programme winds up urging viewers to send their vote or verdict by SMS. Millions do. The only one who gets wiser and richer by this exercise is the mobile company!

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