Role of the media in Jessica Lall case

April 20, 2010

The Supreme Court has upheld the life term for Manu Sharma who was convicted for the 1999 murder of Jessica Lall.

A lawyer holds a book of criminal law as he waits to enter the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai April 16, 2009. REUTERS/Arko Datta/Files

The case became a cause celebre for the media, helping it grab eyeballs in a decade when private news channels mushroomed in the country.

It even inspired a novel by diplomat Vikas Swaroop, the author of the book on which the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” was based.

The case was something of a pot-boiler where fashion, high society, crime, political influence and media activism came together.

As Jessica Lall’s family heaves a sigh of relief the media too can pat itself on the back.

Or can it?

The case also highlights the bias of the English-speaking media for what is described as PLUS or “People Like Us”.

Had Jessica been some nameless woman in a village would the case and the interest of the media been sustained this long?

Would the outcome have been the same?

Within a fortnight after Jessica Lall was shot over her refusal to serve drinks, an icecream parlour attendant was allegedly shot dead for not stocking a particular icecream brand.

What happened to that case?

The similarity to the Jessica case was uncanny except we don’t care. Or do we?

It may be said the media cannot focus on every case of crime, it is the job of the state after all.

Yet can it be gainsaid that choices can be revealing?

Does the English media play a plutocratic role in this democratic country?


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I think the English-speaking media has a valuable role to play. Even if India’s media circus can appear too over the top at times, it can help shine light on dark corners and has a role in holding the government and individuals to account.
Yes, perhaps there is a bias for what is described as PLUS or “People Like Us”, but it would be surprising if there wasn’t. They are mostly reporters from a certain background who cater to an audience of a certain background. And for every ice-cream seller, there are also examples of the English-speaking media sticking up for the have-nots.

Posted by SeethingLane | Report as abusive

instead of questioning why the media doesn’t take up every case, i think we can be thankful that at least justice is served in some

Posted by shout | Report as abusive

That may be so but at least in some cases, justice has been done. It’s better than justice denied all the time.

Posted by ToeKnee | Report as abusive

Hundreds of men and women in suburban India are victims of societal malaise everyday. The media does not highlight their plight. Often it gives precedence to glamour over mundane, uncomfortable reality of everyday life. Let’s not forget that it was a media sting operation that captured on camera a professor of Aligarh Muslim University having sex with a rickshawpuller. It led to his humiliating ouster and death. Largely the Indian media does work for that “perfect story” but on issues that threaten our sovereignty, they do come together as a daunting, cohesive machine.

Posted by Rituparna | Report as abusive