Moral brigade, media trials and law
In what is being seen as a significant judgement, India’s apex court recently dismissed all charges against south Indian actress Khushboo for her alleged remarks on pre-marital sex in a 2005 magazine interview.
The Supreme Court said her comments were her personal view and that she was entitled to express them.
Many in the country believe the verdict heralds a welcome but a difficult and slow change. Nevertheless, it reinforces our claim to democracy, secularism and above all freedom of speech and expression, of course with its riders.
But an offshoot of the same verdict also highlights prevalence of two active groups in the country which are substantially contributing to its brand and image.
One is media which drives to act as a facilitator of democracy, welcoming the evolution of society and bringing about changes. Other is the moral brigade which claims to be the preservers of rigid cultures and ethos and refuses to embrace any change.
In its judgement copy of the Khushboo verdict while quashing all 22 criminal cases and denouncing litigators’ plea, the apex court criticises media as well.
The judgement text says the three-judge bench in the Khushboo case was misquoted by electronic and print media on live-in relationships, and that there was no such observation made.
This part of the judgement brings a remarkable similarity between media and moral brigade. Which is that both consist of zealots who respectively claim representation of people and followers and thereby the popular view.
Many in society have strong misgivings about both groups. They believe that media often sensationalises issues and has, in the past, breached law with its inappropriate handling in coverage of national issues – sometimes jeopardising nation’s security and other times intervening in judicial matters.
So much that the term “trial by media” is used to describe cases as high profile as Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo.
Is it that the media has become too intrusive in judicial affairs?
But so is the cogent disapproval of the moral police spouting wild rhetoric and oratory.
Or is it that just as a few preachers in all religions hijack sizeable sections of their communities, so do certain sections of media?