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Celeb TV news gets lost in an unethical maze
IANS, Aug 19  [ Fri, Aug 19, 2005 ]
  • Private space in the public domain - fiercely, but futilely, guarded by India's celebrities and just an alien concept for the still fledgling 24-hour TV news industry that focuses its embarrassingly relentless glare on lives reduced to cannon fodder for the TRP battle.

    Salman Khan, Karisma Kapoor, Govinda and now Aamir Khan. All Bollywood stars whose personal crises and past lives have been the stuff of prime time in the last few weeks.

    Nothing is out of bounds, and no detail too private, too vicious or too intimate in this no holds barred fight to make sure the viewer doesn't reach for the remote to change channels.

    Indian viewers like Bollywood, soaps and celeb gossip. So, the TV channels scramble to give it to them. More up, close and personal than perhaps even the most star-struck viewer wanted it to be.

    You don't need to go very far back in TV time to see just how demeaning this kind of coverage that passes off for news has become.

    To take the latest instance first, Aamir Khan, whose alleged two-year affair with a British journalist has suddenly become important enough to dominate bulletins for hours on end over two consecutive days.

    The provocation? An interview to Stardust by the journalist setting speculation at rest that her son's father is Aamir. News of the relationship had been doing the rounds for the last two years though the child was only hinted at. Following the article, the floodgates were opened for a dekko into Aamir's life.

    And so since Wednesday, viewers of not just one but several news channels have been subjected to endless clips of the star's life and, of course, from his films. Pictures of his divorced wife Reena, his current partner Kiran Rao, the British journalist and her son - closely juxtaposed with Aamir so all could compare faces - being flashed ad nauseam.

    That the star's first film in four years, "Mangal Pandey - The Rising", has just been released should just be a coincidence. Right?

    The context became inevitable with a channel transmitting live feeds from reporters in several cities on what impact this would have on the film.

    Just two days earlier, the voyeurism and the insatiable thirst for the visual that would bring the star - or his family - home was targeted at Govinda. The actor's wife, teenaged daughter and son were injured in a road accident in Jaipur.

    It was Independence Day, nine people were gunned down in Andhra Pradesh, there had been a blast in Srinagar and there was presumably a lot else going on in the country and the world.

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  • Not for our TV channels though which rushed to the hospital to flash in-your-face visuals of the traumatised daughter covering her bloody face, the son looking bewilderedly as the cameras panned on his undone shirt and trousers while doctors examined him, and the wife's pain there for all to see as medicos cut her hair to take a closer look at her wounds.

    Is this de-sensitisation really television?

    More of it was in evidence last fortnight when Karisma Kapoor fought a court battle with estranged husband Sanjay Kapur over her five-month-old daughter. The same channels that had gone overboard in showing the wedding a couple of years ago now posted correspondents at the spot to go live and replayed shots of her wedding and her films in excruciating detail.

    All other news was relegated to second space that morning of the court hearing.

    And in the most unkind cut, one or maybe more showed clips of her engagement with Abhishek Bachchan on father Amitabh's 60th birthday, panning closely on the faces of the couple who separated soon after.

    Just what is the connection, what is being said here about a woman going through a traumatic court battle for her child?

    Before that we had favourite whipping boy Salman Khan in an unsavoury controversy over transcripts of a phone conversation with then girlfriend Aishwarya Rai. It had all happened several years ago, and though the ostensible reason was to expose his links with the underworld, it was an occasion for the newspaper that broke the story and channels that carried it to air intimate details.

    Such talk is only and only between the two. The desperation in printing and then relaying a conversation between a couple obviously going through a break-up was clearly out of the bounds of any norms of decency. So what if they were Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai?

    In this case too, the 'exposé' came just before his big release "Maine Pyar Kyun Kya". Another coincidence?

    The tempting explanation for this blurring between news and gossip, gossip and invasion of privacy, right and wrong is that our paparazzi are still finding their way out in the ethics maze. But that is being way too charitable for this seriously worrying de-sensitisation.