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Ram Rahim: When the media chose not to grill Dera chief in their studios

Discussion in 'National Politics' started by InfoWarrior, Sep 2, 2017.

  1. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

    Apr 8, 2017
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    Many anchors didn’t ask Ram Rahim about the charges when they shared screen space with him.

    Posted By Anand Vardhan | Aug 31, 2017 0 Comments


    “Never turn down an opportunity to have sex or appear on television,” American writer Gore Vidal is reported to have said four decades ago. While the former wasn’t a matter of choice but forced acts of sexual intercourse by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the latter was grabbed by him too gleefully in his pre-conviction years. Sections of television news media rolled out the red carpet of long and cosy talk sessions with him and there were even moments when the celluloid showmanship of ‘rockstar Baba’ made its way to the prime-time news.

    He couldn’t have asked for easier routes for mainstreaming a persona that he sought for public consumption- a bling-loving cult leader repackaging spirituality as youthful spectacle.Clownish, cringe-worthy and tacky but a spectacle nonetheless. With histrionics forming a key part of their sense of programming too, the Sirsa-based Baba was an easy fit for a number of news channels. What, however, was conveniently forgotten in this mutuality of interests were the very visible shadows of criminal charges looming over the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) chief.

    From becoming a cog in the influential public relations (PR) machinery of the cash-rich Dera to somehow stopping short of asking the probing questions on criminal allegations against him, certain sections of television news unwittingly ended up being tools of social legitimisation of a cult leader facing serious criminal accusations. Without resorting to a media trial, did these channels exercise journalistic scrutiny before deciding to give favourable air-time to Singh, who was then an alleged rapist and murderer? Did all television news outlets let him go without grilling him over the charges? The answers aren’t clear. There are, seemingly, two ways to look at how television news engaged him in recent years.

    First, there is no ambiguity, however, on how some Hindi news channels were generous in offering air-time to Gurmeet Ram Rahim for promoting his movies. Rohit Sardana of Zee News followed his interview with Gurmeet Ram Rahim at Bhangarh Fort in Rajasthan (where Ram Rahim was shooting for a sequel to MSG) with a studio tour-cum-interview. Reporters asking a question can be seen fawning over his clothes (pink trousers, by the way), style sense and the songs he is singing on their request. But, the most surreal bit of the studio interview comes when a reporter asks him to start a crusade for exposing the fraud and cheating done by fake religious gurus in the country. That’s irony speaking to itself in the Zee studio.

    Sudhir Chaudhary, editor-in-chief of Zee News, was excited enough with the trailer of DSS chief’s debut film to make it a part of his prime time news show DNA. The awestruck tone for Ram Rahim’s screen avatar could be seen as the show was titled, “Sant ban gaya superstar”.

    While IBN- 7 (of TV-18 group) and India News were quite sympathetic about Ram Rahim’s take on the problems his film had with former Censor Board chief Leela Samson, neither of the interviews questioned him about her objections regarding promotion of superstitions and his deification in the film. Ram Rahim, in line with his usual defence against any charge, plays the victim card for being targeted by drug and alcohol mafia which has been hit by his campaign against any form of intoxicant.

    India Today had a string of interactions with Gurmeet Ram Rahim to mark the release of his film. Rahul Kanwal, the managing editor of the channel, chose Sardana’s spot for an interview- Bhangarh Fort in Rajasthan. It was an easy-going interview for the group’s channel Aaj Tak, punctuated with Ram Rahim’s hysterical bursts to sing his ‘rock’ songs from the movie, Kanwal asked a few questions about Rahim’s past which were clubbed together as ‘controversies’. There was no effort to go into specific questioning about any of the many charges against Ram Rahim.

    In a talk show on Aaj Tak, called ‘Third Degree’ with claims of tough questioning, panelists led by Sweta Singh, couldn’t discard Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s repetitive victimhood tales of being targeted by the drug mafia for a more probing line of questioning the specifics. Does it suggest that even the nature and number of questions related to the allegations were approved or rejected by his public relations team beforehand? That’s in the sphere of speculation. What, however, isn’t is what this website experienced when it sought an interview with him. The request for an interview with Ram Rahim was turned down as the interviewer didn’t have the kind of Twitter timeline that would make the Dera chief comfortable.

    In another interview, by Koel Purie, aired on Aaj Tak from early 2015, the coincidence of Ram Rahim sharing his birthday with India’s Independence Day is enough for him to be seen as a patriot in ‘timing’ as well as in his supposedly wide range of social work.

    The marketing drive for his films and their sequels are evident in these interviews (including News 24’s Filmi Baba ka sabse dhamakedaar interview). What’s also intriguing is why so much airtime was given to a film in which most consumers of Hindi news media wouldn’t be interested (the Hindi heartland doesn’t have any sizeable number of Dera followers, anyway). Was the scale of film promotion through interviews and in the prime slot a lucrative deal for channels as the Dera was seeking visibility for what was obviously its chief’s cinematic ego trip? A report in Huffington Post quotes a Mumbai-based marketing professional to hint at the kind of extravagance the cult was geared up for promoting the films. The report says:

    "They (the Dera) are quite generous with money," a marketing professional told HuffPost India, citing an example of how a Mumbai-based company that was to engage in a marketing activity with the production house, demanded an exorbitant fee — more than five times what's usually charged for such a thing — just so they could escape working for them. To their utter surprise, Hakkikat Entertainment agreed to pay it upfront.”
    That may also account for the promotional supplements and front page ads that film promoters had booked for ensuring the print visibility of the film in leading newspapers too. In television news, film promotion as prime-time agenda was a contribution of the most unlikely quarters- NDTV. It goes back more than a decade. One may recall the scathing piece Jerry Pinto wrote for Outlook – “Hello and welcome, I am Karan Johar and this is the news at 9.” That’s not to suggest that dumbing down or TRP-chasing rat race could be equated with the lowering of the journalistic guard that these channels indulged in while making life easy for Gurmeet Ram Rahim in their studios.

    Staying on films and film promotion deals, an equivalence could be drawn with how questions related to criminal charges disappeared from the media’s treatment of actor Salman Khan even before his acquittal, once it became clear that the terms of his engagement with the media were dictated by the media’s silence over the allegations. Clearly, on a higher pedestal and carrying the moral aura of spiritual leadership, the equivalence could be misleading. For covering a cult spiritual figure having a following of blind millions and political influence over two states, the imperatives of media scrutiny and questioning were clearly missing and what was visible was a not-go-beyond zone.

    The other way to look at how Hindi television news engaged Ram Rahim somehow shows how public figures accused of serious crimes can be questioned without resorting to the theatrics of a media trial. Two such interviews can be taken note of in Hindi television space. What was a relatively probing line of interview of Gurmeet Ram Rahim by Prabhu Chawla became a far more pointed and relevant set of questions from ABP News correspondent Jagvinder Patiyal for Ram Rahim in this November 2014 interview.

    That, unsurprisingly, wasn’t the way a major section of television media went about asserting its journalistic role while dealing with the dark alleys of Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s alleged past. As the seedy side of it unfolded last week, one is left with a teaser. In the aftermath of the Rampal ashram siege, journalist and novelist Manu Joseph had wondered, “It may not have occurred to most of us, godmen talk to each other. What would one godman tell another?” To rephrase the question for journalists who let the Dera chief skip journalistic scrutiny- what are they now telling each other? More puzzling because it was a journalist’s courage, and that of a few others’, that ultimately proved to be Ram Rahim’s nemesis.


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  2. vstol jockey

    vstol jockey Colonel MILITARY STRATEGIST

    Mar 15, 2011
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