Time for media to introspect and shed its arrogance

What drives the media? Paid news or sheer arrogance?

Reporting of the recent railway bridge collapse shows media in poor light
Reporting of the recent railway bridge collapse shows media in poor light

For quite some time now, our media have acted as though they were the only questioners of the nation and the sole protectors of its people’s interests; and, often enough, acted as the know-alls of everything happening in our land.

The recent tragic episode of the 23 stampede deaths on the foot overbridge (OFB) at the Elphinstone Road station on Mumbai’s suburban Western Railway is the latest example of that media machismo.

Start with what Mumbai’s daily “Free Press Journal” (since 1928), put out in a prominent box item on the front page of its edition of Saturday, September 30, 2017, a day after the tragedy happened at 10.30 on the previous morning.

“Prabhu Knew, Sat On Funds” hollered the headline in all capital letters (see the attached scanned replica).

Suresh Prabhu knew and sat on funds - FPJ
Fig 1. Suresh Prabhu knew and sat on funds – FPJ

According to that box item –

  1. The then Union Railway Minister, Suresh Prabhu, stated in a reply letter to Arvind Sawant, the Shiv Sena, a Member of Parliament from the Lok Sabha constituency concerned, had shown Prabhu’s letter expressing his inability to approve the demand for a new footbridge at Elphinstone. That reply of Prabhu (shown to the media) was stated as being dated February 20, 2016 (see third Para of the FPJ report).
  2. Prabhu clarified that he had indeed approved the proposal for construction of a new 12-metre wide and 10-metre long FOB on April 23, 2015, and allocation of Rs.11.68 crores was also made for the same. However, the proposal got mired in bureaucratic red tape.

Two questions arise: If, on February 20, 2016, Prabhu’s letter (according to Sawant) expressed inability to approve the proposal for a new FOB, how in heaven had he approved it on April 20, 2015? Someone somewhere was evading the truth — Sawant or Prabhu. But the first paragraph of FPJ’s box item says “The Shiv Sena has held former Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu accountable for the stampede at Elphinstone Road station and claimed that he had not given approval to the construction of a new FOB.

Then there is the second line of FPJ’s headline which says that (Prabhu) “Sat On Funds.” Where is it stated in the newspaper’s six-paragraph report that Prabhu had refused to open the financial strings for the new FOB after he had approved/sanctioned the amount involved?

So, what thought had the FPJ given its Political Bureau’s report, including the two-line title, before publishing it? None. Zero. It had just salivated over a sensational headline. And never mind if it defamed a very respectable and dedicated Union Minister of our nation.

Why was Sawant so keen to accuse Prabhu? One recalls that Prabhu, a Shiv Sena member of years ago, resigned from the party, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But to follow a standard practice of our journalists, a top source that did not want to be named, said the resignation was over the contents of the little bag Prabhu was always known to carry under his armpit but did not show to anyone, even his supremo.

Then there’s this famous English TV channel. Constantly hollering for accountability for all unhappy incidents including the Elephantine Station tragedy, it roped in the reputed KEM hospital of Mumbai in its wide wild web. It repeatedly expressed great agony over the “insensitivity” shown by KEM in inking the foreheads of the 22 dead who were rushed to the hospital immediately after the stampede. (The 23rd death occurred a day later.). “Oh, how insensitive to put a number on the forehead of the dead!!” moaned the channel’s editor-in-chief. “Why such cruel insensitivity, when a numbered tag could have been so easily tucked in the pocket or some such part of the clothing?” asked another editor of that channel.

These upholders of sensitivity they forget, or just didn’t know, that a dead body needs to be urgently tied tightly with a white bed sheet to prevent rigor mortis setting in the body. (Please, readers, look up that phrase in the dictionary to prevent a ghastly description in this article.)

These upholders of human sensitivity didn’t even bother to ask why this was done for quick identification of the deceased person. It took Dr. Harish Pathak, head of the KEM’s forensic department, to tell a newspaper that what his staff had done was to “take a scientific approach in a mass casualty situation that actually helps a family quickly identify the deceased. This exercise was carried out even during the 2007 train blast. And now to be labeled as ‘insensitive’ is humiliating.”

Another fact forgotten was that, initially, it was a rumor of a “short circuit fire” and a “collapsing roof of the FOB’s roof” which triggered the stampede and not the absence of a wider FOB, however badly it has been needed for the last decade or so.

Further forgotten is the fact that a man told a TV channel that he saw people rush down the FOB’s staircase and stamp over the people who had fallen there in the same mad rush to escape from a threatened FOB. No one over television has been heard blaming these men trampling over other human bodies. Are the tramplers not at all accountable for causing the death of 23 human beings? Well, at least the self-proclaimed protectors of our nation’s people have forgotten them and focused on politicians and bureaucrats. And why? Is it because holding them accountable could be risking a fall of TRP?

For that matter, why haven’t the self-proclaimed questioners of the nation not questioned the misdeeds of their own clan? The Radia Tapes scandal involving famous names,  the “cash for questions” expose shunned by a popular TV channel, the resignation under law by a non-citizen editor of a prominent daily newspaper, the NDTV fraud brilliantly exposed by the editor, Sree Iyer, of this website, the pervading “paid news” immorality – these and more have rarely, if ever, questioned deeply by these self-proclaimed questioners of the nation. Why?

Because our journalists refuse to introspect and refuse to shed their arrogance. that’s why. Imagine a famous anchor refusing to answer a debate participant’s question, saying, “I will ask the questions, not you.”

1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Arvind Lavakare has been a freelance writer since 1957. He has written and spoken on sports on radio and TV. He currently writes on political issues regularly. His writings include a book on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

His freelancing career began in "The Times of India" with a sports article published when he was a month shy of 20 years of age. He was also a regular political affairs columnist first for rediff.com for five years or so and then shifted to sify.com. He also wrote extensively for niticentral.com "till it stopped publication."


  1. My dear Arvind , You could have perhaps exposed the TV channel also.Obviously you must have your reasons for with holding the information.It appears personal animosity and position of power is now turning a few of the level headed persons also senile.


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