Zindagi LIVE?

As news channels reported on the high celebrity and low voter turnout at the polling booths in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections, IBN 7 telecasted an interview with Shweta Singh, ex-wife of Rahul Mahajan in its talk show Zindagi LIVE.

The show hosted by Richa Aniroodh brings forth personal struggles of ordinary people who have battled adversities. Rahul Mahajan has acquired no less than celebrity status and anything to do with the Big Boss 2 participant is given extensive coverage by the media.

There is nothing wrong in calling Rahul’s divorced wife for a free wielding chat on television. But, continuously harping on the finest details of her broken relationship with her Ex-husband to the point that the interviewee sheds tears on screen is not what you call responsible journalism.

During the course of the interview, more than once Shweta had to repeat, “I don’t want to get into that again”, when put with uncomfortable questions by the host. Her sad story of her troubled married life was masala-mixed with equally depressing music in the background. The camera zoomed in on her sobbing face and the visual was repeatedly used before the commercials to keep viewers hooked to the show.

The tears gushing down from Shweta’s eyes, shown in slow motion depicted a sorry picture of the lady rather than one who has “battled atrocities and chosen life over defeat” as the programme claims it highlights.

The ticker below the screen read: 2006 Marriage, Divorced in 15 months.

The questions too were unmistakeably intrusions of privacy and stemmed from morbid curiosity rather than genuine overriding public interest.

How does it feel when Rahul Mahajan has been talking in the media about your (broken) marriage?

Why did the marriage break?

What was the role of other members in Rahul’s family when there was trouble in your relationship?

Had Pramod Mahajan been alive, can it be said that the relationship would have survived?

How long and how many times were you making adjustments when the relationship was in trouble?

Shweta answered to the questions in a choking voice, breaking down more than once during the show. The other members of her family including her mother also present in the show dejectedly watched as Shweta related her sad story. Her sister wiped her tears.

The larger issue is how much is the media allowed to intrude into someone’s life to share in a personal tragedy. It may be of interest to the public but the more important question is if it is in the larger public interest. In Shweta’s case, it was not.

One may do well to remember the guidelines of The Press Council of India. It lays down that the Press shall not intrude or invade the privacy of an individual, unless outweighed by genuine overriding public interest.

In situations like this it was pertinent for the interviewer to introduce her specific questions with the explicit question whether the guest wanted to talk about a specific aspect of her life or not, whether she wanted to go into details or not. This would have given her the option of saying “no”.

The interviewer could have tried not to conjure up unwanted recollections and the emotions they entail. Shweta and her family members definitely would not like to see her crying face on television.

Quite ironically, the host said in the end, “Whatever happened with you in the past we would want that you would forget them. And move forward”.

If only the media allowed it.

The article was published in The Hoot

Dipu Shaw