This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Gayathri R. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Breaking News: Unheard Details From The Aryan Khan Exposé

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Trigger warning: mentions of suicide

Made you look, didn’t I? Welcome to sensationalism!

It thrives through clickbait-y titles like:

Photo credit: Zee News.

Aryan Khan went from being a mere star-kid to a household name, simply because of the drug allegations he is currently facing.

What should have been a straightforward investigation, has evolved into a scandalous media trial, much like the Sushant Singh Rajput-Rhea Chakraborty case last year.

Well, that’s what sensationalism does. It is when we are subjected to rumours about what clothes they were wearing at the time of their arrest, who they were sleeping with, the calls they got from “anonymous” sources etc.

It’s when highly-reputed news outlets choose to forgo the actual truths of a case, simply to catch people’s attention. According to Wikipedia:

In journalism, sensationalism is a type of editorial tactic. Events and topics in news stories are selected and worded to excite the greatest number of readers and viewers. This style of news reporting encourages biased or emotionally loaded impressions of events rather than neutrality, and may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story.”

Now, let’s apply this to a country like India, where the television soaps are as dramatic as it gets. From Bollywood movies to the neighbourhood news, we have always liked knowing things with a little mirch masala added in.

So, of course, anyone who wanted to catch your eye here had to get more attractive, they had to catch your eyes in flashier, more controversial ways. And, that’s where sensationalism took over mass media.

Photo by the author.

A Tale of Two Celebrities: Aryan Khan & Rhea Chakraborty

Indian media is no longer free from political bias. Most of India’s news viewers, especially the elderly, are subject to Arnab Goswami’s rants and Navika Kumar’s screaming.

While most of us millennials & Gen Z Folks can make our escape from sensationalism, thanks to our curated Instagram and Facebook feeds, the same is not the case for the rest of our country.

We can’t ignore the fact that our parents, our eldersheck, most of India’s populationtakes our Bollywood stars pretty seriously. 

Celebrities are more than just celebrities. They are symbols of power and status. They are idols that are so beloved, pointing out any flaw in them is seen as a personal insult by their fans. 

Since they are all followed so closely, by the paparazzi and the populace, what better distraction from massive, structural issues in society?

What Are We Not Seeing?

Rhea Chakraborty being attacked for supposedly inducing her partner to die by suicide took centre stage, over:

large scale unemployment, lack of accessible healthcare during a pandemic, dilution of labour rights, large-scale privatisation of public sector undertakings, anti-farmer laws, unlawful arrests of anti-caste activists and interrogations of dissenting voices, arrests of protestors, medical negligence in prisons, auctioning off of natural resources, inaccessible online education, and so on and so forth.

The list goes on…

An statuette of Lady Justice, with her blindfold.
Representational image. Photo credit: Tingey Injury Law Firm.

Update after update of her every move flooded every electronic device that had an internet connection. The scrutiny she received dominated all media for months. And now, we see the same cycle repeat… Yet again.

The news of Aryan Khan’s arrest over his alleged drug consumption at a cruise ship party, broke within 48 hours of the leak of the Pandora Papers—which contained details of several influential Indian figures hiding their wealth off-shore.

Let me tell you about other incidents which received minimal coverage because of the frenzy around Aryan Khan:

A ruling party minister’s son allegedly mowed down and killed four protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri. Hindu extremists decapitated a Muslim man for his relationship with a Hindu woman.

Also, a massive consignment (2,988.22 kg) of heroin, with an estimated street value of ₹21,000 crores, was seized at Gujarat’s Adani-owned Mundra port, by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) on September 15, 2021.

India, Are You Reading Between The Lines?

This politics of distraction is a tactic that has been used to dictate a voter’s attention and focus from areas of true, public interest.

When our news about the world is being shaped based on the political interests of biased news reporters like Arnab Goswami or Navika Kumar, we are losing sight of the actual truth behind each prime time news headline.

We are mere pawns kept in a state of distraction so that we never see the big picture.

A newspaper printing machine
Representational image. Photo credit: Bank Phrom.

There is much irony to be found in the speed with which Rhea Chakraborty and Aryan Khan were taken into custody, considering that Ashish Mishra, son of BJP’s UP state government’s minister Ajay Mishra, who was involved in the Lakhimpur Keri incident, was taken into custody only six days after the incident, despite the existence of multiple videos of the murder.

Notice that of the two drug allegations, one was leveled against a woman and the other against the son of an influential, Muslim man. We can’t ignore the optics of these two cases.

Rhea Chakraborty should not have had to face such hyper-scrutiny over allegations of driving a partner to suicide. A conversation about how India’s mental health has gone down the drain could be had, but it was foregone to put all the blame on a woman… While she was still grieving a major loss. She deserved respect and privacy.

Instead, she endured media channels going into overdrive to churn out nonsensical theories about her relationship with Rajput. She was called a slut, a gold digger, a harlot and whatnot. Viewers believed in the fake news being spread about her and joined hands with the media in witch-hunting her.

Aryan Khan’s case should have begun a conversation on the availability of questionable drugs within the country, rather than a trial-by-media, where news outlets like Aaj Tak were creating questionable graphics recreating his last 48 hours.

It is nothing more than sensationalism to gain more viewers, instead of focusing on honest reporting of the cold, hard facts from the scene. And, this kind of dramatised news comes at a great cost for us—its consumers.

Reclaiming Our Attention

Like I had mentioned earlier, prime-time news has slowly become a place of escape for most Indian viewers, with the right amount of drama to keep us distracted. Welcome to the attention economy, where our attention is a scarce commodity.

A decaying exclamation mark on a triangular board, against an orange background.
Representational image. Photo credit: Marcus Spiske.

The media we consume is a bid to keep us perpetually distracted. The more time we spend following Aryan Khan’s arrest, the less we notice the world burning around us. 

The kind of stories we consume plays a role in our interests and shapes our politics. Therefore, it’s on us to ensure that we, along with those around us, are made aware of the bias that has become rampant in Indian journalism.

As a writer and reader, the number of times I have forgotten to read between the lines and gotten carried away by consuming news is scary. So, imagine the state of those who simply can’t even verify a WhatsApp forward they have received.

How can we help them understand biased media?

Support The Freedom Of The Press! 

According to Nitin Sisupalan, a former Reuters business correspondent, the biggest issue is that most news agencies do not have decentralised funding. He said:

“Most of the media houses of the present day rely on advertising revenues. These revenues come from either government funding or by parties with a biased, vested interest. As long as the money flows in from external sources, the reader has no say in the matter, because the reader is part of the product. The moment more media companies shift to a decentralised funding system which focuses on the readers and the subscribers, like that of News Laundry and the News Minute, the people who consume the news become the stakeholders.”

We need to try to find our own sources of unbiased news or refer to multiple sources at the very least. The free press cannot be allowed to fail in a democracy.

Interestingly, the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 went to Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia. Both of them are journalists who have been defending the freedom of speech, often at great personal cost, in hostile nations.

Citizen journalism and alternate/independent media platforms, may just become our future in these times. So, don’t fall for clickbait. Don’t give in!

Featured image is for representational purposes only.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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