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Why blame the media?
Deepa Gahlot | May 31, 2003 16:02 IST
In an open letter sent to the media, Shilpa Shetty berated journalists for causing distress to her parents. Ironically, that very media gave space to her ill-considered fulminations.
Everybody sympathises with her parents, who are accused in an extortion case. Eventually it will be the media that will help vindicate their stand.
What is annoying is that stars who get more mileage out of the media than they deserve peevishly throw stones at it when there is a hint of criticism or censure.
A point-by-point look at Shilpa's outburst:
Shilpa: I had chosen to remain silent, not for the lack of conviction, but for my family's dignity. My silence was being misconstrued and my family maligned. Now, I choose to speak.
From all accounts, Shilpa was not in the country when the unfortunate episode occurred. It is not possible the press did not try to reach her. Now that she chooses to speak, what would her 'choice' be worth if nobody listened?
Shilpa: My parents, who have lived their lives with dignity and self-respect and been law-abiding citizens, have been made to look like criminals. Not one has waited for our side of the story. What makes it worse is that it is too late for us to speak, as the matter is subjudice.
The press did not make up the story, it was revealed by the police with tapes -- possibly doctored by the complainants -- provided by them. The media have the right to cover any news story. Since this was fact, according to the police, and not just opinion, there was no need to suppress it. But there was nothing that prevented the same PR agency that sent out her "choosing to speak now" letter to have also sent out the Shettys' side of the story earlier. Shilpa is smart enough to know when there is need for dignified silence and when it is right to make a noise.
Shilpa: A section of the media, mainly the electronic media, has gone ballistic and blown this incident out of proportion, without caring about the truth. Sensitivity is perhaps too much to ask for.
Blowing matters out of proportion is something the media can be accused of. The media did not manufacture this 'truth', - which may well turn out to be untrue. They did not manipulate the tapes or deliberately go out of the way to attack the Shettys. News is news, no matter whom it involves.
Shilpa: It has been a harrowing experience for my parents. They have been subjected to harassment by the press. They have to run from pillar to post to prove their innocence.
They have not been subjected to harassment by the press, but by the owners of Praful Sarees, who have accused them of taking help from the underworld to collect dues. There was a section of the press that immediately swung to the Shettys' defence, got quotes from industry people vouching for her parents' honesty and decency. A prominent columnist went to the extent of saying that since the legal system in the country is so inept, could anyone be blamed for asking for 'outside' help?
Shilpa: We come from a decent background and would never stoop so low. Only a defaulter could have contrived something like this to deviate from the real issue.
Very possible, but then again, a case being filed -- even a wrong one -- is news. It is the duty of the legal system (hopeless though it is) to uncover the veracity of the case. Followed by the much-abused media giving it due coverage.
Shilpa: The truth is, we were going to take the matter to court, but before we could, the tables were turned on us and we were made to look like villains. It hit the headlines and we did not know what hit us.
Nobody can stop news from hitting the headlines. There is enough support for the Shettys in the industry and the media -- if at all anyone is the 'villain', it's not them but the law that refused bail to Shilpa's father. The media was not sitting in the judge's chair.
Shilpa: Without knowing the facts or the history of the case, the media sat in judgment, with only one side of the story. It proclaimed the victim and the villain, based on evidence, which has not yet been substantiated. It prejudged without asking certain pertinent questions. Despite being the aggrieved party, we are being termed the aggressors, manipulators and villains.
Who stopped Shilpa from giving her side of the story even from Sun City or Cannes? The communication system works fine in India most of the time.
Shilpa: The case has been hyped to become so high profile that it has become difficult for us to handle. No one is looking for the truth anymore, for the sake of selling a story.
No one story sells a paper or TV channel. Not even if Shilpa Shetty (who is not exactly a major star) is involved. As for the truth, the media follows what happens and that can't be dictated by anyone. Even Amitabh Bachchan had to go through the Bofors affair. If injustice has been done, again, the media will expose it when the police or the court reveals the facts.
Shilpa: A section of the press has time and again taken pot-shots at me, questioned my capability as an actress, presumed, assumed, concocted stories and made fun of my personal life. I had taken it in my stride in the past, understanding that it would be a part and parcel of being famous. I was told there was a price to pay for celebrityhood. If only I knew my parents would have to pay a price too, I would never have accepted.
Shilpa has not refused to be part of the celeb circus. If someone firmly asks to be left alone, they are usually left alone. Shilpa has discussed her personal life in public, so she can't whine about that now.
Shilpa: My parents have imparted the right values and made (younger sister) Shamita and me the people we are. We look up to them and it breaks my heart to see them go through this bitter humiliation. At this age, they don't deserve this. No one deserves this. Especially when they haven't done anything wrong. God is witness. My parents are innocent and only time will prove this.
The truth will be there for all to see. And then, will the media be able to correct the pain it has inflicted? Will it be able to repair the damage to our reputation? Will it be able to make up for the heartache of my father and the deteriorating health of my mother? My humble plea, with folded hands to the press and all those reading this, please don't convict us before the court's verdict. Please put things in perspective. All I want is a little fairness."
Shilpa's emotional eruption may be justified in this case, but isn't she attacking the wrong target? Why not ask the cops where the tapes came from? If they were manufactured, who did it? The pain inflicted on her parents was not by the media, but by the case filed against them and the revelations by the police. If and when the case is proved false, the press will undoubtedly report it with equal prominence.
Follow-ups are rarely done when ordinary people are involved. Shilpa should be glad she is a celebrity; it will ensure fairness in the media. The case being so high profile will automatically guarantee quicker justice. But first, Shilpa should pin blame where it is due, and not hit at a safe target.