Jessica Lal Murder Case –
Sue-Ellen Fernandes St. Andrews College TY BMM. 4259 Introduction
Media is regarded as one of the pillars of democracy. Media has wide ranging roles in the society. Media plays a vital role in molding the opinion of the society and it is capable of changing the whole viewpoint through which people perceive various events. The media can be commended for starting a trend where the media plays an active role in bringing the accused to hook. There are different reasons why the media attention is particularly intense surrounding a legal case: the first is that the crime itself is in some way sensational, by being horrific the second is that it involves a celebrity either as victim or accused. The concept of trial by media is not a new concept. There have been many occurrences in the past where the media has been accused of conducting a trial on its own and passing a verdict even before the court does. There is a conception that the Jessica Lal murder case is was also a media trial. Case Study
On 29 April 1999, Manu Sharma had shot Jessica Lal in front of 200 witnesses at a Delhi restaurant, Tamarind Court, where she was a barmaid and refused to serve alcohol to him after 2 a.m. In February 2006, witness after witness went back on their original testimonies in court. This same case did not get enough coverage and within no time and Manu Sharma was acquitted. Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model tells us how news gets covered based on the News “Filters”. Manu Sharma’s father, Venod Sharma was a Congress MP and later a minister for power in the Haryana Cabinet. Being quite influential and rich he falls in the first filter of the propaganda model. This was undoubtedly the reason why the news did not get much or any coverage in the media. In January 2006, India was high on the fervor of Rang De Basanti, and longed to ‘do something’. Few people know that the protest was galvanized by Tehelka. Editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal drafted the simply worded SMS that went viral, announcing a candlelight vigil for Jessica at India Gate. Having picked the time and date, he and the other editors Harinder Baweja, Sankarshan Thakur and Shoma Chaudhury agreed the message should be anonymous to avoid competition between media houses. They sent it out to everyone they knew. Would people come? They did, in huge numbers. On 4 March 2006, almost 2,500 people came to India Gate. This was the beginning of the first mass society theory in India. Public outcry forced authorities to reopen the case. Mass society theory states that the mass media is a very strong portal for communicating to the masses, as whatever is portrayed through the media channels has a significant influence on the masses. Thus the mass media is a powerful instrument in molding society. This is partly related to the fact that since the mass media communicates to not just the individual but also his peers, peer pressure also adds to the effectiveness of the communication. A poll conducted by the newspaper Hindustan Times showed that on a scale of 1 to 10, the public's faith in law enforcement in India was about 2.7. Public pressure built up with newspapers splashing headlines such as "No one killed Jessica", and TV channels running SMS polls. Tehelka quietly began what would turn out to be among its biggest investigations yet. It was Tamarind Court owner Bina Ramani who began the process. She was facing tremendous flak for not being convincing in court while identifying Manu Sharma. Conversations with her got Tehelka thinking about the role of Venod Sharma, Manu’s father, in the turning of witnesses. Soon Tehelka’s expose had uncovered the truth buried under heaps of money and muscle power, giving investigators crucial evidence on how eyewitnesses were influenced by Sharma’s politically-connected family. “The evidence regarding the actual incident, the testimonies of witnesses... as well as his (Manu Sharma’s) conduct after the incident, prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” said a bench comprising Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Swatanter Kumar. Jessica’s sister Sabrina Lal and retired Delhi High Court judge RS Sodhi have now demanded action against witnesses who lied on oath. Tehelka spycams have evidence of these lies. A three-month long Tehelka sting operation aired on Star News in September 2006 — blew the lid off all the conjecture: witnesses had been bought off or threatened into silence. Tehelka’s investigation added to the groundswell of public outcry. Venod Sharma was forced to quit his post in the Haryana government. And the Delhi High Court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding Manu Sharma guilty. The admissions to Tehelka’s spycams were unabashed. They showed how Congress politician Venod Sharma had abused power and money: Karan Rajput had been bought over. Though Rajput died of a liver disease, three people — his nephew, Jitender Raj (a waiter in Tamarind Court), a friend and his landlord, vouched on spycams that Rajput had been paid at least Rs 25 lakh. “He (Karan) never worked after the murder,” Jitender told Tehelka. Shayan Munshi, a model and Jessica’s friend, told Tehelka that the Sharmas were very powerful people. Munshi earlier said he saw Manu Sharma fire the gun twice, but turned hostile in 2001. He did not identify Sharma in court and said his earlier statement against Sharma should be disregarded because it was written in Hindi, a language he was not familiar with. By this time, Munshi had acted in a Bollywood movie. Tehelka met him posing as a casting agent and producer of an Indo-British, bilingual production. Munshi walked the extra mile to prove his Hindi skills, even proving his efficiency in different Hindi dialects. He even admitted, “everyone knows who did it, so why are they beating around the bush.” Shiv Das, an electrician at Tamarind Court, admitted that he had been intimidated. “My first statement was the truth, so was everyone’s,” he told Tehelka.
Journalism depends on the people’s perspective of news and news values. It is said that news is a mere construction of an event or a happening or person. News selects, processes, produces and shapes an event or happening. However, over the years, media has also assumed the role of an opinion maker and creator of public opinion. The power of press can also be understood in the basis of how the people respond and react to the news. As is seen from the case study, media has been quite powerful in forming public opinion. There was widespread outrage and protests after the murder cases were reported. People had realized that justice had been denied and it was necessary to protest and speak aloud. The cases involved high-profile people and this fact made the people all the more interested and aware of the proceedings of the case. As is seen in the case study, we see that media interference helped in the rightful and proper closure of the case. Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model has 5 filters where the first filter states that the wealth and profit-orientation of the dominant mass-media firms is always taken into consideration. Corporate media firms share common interests with other sectors of the economy, and therefore have a real stake in maintaining an economic and political climate that is conducive to their profitability. They are unlikely to be critical of economic or political policies that directly benefit them. Venod Sharma was a very influential Politian. Though the case dint get enough publicity at first due to the reasons mentioned earlier, but later Tehelka played a massive role in helping Sabina Lal get justice for her sister. If it weren’t for the Tehelka sting operation and Zee news playing those tapes, the accused of Jessica’s murder would still be acquitted. Media’s investigative role was critized by a lot. But it was the medias investigative role only that that brought to light Munshi’s truth. In spite of it being the 21st Century, People in our country could get over point blank murders just like that. In spite of there being 200 witnesses there no one really came forward in the fear of being suppressed or threatened by the Sharma’s. Even the government officials who are there to help in the process of gaining justice can be sold out and manipulate the evidences found. Trial by media played a very important role. They media then wanted a death penalty for the accused and imprisonment for the eye witness and government officials to failed to stand by their duty and tampered the evidence. Unlike other cases where trial by media attracts a lot of flak, this was one case where the public was along with the media on the same track. 3000 people coming together at India gate was nothing less than a mass society movement. Mass society theory states that the mass media is a very strong portal for communicating to the masses, as whatever is portrayed through the media channels has a significant influence on the masses. Thus the mass media is a powerful instrument in molding the opinions of the people. This is partly related to the fact that since the mass media communicates to not just the individual but also his peers, peer pressure also adds to the effectiveness of the communication. It is the media outcry which gives voice to the silent majority who ask questions to those in public life who refuse to be subject to any form of accountability, the questions to politicians who unleash an orgy of communal violence and then blame news networks for 'inflaming passions', to parliamentarians who take cash for questions, and then claim to be 'people's representatives', to cricketers who fix matches, and then lecture on ethics., to doctors who take the Hippocratic oath only to cut the limbs of beggars for a price, to bureaucrats who accept bribes on tape and to police officers who let off criminals. It was the media outcry which brought together 2500 people at the Indian Gate to protest. It was the media outcry that brought thousands of people together at India Gate to protest the rape case of Nirbhaya. But only on these facts we can’t conclude that the media of our nation has touched the height of high journalism. Media of nation can only be said to be of high standard when it is aware of its societal responsibilities and it is actively involved in it. But in this regard I would rather say with great sorrow that media of our nation has failed in its duty towards the country. It is correct that the media has been successful in giving itself a professional touch according to the changing conditions of globalization, but on the other hands it could not maintain a fair functioning of its duties towards nation at large. On the same night that Jessica Lal was killed, there was another murder of a young man at an ice-cream shop at Delhi when he refused to open the shop again for a group of drunken men. He too was shot at point blank. But there isn’t much about this case. In fact none of the news channels or publications even ran that story. Was it because he was a common man and his life dint matter as that of a celebrity barmaid at a Socialite party? The media has been very Biased and selective in their approach. "Justice delayed is justice denied." - William Gladstone