The last few years have seen a number of high-profile cases in Indian courts wherein the rich and mighty have been held guilty and sentenced to prison. The news media, in many cases, has been accused of conducting its own shadow trials. The news media coverage these court cases have derived has been phenomenal. This year saw Delhi courts passing verdicts in the Shivani Bhatnagar murder and BMW hit-and-run cases.
This Newswatch study was launched to look at how the media reported the court judgments in the two cases. In the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case, the prime accused was convicted on March 18, 2008, and sentenced a week later. In BMW hit-and-run case, the prime accused was convicted on September 2, 2008 and sentenced after four days. The Shivani case was tracked from March 17 to March 27, 2008. The BMW case was monitored from September 1 to September 10, 2008. After the preliminary data collection of 1636 stories (743 in the Shivani case and 893 in the BMW case), 234 stories (123 for the former and 111 for the latter) were shortlisted for analyses.
The study found that the accused were accorded more media mileage. It was found that the prime accused in the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case, RK Sharma, was quoted in 10 stories and his family/friends in five of the 123 items selected for the study. The victim did not get proportional coverage, being quoted only in two stories — India Today Digital, which talked about Shivani’s health, quoting her sisters Shah and Sewanti; and the Times of India, which quoted Subhash and Veena Bhatnagar, Shivani’s in-laws.
In the BMW hit-and-run case, the figures were somewhat different but lopsided as well. The prime accused, Sanjeev Nanda, was quoted in only one news report and his family/friends in 18. The kin of the victims were quoted in 13 news items. On behalf of Nanda, ones quoted most were grandmother Gayatri Nanda, father Suresh Nanda, sister Sonali Nanda, mother Sumitra Nanda, and friend Manik Kapoor.
The judge, surprisingly, was not quoted in many of the ‘breaking news’ stories in both cases. The judge’s verdict was quoted both attributively and retrospectively in 27 of the 123 stories in the Shivani case, and in 37 of the 111 in the BMW case.
The ratio of the number of stories which quoted the lawyer(s) of the accused and the victim(s) also differed. In the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case, the lawyer(s) of the accused were quoted in 22 news stories, and those of the prosecution in eight. In the BMW hit-and-run case, the lawyer(s) of the accused were quoted in 25 news stories, and those of the prosecution in nine.
PROJECT CREDITS: Study supervisor: Subir Ghosh; Data analyses and research: Priyanka Mittal; Data collection – Shivani Bhatnagar murder case: Supreeth Sudhakaran; Data collection – BMW hit-and-run case: Priyanka Mittal
To download the report, click on the link on the left.