Tariq Ansari takes battle for Black Friday to Mid-Day front page
Mid-Day MD Tariq Ansari feels the Court ruling which has stayed the release of a film produced by Mid-Day has serious implications for crime reporting. Does it? We are not convinced.
BY OUR MEDIA EDITOR
5 April, 2005: On April 4, 2005, readers of the Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day were treated to a front page box article penned by none less than its managing director Tariq Ansari. The piece (reproduced below), bemoaned last Thursday's Bombay High Court ruling which stayed the release of Black Friday, a movie produced by Mid-Day Multimedia.
Tariq Ansari praised the learned judges who passed the verdict, even as he hinted at issues of 'serious implications'. He wondered whether media other than film-makers are free to report on real-life incidents which may work against the interests of the accused.
At the end of the box report was an SMS poll, inviting readers to tell Mid-Day whether all media should be free to cover criminal cases before a court passes judgment.
By the time you are reading this, Mid-Day has already published results of its SMS poll. (If we haven't been sleeping too late, the results are updated there at the bottom of the page; otherwise, come back later for an update, or pick up today's Mid-Day!)
Tariq Ansari says that the stay order "raises some fundamental issues regarding the ability to report and discuss matters of contemporary history in the media." We find this factually incorrect. Making a movie on a bomb blasts is not the same as reporting on the incident. Movie-making is not "reporting."
If movie-making should come under the definition of reporting, then the script of the complete truth of the case has to be laid bare first. It is towards this end that the trial process in under way.
The court has not barred reporting of any bomb blast or any crime. It has ruled only on the specific case of making a movie on the serial bombs blasts, of which trials are still under way, and where the accused felt the release of the movie would prejudge their case.
Tariq Ansari also draws attention to real-life serials running on telly based on incidents of crime. Yes, this is not the first time that someone is making a movie/serial/parody based on a real-life incident. Movies like Company and Ab Tak Chhappan are loosely woven around real-life incidents. But this is the first time an accused has moved court against releasing the film, fearing it would prejudge his case.
In the case of the movies, those who were depicted as villains did not move court against it. In the case of Black Friday, the accused did so. So the cases are not comparable; we have a complainant in the case of Black Friday.
Tariq Ansari moves on to make two inferences from this: Both are wrong.
"We can infer one of two things from this judgement. Either that it is legitimate for other media to report on criminal cases which are still sub-judice while film makers are restricted from it." Media's reporting on criminal cases has not even been discussed by the High Court. This was an inference that should not have been drawn. And movies, while it comes under the broad category of media, are not in the business of reporting. The correct inference should be, that media can 'report' on criminal cases, while movie-makers cannot make 'movies'.
"Alternatively, and more disturbingly, any reporting or discussion of a criminal act cannot take place in any media until a court has pronounced judgement."
This is an overextension of what the court said. Does Mr Tariq Ansari seriously believe that the Thursday's judgment of Bombay High Court spells the end of India's crime reporters? Or does he want us to sympathise with him on his case for Black Friday with this ruling in the background?
As explained, the court felt necessary to stay the movie only when the accused felt their interests would be hurt. The larger issues cited by Mr Tariq Ansari are not yet in the picture.
It is a general tendency among many prominent personalities to raise "larger issues", when their own "smaller issues" are hurt.
When Narendra Modi was refused a US visa, he raised larger issues like "national pride" and "story of Mahatma". When Apple's request to summon bloggers writing on its trade secrets was granted, bloggers raised issues of "press freedom". When Times of India found itself in court over imitating another company's publicity material, it too cited larger issues of "free speech" and "free commercial speech". When his movie is stayed by the High Court, Mid-Day boss Tariq Ansari too raises issues of the "future of discussing contemporary issues" and "blanket ban on crime reporting". It is up to intelligent readers to pore between the lines and distinguish the difference between the smaller issue and the larger.
We are all in favour of free speech and expression, and look forward to Black Friday at the movies. If Mr Tariq Ansari had been worried about his investment in the movie, and that the delay will be bad for the movie and the investment, it would have been more understandable. It is the larger issues that make us groan.
If Mr Tariq Ansari believes that Black Friday should be in theatres before the trial is over, he should not lose heart. The logical step is to move the Supreme Court with the case. If the highest court in the land stands by Tariq Ansari, surely he should not have a problem?
The little SMS poll too smacks of the same media trick. Will a reader conditioned by regular pro-Black Friday reporting and commentary vote against Tariq Ansari's case? Unlikely. Will Mid-Day sew the two different issues - reporting on crime and staying Black Friday - together and claim that the poll results back its case for Black Friday?
BY OUR MEDIA EDITOR