Wink of an Eye

The first Internet sensation of 2018 is here: Priya Prakash Varrier. Until last weekend, nobody knew the 18 year old actor from Kerala. In the run up to Valentine's Day on Wednesdsy, promoters of the Malayalam movie "Oru Adaar Love" uploaded a 3:16 minute video of the song "Manikya Malaraya Poovi" on YouTube. In the trailer, we can see Priya Varrier winking at her co-star which instantly catapulted her to what many believe she is the "national Valentine". 

The clip features the song "Manikya Malaraya Poovi", with an ensemble cast playing uniformed school kids falling in love in seemingly soft-lit slow motion. Priya Varrier, in a bit that lasts for just 30 seconds, locks gazes with a boy, raises her eyebrows and even winks at him, thus flooring him and seemingly the country as well.

On Wednesday evening, popular Hindi channel Aaj Tak fell prey to a parody tweet and aired a full debate around it. The tweet, issued by a parody and satire handle "Tiimes How"quoted Maulana Atif Qadri, vice President of the West Bengal United Council stating a fatwa had been issued against the 18 year old actor for hurting religious sentiments. The tweet quoted the Maulana as saying: "After the viral video of Priya Prakash Varrier, whenever we or our fellow Muslim brothers, closed our eyes to offer namaz, instead of Allah, her face would appear, which is hurting our religious sentiments, hence we issued a fatwa against her." 

Based on this satirical tweet, on Wednesday evening, popular Hindi channel Aaj Tak picked this tweet and even based a debate around it. Sadly, Maulana Atif Qadri, who is otherwise known as a motormouth, had not even made the comment. The debate, anchored by Anjana Om Kashyap, had a full one minute monologue which established the context for the debate. Before the show began at 17:58 pm, Aaj Tak even put out a tweet from its official handle expressing their disgust at the Maulana's quote:

While outrage from a certain community is real, to anchor a full debate on a fictitious quote points questions to the inhouse editorial standards in the channel. The actions by the media, especially in the last decade, have led to loss of credibility and a revulsion against them by the general public. The rapid rise of satirical and parody based handles on Twitter is a case in point. The fragmented nature of the media today ensures that there is little or no emphasis given to gatekeeping. Gatekeeping is one of the crucial pillars that is necessary for a vibrant media to thrive on. Yet, in the rush to achieve a big story by often outdoing competition, fact checking is often sacrificed.

The highly insensitive way in which a tweet becomes the basis for a full-fledged debate points to the malaise of little or no fact-checking. The pressures of broadcast media, in their race against time to outdo competition, often leads to the belief that Hindi news channels would rather spin out fiction than subject themselves to the painstaking process of fact-checking and highlights a complete disregard for journalistic ethics and falling media standards.

It is surprising that Aaj Tak, which recently won eight awards in the Exchange4Media News Broadcasting Awards, for outstanding journalism, could do this. However, alertness through vigilant gatekeeping by way of a phone call to clarify the truth will ensure the journey towards re-establishing credibility begins from here.

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