More examples of how not to cover sexual assault

The Ladies Finger has published a critical review of the reportage surrounding the sexual assault of an actor in Kerala–the same one that Dhanya Rajendran’s comment refers to. Read the full article for an explanation of exactly what has gone wrong in the way the incident has been covered. An extract is given below.

Ila Ananya, The Public Response to the Sexual Assault of a Malayali Actor Has been Batshit, The Ladies Finger, February 21, 2017. (full article)

Ever since news of a Malayalam actor being abducted and sexually assaulted on Friday, 17th February broke, there have been a flurry of news reports, each trying to outdo the other with information on the case. So far, we know the basic details of the case — that the actor was on her way home at night in Kochi after a shoot when the men got into her car and sexually assaulted her, and that they took photos of her as way of blackmail. Reportedly, one of the accused used to work as her driver (and has a criminal record). He then got her present driver, who is also accused in the case, the job. This was followed by reports stating that of the seven accused, three have been arrested, and now, the three men have sought anticipatory bail in the Kerala High Court.

Over the last four days, things have become more complicated (there have even been reports doing the rounds that people who are a part of the Kerala film industry might just have a role to play). But in a hurry to report what has become ‘sensational’ news about an actor, the media seems to have forgotten the basic rules involved in reporting cases of sexual assault. There are two aspects to the media frenzy over this case — apart from gross sensationalising of the news, first few reports only reported abduction, which is why the actor was named in these reports. Soon after, other reports began to note that the FIR has been lodged under various sections of the IPC, including 376 (rape), 366 (kidnapping) and 506 (criminal intimidation). The rules here are honestly not so hard to forget: No name, no photos, and no clues to identify the victim.

Is it because the case involves an actor that these rules have been broken time and again? Or because it’s the sense that their story is just one among a whole bunch of similar stories being published online? But four days after the incident, the rules are still being broken — if the report doesn’t have her name, this ‘missing’ piece of information is ‘balanced’ out by adding her photo to it. Others didn’t name the actor or carry her photos, but named every movie she acted in, and if they changed their headlines, the actor’s name remained in their URL.

…After so many years and so many similar incidents, the media has still not learnt to report women’s issues responsibly. Perhaps, there is a need to slow down and relook the questions we ask and discuss. As Rajendran writes, “Let’s not be a vulture for details.”

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