What do we really need to know?

Dhanya Rajendran of The News Minute posted this online. With her permission, we are cross-posting most of her note, with a link to the original. She raises important questions about how much we need to know in the interests of justice, and where our interest crosses over into idle and hurtful curiosity.

Enough is enough! 

by Dhanya Rajendran

Been reading a lot of posts after the sexual assault and murder of a child in Chennai and the actor’s abduction and case of rape in Kochi…

Questions are being asked about why media splashed the actor’s name and details. I agree. Why could most of these journalists not have asked a simple question to the police: ‘What are the sections? Can we use her name?’. They would have got the answer ‘No’ from the investigators. ( But the cops did give her name away and not the IPC sections. So maybe initially some journos did not know how grave it was). To continue with mentioning her name is highly unethical.

But the same question should be asked to the public too. Over the past few weeks, I have seen many hashtags and people sharing pictures of three minor victims in Tamil Nadu. The Ariyalur gangrape victim, the 7-year-old sexually assaulted and killed by a neighbor in Chennai and now the latest victim, a 3-year old allegedly killed by a woman neighbor.

When I started out as a journalist with Times Now, I remember an air hostess had been killed by her boyfriend and he later committed suicide. My office wanted me to get her parents’ reaction, and I said no.

I was high on ethics and I refused. But soon, work compulsions made me another kind of journalist. I would compulsively dig out details of crimes. Though my intention was always to get the culprit booked, the means to achieve that goal were questionable.

After around 6 years in Times Now, I covered a big case in Bangalore. A man with considerable influence was accused of raping his daughter. Though the police knew where he was, they could not arrest him. Many of us were following the story like crazy. As we dug out detail after detail about the case, there was also an element of competition amongst reporters on who will nail the guy with ‘hard facts’.

Two prominent newspapers then got the child’s medical record, I too did. They splashed it on the front page. TV channels of course would not mention graphic stuff on their tickers, so we were a bit restrained. I called the man’s wife (the complainant) and told her that she can be relieved now as the medical report was out and there was no way her husband could escape.

Her reply is still etched in my brain.

She asked me.”What use is it of, Dhanya? Why should the world know what exactly happened to her? And there is Google.Google will never allow my child to forget that her vagina and anus were injured.”

And then it struck me. In our pursuit to assist in the case, in our pursuit to make sure culprits are caught, we forget the victim, the survivor or their family.

Why should we know the sordid details of a crime? Why should we know who did exactly what?

Does the fact that a 7 year old was sexually assaulted and killed by a neighbour not outrage you? Why should you or I know HOW he assaulted her?

Does the fact that a three-year-old was killed by a neighbour and dumped in a garbage van not outrage you? Do you need to SEE pictures of that hapless child’s dead body to make you feel real outrage?

Does the fact that a young actor whose smiles have made us all happy was taken around in a car and assaulted not outrage you? Why should we be told what EXACTLY was done to her?

Yes, some cases get more highlighted than others. It depends on the place, time and the news cycle, unfortunately.

But let’s not be vultures for details. All of us.

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