Category Archives: Bad

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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How not to report on rape

Manisha Pande, Learn How Not To Report On Rape From TOI,, February 20, 2017.

The original post has an illustration of edits on the story that are a great illustration of how many ways a report can go wrong. This is reinforced by the text which is dissected to point to a series of missteps.

This morning, the Big Four – The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and The Hindu – reported on an alleged case of rape in their Delhi editions.

Notable among these was TOI’s report, because it works as an excellent primer on how not to report on rape. From unwarranted details to victim-shaming, TOI checked all the boxes of callous reporting on violence against women.


The only thing that can be worse than an alleged case of rape being committed in Delhi’s most well-frequented, heavily-patrolled areas is the fact that one of India’s oldest newspapers can’t seem to tell the difference between reporting and victim shaming.

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“Foot-in-mouth” rape reportage, Mumbai, August 2013

Kalpana Sharma critiques reportage on the Mumbai gang-rape case, listing several “don’ts” that have been “done”:

“…you only have to look at the coverage of the gang-rape in Mumbai’s English newspapers. On day one, that is August 23, all papers carried front-page stories about the incident. Of the papers this writer surveyed, none gave out the name of the publication for which the journalist worked, but all mentioned “photojournalist” or “photography intern”, thereby narrowing the field. TOI mentioned “lifestyle magazine”, narrowing the field even further. Two newspapers, Afternoon and Dispatch Courier and Free Press Journal, gave out the name of the publication for which the journalist worked. (However, when alerted to this, both editors responded speedily and removed the name of the publication from their web editions)

Why is any of this relevant? Because when covering rape and sexual assault, it is incumbent that the media ensures that no personal details of the survivor are made public unless she chooses to reveal them. Hints such as the name or type of publication in this instance, or the organisation with which a survivor works, or where she lives, or the names of her parents, her siblings, her best friends etc are exactly the kind of details that ought not to be in the public realm.”

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Man kills first wife

This December 3 report in The New Indian Express (“Man kills first wife, burns body in forest“) bothers me on so many levels but what irks me the most is the unquestioning regurgitation of a narrative as provided by the police. A man kills his first wife “suspecting her fidelity”. He suspected she had been unfaithful when he returned from Singapore two years ago. Since then, they have fought, she left him, three months ago he married someone else. The victim, who I think was treated poorly by her husband, who has three children by him to raise, returns at this point and asks the elders to intervene on her behalf. The report says she was, “allegedly afraid of losing her claim over Chinnathambi’s property.” Does this not make her sound like a greedy minx? In this trying situation, her husband, generously “allowed her to live in a thatched hut nearby.” How kind of him to allow this greedy, happiness-ruining, suspicion-deserving mother-of-his-three-children to live in a hut nearby. Then they allegedly quarreled again and she went missing. She had evidently been strangled and her body burnt. This woman was obviously the victim, seeing as how she ended up dead. There may have been more to the couple’s relationship. She could have been awful. She  could have been Mother Teresa reborn. But what is the impression of this murdered woman that we take away from the way in which this story has been reported? Are the words in this article not the result of several prejudices trickling all the way down to the reporter and therefore the report itself?

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Naming the school

In a report of a class VII student who was sexually abused by his classmates, Hindustan Times has named the school — one step closer to identifying the victim —

I’m wondering why, since the paper is normally careful not to name victim or school. TOI’s report (  merely says it is a private school in Rohtak. Was it because this happened to be a popular, reputed school?

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On headlines

Hindustan Times recently commissioned a survey, following the spate of sexual assault cases in Haryana. A report on the survey — which questioned men on their views on marriage, abuse, abortion etc — with quotes from experts, has this headline: Beauty and the beast.

Screen shot 2012-12-03 at 11.52.42 AM

Not only is it insensitive, its irreverence in this context detracts from what the report is trying to say — that national crime statistics reveal an increasing number of crimes against women.

The report too, could have attempted to explain why experts felt this was happening and what women in distress could do.

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Police vs family and activists

The case of the rape of a four-year-old girl in Delhi and the subsequent involvement of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party has been widely reported, largely because party workers were allegedly beaten up by police.

It is interesting to note how Hindustan Times, Delhi has reported this —

The basic facts are similar in all the reports — the child was raped by a 50-year-old neighbour and the family was attempting to register a case of rape.

HT in its story on Dec 2, has titled its report: Drama at police over ‘rape’ case. No other report — in TOI, The Hindu or Indian Express has called the rape into question. The entire report is based on what the police has said. No member of the family has been spoken to, nor have the members of the party been quoted. The police have been quoted as saying that since a medical examination did not confirm rape, a case of molestation had been registered but that the family was insisting on a rape case. The report mentions ‘scores’ of activists protesting at the police station, but no mention of why. The last few lines mention ‘disciplinary proceedings’ against three police officers for ‘apparent inefficiency’ — again a quote by a police officer. Again, no details as to why or what happened.

TOI in its report ( has said the family said the neighbour was caught red-handed, and that the police refused to file an FIR. It quoted AAP activists saying they had been roughed up, and also quoted them as saying three police officers had been suspended. It however, did not quote the police. Giving the family’s version makes it more clear what the issue was all about, and why the protest had been staged in the first place. HT’s report makes it seem like the police had done their jobs, but the family was just being unreasonable.

The Hindu, in its report (, makes it clear there are two conflicting versions. It gives the family’s version through quotes from AAP activists and then quotes the police giving their version. More balanced, yet puzzling, as the police’s quote says the family made a statement, but did not mention rape or molestation. What statement did they make then?

Interestingly, HT in a related web version of the story, has an agency report — — which quotes only the activists and lists tweets by Kejriwal.

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Not funny

Here’s another thorn in my flesh. On Monday (November 26), ToI published a story titled “Auto driver, aide take Mumbai starlet for a ride, assault her”. For one, I object to the phrase “take for a ride” being (ab)used in this context, though it is true that she was “taken for a ride” in a literal sense. I object, because the levity implied by the phrase does not actually convey the horror of assault. My second objection is to the use of the term “starlet” to describe the victim. “Starlet” is defined by OED as ” a young actress with aspirations to become a star” .  The connotations are not flattering. “Starlet” is not an appropriate description of a person’s occupation, especially not in this context. Is it too much to expect her to be described as “model” or “actor”? By her profession, not a tag?

In the follow up to the first report, this story turns up, again in ToI. The case has been dubbed “Starlet assault case”! On the plus side, the second report includes this quote, which raises some relevant issues:

“Neelam told TOI she had lost faith in the emergency helpline 100. “After a group of fishermen came to my rescue, I dialled 100, but the cops who took my call merely told me to go to the nearest police station. I decided to head home to Andheri and later phoned the police control room. A policewoman answered and heard me out. But instead of helping, she asked why I had waited so long to inform the control room. I was stunned. What would any woman in my situation be expected to do?” Neelam said. “The emergency helpline and police control room are supposed to be custodians of our safety. But how can we rely on them if their personnel have such a callous attitude. I feel women are just not safe in Mumbai anymore.”



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Glam Shot

Is it wrong that I am so annoyed about the usage of this picture of the actor along with the story? Because I have a feeling that it’s there only to prettify the page…


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Dharmapuri and Cuddalore

Reports on violence against women have been few and far between in TNIE this week. However two stories caught my eye for the apparently female-centric view they take of caste violence. (TNIE has also dedicated two full pages to stories of inter-caste marriage this week). The first piece appeared on Pg 2 of the paper on Sunday, November 25 and is titled “We are as good as walking corpses”. Though a report on a panel meet constituted by the Women’s Coalition for Change in Chennai, the display given to the story puts the focus on the way Dalit women are affected by caste-based violence. Unfortunately the report does not go into too many specifics of how the violence affected the women — by the second column the narrative shifts back to the male testimonies. The second report appeared on Wednesday (November 28) on Pg 5 of TNIE and is titled “8 Dalit houses Burnt in Caste Violence”. In this case the violence against the Dalit community was triggered by the alleged harassment of a ‘caste’ hindu girl by Dalit men. In this case, the two out of the three Dalit villagers quoted in the report are women and provide a female point of view to the incident. (Contrast this to  ToI’s report on the same incident, that appeared on the same day, “Dalit houses torched in Cuddalore”. The report sticks to the official version of events and though it includes a picture of women affected, does not convey the horror of the violence.)

On Thursday (Nov 29), TNIE follows up on the Cuddalore incident with a report titled “Cuddalore tangled in caste mesh”.  Though mostly an interview with a member of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, it raises some interesting points about the forms untouchability takes on as well as how it affects Dalit girls and women. “A Dalit woman aboard the bus is usually teased… Dalit girls are even afraid of going to schools or colleges by bus.”

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