NWMI statement on reporting of West Bengal gang-rape, June 14, 2013

(This Network of Women in Media statement analyses the problems with the reporting in detail, and as such offers a lesson in what to do and what not to do. It is therefore, being cross-posted here.)

NWMI condemns insensitive media coverage of gang rape victim in West Bengal, June 14, 2013

The Network of Women in Media, India, an independent forum of media professionals across the country, condemns the recent insensitive media representation of the 20-year-old college student at Barasat, West Bengal, who was recently gang-raped and violently murdered. In papers such as The Telegraph, Protidin and several other newspapers/channels, the victim’s name and her family’s have been freely used. More shockingly, Bangla newspaper Aajkaal  printed not only the victim’s name but also her photo on its front page.

The victim, a 20-year-old college girl, was gangraped and murdered on her way home from college on Friday, June 7, 2013 around 2 pm. Aajkaal printed her photo with related news on June 9.

Publishing her name is a clear violation of the Supreme Court’s order that the identity of a rape victim cannot be disclosed. Such disclosure is prohibited under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, as well as the Norms of Journalistic Conduct issued by the Press Council of India (2010). Under the IPC, revealing the identity of a rape victim is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 228 (A to D) of the Indian Penal Code prohibits the disclosure not only of the victim’s name but also of facts that could lead to the identification of the victim, such as the victim’s place of residence, family or friends, university, or work details. This covers victims who are dead, minors and or have “unstable minds”. Even if the name is to be disclosed for welfare or legal reasons, this must be done in writing, only to the appropriate government authority, which does not include the media.

The reasoning for not disclosing the name of a rape victim is that such disclosure would invade the privacy of the victim and may render her open to further harassment and/or indignity. Revealing the identity of a rape victim could also make her (or her family in case she has not survived) vulnerable to pressure to drop the case.

In a context where the incidence of violence against women in West Bengal (and elsewhere) is rising, it is of grave concern that the media is flouting the law of the land as well as norms of ethics laid down by the PCI.

We demand:

1. Immediate pixellation and removal of all identifiers of the rape victim on online portals and the newspapers’ websites.
2. Issuance of a written apology in the newspapers, including their websites.
3. Institution of mechanisms for ensuring increased gender sensitivity while reporting cases of sexual violence. These measures could include, among others: on-the-job training, workshops, and evolving in-house norms for covering gender-based violence.

Sincerely,

Manjira Majumdar, Kolkata
Rajashri Dasgupta, Kolkata
Ranjita Biswas, Kolkata
Anju Munshi, Kolkata
Rina Mukherji, Kolkata
Ammu Joseph, Bangalore
Laxmi Murthy, Bangalore
Gita Aravamudan, Bangalore
Kavin Malar, Chennai
Kavitha Muralidharan, Chennai
Nithila Kanagasabai, Chennai
Jency Samuel, Chennai
R Akhileshwari, Hyderabad
Sandhya Srinivasan, Mumbai
Jyoti Punwani, Mumbai
Geeta Seshu, Mumbai
Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai
Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai
Sandhya Taksale, Pune
Linda Chhakchhuak, Shillong
[On behalf of the Network of Women in Media, India]

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On reporting rape

On Dec 4, a partially visually impaired nine-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a former neighbour. Hindustan Times carried a detailed report about how it happened, the filing of the police complaint and the subsequent arrest of the neighbour — http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/Visually-impaired-minor-raped/Article1-968527.aspx

In the Times of India report, a single column story, the headline was: Blind girl ‘raped’  — http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-12-05/delhi/35619109_1_neighbour-blind-girl-aman-vihar

The report goes on to give the same details as the HT story. Why then has the word rape in the headline been put in single quotes? There seems to be no doubt about the case, at least in the way it was reported: the victim identified the perpetrator, he was arrested and a case registered. TOI doesn’t make a practice of this — on Dec 6, they carried a story of a Rwandan woman raped with the headline: Rwandan woman gang-raped near DU.

The use of single quotes here, feels like the report is calling into question the veracity of the crime, and perhaps making it seem like less than it was.

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Cop shot dead trying to protect daughter

On December 5, Hindustan Times carried a report about a Punjabi sub-inspector of police who was shot dead by three men when he confronted them about harassing his daughter. The report in the paper — http://paper.hindustantimes.com/epaper/viewer.aspx talks about how no help arrived despite his daughter, who also sustained injuries, as well as locals raising an alarm and calling the police.

In a commendable series of stories following the incident, HT followed this up the next day, with a front page report on the arrest of three men, including an Akali Dal general secretary. The report also mentioned the suspension of the local station house officer — http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/Punjab/Day-after-cop-s-murder-Akali-leader-held-and-officer-suspended/Article1-969055.aspx

On the same day, the paper carried an editorial, ‘No country for women’ (http://www.hindustantimes.com/editorial-views-on/Edits/No-country-for-women/Article1-969423.aspx) which talks about how ‘eve-teasing’ is a euphemism for public sexual harassment, and is often considered a ‘soft crime’ and brushed under the carpet.

The editorial ties in very well with another report on the same day (http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NorthIndia/Punjab-police-ignored-ASI-daughter-s-Dec-1-complaint/Article1-969437.aspx), that said the local police had not taken any action on the sexual harassment complaint the girl had lodged with them. Not just that, they had not turned up despite repeated calls by frantic locals, giving the men a chance to come back again with a rifle and shoot the police officer in the chest. The report quotes locals as well as the girl and her mother. The last quote by the daughter, where she says she wants to shoot her father’s killer however, could have been avoided.

The online version of the first report though (http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/Punjab/Cop-shot-dead-trying-to-protect-daughter-from-molesters/Article1-968859.aspx), consistently uses the word ‘tease’ rather than ‘harass’ (she was stalked and several lewd comments were passed over the course of several days), which detracts from the serious nature of the crime.

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Looking beyond an acid attack

On November 30, 2012 The New Indian Express carried a story “Acid attack victim may never see light” about Vinodhini, the young woman who had been attacked by a stalker in Karaikudi. Times of India reported the same story that day, but as it has done throughout its reporting on this case, used Vinodhini’s condition as a peg to explore other issues. In this case, “Rehabilitation often eludes victims of acid attacks” explored the long-term effects of such attacks, the way it scars the victim’s lives in more ways than one and raises the important issue of rehabilitation for the victims of such attacks. This is commendable as while updating the readers on Vinodhini’s case is important, it is equally important to report on as many aspects of such a case as possible.

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Sexual abuse means what?

This December 5 report from the Times of India (“Sodomized, boy attempts to kill himself“) is a perfect example of the media not being sure of how to describe sexual abuse. This single column story describes what happened to the boy as sodomy (only in the headline), sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (“They used to take him to the school bathroom to sexually abuse him…”). The problem with using the last three phrases interchangeably is that they all lose their meaning. In assuming they all mean the same thing, we have ensured they mean nothing. Sodomy is the closest thing we have to a description of what actually happened to the child. Unless we use the exact words describing what exactly happened to a child being sexually abused, we will never adequately express the horror and trauma of child sexual abuse.

A report that appeared on December 4, 2012 in The New Indian Express has a similar problem. In “3 hostel workers axed for torturing girls“, the phrase used is “torture. However, in this case, the report goes on to explain that the children were “tortured” by being asked to “remove their dresses”.

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Class and domestic violence

On December 3, 2012, the Times of India published an article with the headline “40% of domestic violence are reported in Tamil Nadu“. Though 40% sounds like a huge figure,  India recorded only 9,431 of domestic violence in 2011. And, if you remove TN, Gujarat and West Bengal from the equation,  only 521 cases were recorded from the rest of the country.  So it is not surprising that the police officer quoted in the article cites better awareness and reporting as the reason for TN’s dominance in this area. Instead of hyping the 40% figure, the article could have touched upon how awareness was so much better in these states than in the rest of the India. How had TN created this awareness? There is one other thing that bothers me about this report and that is the impression, one gets from U Vasuki’s quotes, that domestic violence is a problem related to the poor, fuelled by alcohol. We know domestic violence happens across class, caste, religion and gender. This needs to be reflected in articles on the subject.

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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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Eve-teasing before the courts

On December 2, 2012, The Times of India carried a report “Harassed on bus? Drive to police station: SC” on its Page 1 (with the rest of the story featuring guidelines to deal with “eve-teasing” as laid down by the court on Pg 10). The prominent display of the article is commendable. The coverage could have been improved with a little more context on the issue of “eve-teasing”, perhaps. Also the fact that the provisions of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill pending at Parliament not being enough to curb the problem, is something that could have done with elaboration. What does that Bill have to do with the harassment that happens at bus stands and at parks. Also, while “eve-teasing” is the phrase used by the Bench, I think that the media should have a problem with accepting that phrase and when quoting someone who uses the phrase should consider putting it in quotes.

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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 — http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NorthIndia/Sodomised-boy-tries-to-kill-self/Article1-968474.aspx

I’m wondering why, since the paper is normally careful not to name victim or school. TOI’s report (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-12-05/chandigarh/35619170_1_suicide-note-boy-attempts-sexual-harassment)  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.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/India/Beauty-and-the-beast/Article1-967124.aspx

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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