Trial And Error

The media must not play judge and jury in cases of sexual assault

01 February 2014
The media’s recent stance of activism in high-profile cases of sexual assault are both cause and symptom of public revulsion.
ADNAN ABIDI / REUTERS
The media’s recent stance of activism in high-profile cases of sexual assault are both cause and symptom of public revulsion.
ADNAN ABIDI / REUTERS

DURING PRIME TIME ON THE NIGHT of 17 December 2013, the Hindi-language news channel India TV aired its investigation into a case of rape recently registered in Delhi. It broadcast an interview with a young woman who alleged that Khurshid Anwar, a 55-year-old social activist, had spiked her drinks during a party at his home one night in September, and raped her after she passed out. The morning after the interview was aired, Anwar’s body was discovered outside his home—he had jumped to his death. His friends and family told reporters that the India TV programme had been the last straw, pushing him over the brink.

When I asked journalists at India TV about their investigation, they told me they had abided by the rule book and interviewed all the key players in the case. But it was hard to miss a certain slant in the channel’s coverage: in a clear case of editorialisation, the news anchor Rajat Sharma had repeatedly announced that India TV would campaign against the man who had dishonoured the young woman (“Iske saath kukarm karne waale ko anjaam tak pahuchaye”), and battle to get her justice (“India TV ladega iss ladki ko insaaf dilaane ki jung”).

“This is not the first time the media has said it would campaign on behalf of a woman victim,” Abhishek Upadhyay, India TV’s editor for special projects and one of the channel’s two reporters on the case, told me. “Those condemning us were applauding when the media went after Tarun Tejpal, Justice Ganguly, Asaram Bapu ... In fact, those cases were reported even before a complaint had been filed with the police. It was the media reporting of those cases that led to the filing of the complaint.”

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    Supriya Sharma  is a reporter and editor with Scroll. She has earlier worked with NDTV and the Times of India.

    Keywords: media journalism women’s rights media ethics Delhi gang-rape rape laws Tarun Tejpal
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