We’ve heard and read about the Mumbai Mirror‘s (by now) infamous page 12 of its April 18 edition. On that page, the paper ran several readers’ letters criticising its decision to publish the victim’s statement in its entirety. It also printed an apology, but only for offending readers’ sensibilities.
Despite our protest in front of The Times of India building, the Mirror ran two more readers’ letters on April 20 that supported its decision. One congratulated the paper for printing the critical responses and thereby, strengthening reader-editor interaction. The other underlined the need to highlight “such barbarity” and “understand the ordeal the girl went through”.
While the Mirror deserves our mud-slinging, The Hindustan Times had run excerpts from the victim’s FIR in its April 16 edition. These excerpts do not divulge many of the graphic details of the violent act, but HT was the first to print the statement.
As it turns out, these papers are facing tough competition from rivals in the English news media. DNA ran an article headlined “Why was she with sex men that night?” on April 21, the day that Vinamra Soni, the sixth accused, appeared in court for his anticipatory bail hearing. The headline is a paraphrased version of what appears in Soni’s bail application. Disturbingly, the victim’s being out at night with the six accused, the only woman among a group of men, leads the lawyers to conclude that the what happened wasn’t rape but consensual sex. The application reads:
“The act of the victim accompanying the accused persons who was lonely lady (sic) with six male persons in long midnight itself shows the nature of the victim and therefore, whatever would have happened might be due to willingness of the victim (sic).”
The article even goes on to quote Soni’s lawyer Patil as saying that the victim tried to extort money from the accused after the alleged rape.
What might be the implications of publishing an article such as this? Could the defense have been using the media not only to cast aspersions on the victim’s character but also to influence public opinion in its favour?
If the media justifies this act with its “getting both sides of the story” thumb rule, we need to ask: What two sides are they talking about? To my knowledge, the victim or her lawyers have not yet spoken to the media and her statement was published without her or her lawyers’ knowledge.
Finally, what might make for good, responsible reporting in a case like this?
— Subuhi Jiwani