Mirror has the company of its rivals

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


2 Responses to Mirror has the company of its rivals

  1. Bishakha Datta says:

    After seeing this + something else on the DNA website, I have sent the letter below to DNA – got the correct address for letters from a reporter there. If you too would like to write to them, the address is: inbox@dnaindia.net. My letter below.

    Is it right to blame rape victims for the attacks?
    Wednesday, April 22, 2009 21:46 IST

    The age-old debate has been sparked again by the alleged gang rape of a 23-year-old American woman studying at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

    You may also want to see

    *TISS gangrape case: Soni sent in police custody till May 3

    *Why was she with six men that night?

    *TISS rape: Cops comb country for 6th suspect

    *Two more held in TISS gangrape case

    Some people have suggested that the woman invited the crime with her ‘loose’ behaviour (read: staying out late at night and drinking with a group of men who were supposedly friends of a friend). Questions have also been raised about why she did not lodge a complaint immediately on leaving the house where she claims the crime took place, and why she agreed to take an emergency contraceptive pill afterwards.

    Irrespective of the legal merits of the case, where do you stand in this debate? Do you think the victim also bears some responsibility for the crime? Is rape the price to be paid for trust or naivete, or plain stupidity? What about a woman’s right to say no?

    —– Original Message —–
    From: Bishakha Datta
    To: inbox@dnaindia.net
    Sent: Thursday, April 23, 2009 1:17 PM
    Subject: Complaint against DNA’s coverage of recent rape case in Mumbai

    Dear Sir,

    Is DNA trying to ensure that the American woman from TISS who was raped does NOT get justice?

    I want to draw your attention to two reports about the TISS case on http://www.dnaindia.com today:

    1) Why was she with six men that night?
    Divyesh Singh & Menaka Rao dated Wed 21 April 2009

    at http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1249292

    2) ‘Is it right to blame rape victims for the attacks?’ as a topic of ‘debate’ for the ‘Speak Up’ column at http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1249873

    No 1) Why was she with sex men that night?

    is a clear case of biased one-sided reporting. It is based solely on the statements and anticipatory bail application of Vinamra Soni and on an interview with his lawyer. The main aim of all these comments is to cast doubt and aspersions on the woman’s testimony and secure bail for Soni. Why is DNA playing into or taking sides on this? This is not fair, balanced or ethical reporting.

    No 2) ‘Is it right to blame rape victims for the attacks?’ is not an appropriate debate topic.

    Rape is coerced sex; a crime. Only perpetrators can be held responsible for the crimes they commit – not victims.

    How is it that victims of any other crime are never blamed, but that rape victims are always suspected of triggering rape? People who are robbed murdered or otherwise assaulted are never held responsible – nor is robbery murder or assault considered ‘the price to be paid for trust or naivete or plain stupidity.’

    One can debate opinion; one cannot debate fact. Rape is, in fact, a crime. Period. There are no two opinions around this.

    Debate topics like this – combined with coverage titled ‘Why was she with six men that night?’ bias public and judicial opinion. They are speculative, sensational and biased. Coverage like this will make it impossible for the American student from TISS to fight for justice on a level playing field.

    Please withdraw this as a ‘Speak Up’ topic of debate with immediate effect – and ensure that future coverage of such cases is balanced and ethical.

    Bishakha Datta
    Executive Director
    Point of View

    • Rohan says:

      While I appreciate the work that you are doing to protect the rights and interests of the alleged victim, and struggling to uphold media ethics, I don’t understand the bias in applying these journalistic ethics selectively and only to the alleged victim. What about the rights of the alleged perpetrators? Remember, an accused in a rape case or any other case is an accused and NOT a criminal. Several cases of false cases of rape have also come about and we do not know whether the lady was really raped or she turned concensual sex into rape for whatever reason. That is why we have the courts to decide and judge. Nobody can jump to conclusion that an allegation of rape is rape. Hence, I expect that the journalistic ethics be extended to the rights of the accused too. Imagine if this case is false. What would be the reputation of the accused the way the media has given out their names. Secondly, I see nothing special about crimes against women since ours is an equal society. A crime is a crime and media has to be sensitive to all cases, not just with regard to crimes against women. Just because a crime has happened against a woman, there cannot be any change in the way it is reported and all press council standards have to be adhered to. So, what is special about crimes about women? Let media standards be applied equally to all cases of crimes.

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