Network of Women in Media (Mumbai) organised a meeting with women’s groups on April 25, 2009 at the Press Club to discuss the media coverage of the recent TISS student gang rape and the possibility of future action on the same. It brought together representatives of several women’s groups in the city – including Forum Against Oppression of Women, LABIA, CEHAT, Women’s Centre, Akshara, Point of View, Aawaaz-e-Niswaan, and AIDWA – as well as some students and faculty from TISS.
Everyone expressed dissatisfaction with the way the TISS student’s gang rape was covered in the media. Several sections of the media ignored the generally followed norm of not revealing the identity of the rape victim (which is supposed to include not just the name of the victim but also other identifying details) by publishing the full FIR with all its graphic details. This has also happened in the case of many other stories as well such as the recent tantric and young girls incest case and the Marine Drive rape case some years ago. Generally there is an obsession with coverage of crime and especially those of a sexual nature involving middle-class people. This not only violates the privacy of the victim and makes her vulnerable to identification, it also deters other women victims of sexual assault from ever filing an FIR. Furthermore, it was discussed that by publishing one of the offender’s and his lawyers’ version of events and their mud-slinging comments on the victim, the defence was only building its own legal case using the media as a go-between.
So how do we proceed and make the media aware that what they are doing is wrong and harming the interests of a vulnerable victims? These are the different points that came up:
1. Approaching Press Council with a complaint – even though it’s a toothless tiger, they need to be made aware of the bad/harmful reportage in this case. At least they should be pushed in to openly providing the guidelines for the coverage of sexual assault by the media. The way to go about it is to first write a letter to the particular publication and the forward that letter with a covering letter to the press council (http://presscouncil.nic.in/home.htm). Each of the organisations represented at the meeting decided that they would do this, that is write to the newspaper concerned and then forward the complaint to the Press Council.
Complaint to the Editors Guild – reprimand by a peer group body may be more effective in some cases. These letters would also be sent to the Editors Guild. Rajdeep Sardesai is currently the chair of the guild. The postal address is: Delhi Press Building, Jhandewalan Estate, Rani Jhansi Marg, New Delhi 110 055. 2. Complaint to National Commission of Women (http://ncw.nic.in)
3. Complaint to Police Commissioner – obviously the FIR was leaked out deliberately by someone in the police to the media. While letters should be sent by individuals and groups to all the above, many letters should also be sent to the newspapers who indulged in the terrible coverage – we should keep up the pressure on the issue and “bombard them with letters and comments.” We need to create a big hoo-ha.
Here are the email addresses of the newspapers:
Mumbai Mirror: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hindustan Times: email@example.com
(Nandita Gandhi from Akshara volunteered to keep a record of all documentation – a copy of all letters sent should be sent to her email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
4. Media institutions need to have a set of guidelines/policies in place about coverage of gender and crime stories – do they have them, are their staff aware of them, can we urge them to have these in place?
5. Gender & crime sensitization workshop/s with reporters, sub-editors and senior editorial staff as well; also with media students and maybe a tying up with various media training colleges in this regard.
6. Media monitoring group. In the 1980s and later, the media was monitored closely for sexist content. This included analysing and looking at ads. Some of the campaigns that resulted from such monitoring did lead to change and a toning down of the more sexist content in the print media. Perhaps it was time to do the same with coverage of crimes against women. Georgina and Subuhi agreed to start such a group. Others interested could join them and work out how to proceed. NWM Mumbai would also post this idea on the national list in order to enlist others who could do such monitoring.
7. NWM group representatives to meet some of the senior editors/staff of the publications involved to explain the implications of such irresponsible coverage (Kalpana and Sameera)
8. Holding a Public meeting – is it possible for us to organize an open public meeting on the implications of the way the media covers crimes against women ? Someone suggested that perhaps we need a celebrity speaker to ensure that people other than the usual crowd attends. Others were not so convinced about this. What was clear was that we needed to meet again, possibly at the Press Club to assess progress on the different plans that had been suggested. Such a meeting could be held either on May 7 or May 9.