The auditorium in Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru, was full of young and energetic, enthusiastic audience. The seventh ‘Media Watch’ event organised by Oorvani Foundation, Avadhi Magazine and Network of Women in Media, was hosted by the Journalism Department of Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.
The event, a panel discussion on ‘Naming and Shaming: Sexual Violence and the Media’, had experts from media, law, enforcement and medical fields.The panel discussed the complex phenomena of how sexual violence and rape is handled by the media.
The panel had Ravi Hegde, group editor for Manipal Media group, Shaibya Saldanha, counsellor and sexuality activist who is also the Co-founder, Enfold Proactive Health Trust, Ashok G V from CorLit Legal, and Madhuraveena, SP, CID. Veteran journalist Ammu Joseph moderated the discussion. Eminent journalist Vijay Grover, Radio journalist Vasanthi Hariprakash, News9 journalist Bansi Kalappa and others were among the audience.
“Today’s event is not at all meant to be a fault-finding or finger-pointing exercise,” said Ammu Joseph, the moderator. “The idea rather is to initiate a process of reflection that could lead to constructive action by all concerned, including the media.”
Joseph said everyone, including police, the legal field, judiciary, media, and the public is under pressure because of having to tackle sexual violence. She said that the pressure can have both positive and negative consequences.
Shaibya Saldanha, a doctor/gynecologist and co-founder of Enfold India, has helped consult on several cases of sexual abuse. Saldanha said the media has been an amazing force in bringing more awareness on the issue.
“But unfortunately, the biggest problem about reporting a crime of sexual violence is the victim blaming,” she said. She said the victim/survivor is not blamed in any other crime. Those who are molested are often forced to answer questions like what they were wearing or where they were going as if they were at fault.
Ashok G V, lawyer and managing partner of CorLit Legal, said the law is especially clear about the release of information that would disclose the identity of child abuse victims, but the law regarding adult survivors is less elaborate.
“From what I have seen, a sexual offense, at the root of it, is basically a challenge to a woman’s human existence,” Ashok said. “What the offender tries to do is to challenge her autonomy as a human being.”
He said while there is sympathy for the survivor at first, sometimes the media will start judging the survivor’s character and lifestyle.
When the police don’t speak
ML Madhuraveena, SP, CID, said the police manual makes it clear who is authorised to speak about a case. She said sometimes police cannot divulge any information because they are not authorised, and the media does not like this.
She suggested that the Direct General or Direct Inspector General could hold a press conference whenever there is progress on a case so the media will have all the relevant details.
Ravi Hegde, the group editor at Udayavani, said in news, there is a thesis and practice, and what should be done and what actually happens are very different. Hegde said sometimes in a competition to get breaking news, journalists do forget about sensitivity.
He said the media is always looking for what is hidden because when a police commissioner briefs the media, whatever is said is advertising, and whatever is not said is the actual news.
“If the media has to go by just what they say, India would be portrayed as rape-free and happy,” Hegde said.
He admitted the media sensationalises news about rape, but there can be a positive from the hype. For instance, Hegde mentioned that the first Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) case was being heard in the court on last Friday, because of media attention.
Why not name victim, why not show the face of the accused?
After each panelist had a chance to speak, the audience was allowed to ask questions.
One of the audience asked a question about whether victims should remain anonymous. She said the offender is the one who should be ashamed, not the victim. But panelists emphasised that the law prohibits disclosure of identity unless under certain circumstances, and victims should have a choice about whether they want to disclose their identity. Shaibya Saldanha said some families are more concerned with whether the girl can get married.
Another participant asked why the identities of accused arrested are hidden with black cloth. Madhuraveena and Ashok replied that the face of the accused should not be seen by the victim, because if the image of the victim’s face comes out in media or other forums, the accused can use it in his defence, as the victim might have seen it already before the identification parade where many people including the accused are paraded in front of the victim and the victim has to identify the culprit. Only after identification does the accused become the culprit and is then convicted. To ensure justice to the victim, this procedure has to be adhered to, Madhuraveena added.
Another audience member asked why it took so long for cases to be heard. Ashok said India is lacking in infrastructure to handle criminal cases. The court has a long backlog of cases, and the police are understaffed and overworked. The number of judges too is less. Ashok said in India, the police to population ratio is 1:15,000, while the recommended ratio by the United Nations is 1:220.
When a student asked why there is difference in how a case is covered in newspapers, Madhuraveena said it was because reporters hunt for news from various sources including constables, and sometimes get misled by unauthorised information which might be untrue sometimes, or might derail the investigation process.
Students from Mount Carmel college and Jain college were present in the debate.