The Chairman, Press Council of India,
Editors of national newspapers and news channels.
This is in light of the gang-rape of one of the students of National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU) in the Jnanabharati campus last Saturday, the 13th of October. Unfortunately the manner in which it has been reported by the national media has been nothing short of shocking. The incident has been sensationalized and the identity of the victim has been divulged. We write to you in light of this irresponsible reporting.
Privacy of the victim of a crime of rape ought to be protected. This is necessary given the social prejudice attached to the act of sexual assault. A victim of rape has to live with the stigma of this crime, long after the crime. Under s.228A of the Indian Penal Code, disclosure of the identity of a rape victim is punishable with imprisonment for up to two years and fine. The right to privacy has been recognised by the Norms of Journalistic Conduct released by the Press Council of India in 2010 which states that, “while reporting crime involving rape, abduction or kidnap of women/females or sexual assault on children, or raising doubts and questions touching the chastity, personal character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published.” This guideline has been flagrantly violated by the recent media reports of this incident which have divulged personal details of the victim, stopping only short of revealing her name. In fact, even the Hon’ble Supreme Court on various occasions has also directed the media to exercise restraint when reporting incidents of rape such that the victim’s privacy is protected. These directions too have been ignored by the media.
What is also disconcerting is the manner in which the reports have questioned the victim’s character. This is unbecoming of responsible journalism. That a woman can be raped irrespective of the time of the day, the place she is in, or the manner in which she is dressed is well known. Media reports about the incident have resorted to victim blaming which will have serious repercussions on the manner in which the victim is perceived by society. This could even prevent the victim from regaining a sense of normalcy post this traumatic experience. Furthermore, such media bias has the potential to prevent other women from reporting instances of rape in the future for fear of being blamed. It is urged that the media be sensitive when reporting about this incident henceforth at least.
Furthermore, at a time when it is imperative that the investigation is conducted smoothly, media hype and hyperbole deter efforts of state agencies. The media has been irresponsible enough to publish and report misinformation and conjectures even though investigations are still under way. Students of NLSIU are being hounded by journalists, even as the student community is itself going through a difficult time. This has created a situation in which there are many versions of the truth, thus creating a sense of panic which is not only unnecessary but also dangerous. The danger of this hype is twofold – the first is that this could affect an unbiased investigation from being conducted and secondly, this makes it impossible for the victim and other students of the NLSIU community from regaining a sense of normalcy. It is imperative then for the media to not only be sensitive while reporting the case, but also accurate. They should be at the forefront of informing and educating the public at large about the larger law and order issue as opposed to creating cheap publicity.
Thus, in the interest of the victim and in the interest of justice, we implore you to direct journalists of all media organizations to exercise restraint and adopt responsible journalistic practices in reporting this deeply disturbing incident.
Student Bar Association,
National Law School of India University.