Ranjona Banerji: Kneejerk reactions to gangrape coverage

27 Aug,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

“The Media” has been getting into a bit of trouble with the Mumbai gangrape case, for a variety of reasons. The silliest first: critics who assume that “The Media” is a single entity which thinks and moves as one gigantic slug. In fact, “The Media” is a bunch of separate publications, TV channels and now websites, all of whom are in competition with each other. “The Media” does not in fact attend the same meeting every day or week or month or year to discuss strategy and coordination. All the elements in “The Media” hold meetings everyday to try and trump each other.

 

Then there is anger that “The Media” does not give publicity to, expose, investigate crimes against people of classes which are below their average newsroom class and never goes to remote hinterland areas. This is partially true but easily understood. Each individual publication and news channel caters to a particular readership in a particular language. Newsgathering will largely be restricted to that constituency. Sounds terrible? But somewhere there will be some media covering another constituency. That you have not heard of it is hardly “The Media’s” fault. Having said that, there is always scope for increasing coverage of the “other India” in both English language news publications and news channels.

 

But I also know this: most people will read about film actor Om Puri’s marital troubles in today’s newspapers than anything at all on the edit page for instance. Usually a media outlet has to be at least as shallow as its readership or viewership.

 

Then there are the serious problems with rape coverage. I am surprised at the transgressions made by The Times of India’s Mumbai edition here. Kalpana Sharma has gone into them in detail for The Hoot (http://www.thehoot.org/web/TOI-s-foot-in-mouth-rape-coverage/6990-1-1-25-true.html) and it is hard to improve upon that.

 

It is true that calling a person who has been raped a survivor and not a victim reeks a bit of tokenism when you can’t get anything else right (including a sanctimonious front page declaration). Also, why senior journalists needed to invade so much of a victim’s privacy seems strange. Why inform people in the victim’s building? Why name the magazine where she worked?* Details of the extent of her injuries may have eventually become public knowledge, however. Where investigative journalism ends and intrusion begins is a tough call and both “The Media” and its critics need to be aware of this.

 

However, TOI is not the only publication to blame. Rape is a difficult subject to cover and on the run, mistakes are made. Better communication between editors and reporters, good debriefing systems and a desk that is aware of the laws are vital here. Yes, I know that is asking for the moon.

 

**

 

What can be done within the media, since the victim/survivor and her accompanying colleague were part of the fraternity? It is ridiculous in the extreme to even entertain Maharashtra home minister RR Patil’s suggestion of police protection for working women journalists. If the police had worked harder at tracking/picking up anti-social elements in the Shakti Mills area, may be this crime may not have happened.

 

Besides, the life of a working journalist is too unpredictable to make police protection practicable. Also, everyone needs help from the police, not just journalists. A media which constantly exposes the loss to effective policing because of VIP security can hardly appropriate some of that security for itself.

 

Can or will media houses become more aware of the problems faced by their employees? It would be a shame if this “protection” idea led to a curtailment of assignments to women journalists who are still fighting hard to get equal status. We need more women, not less and we need less kneejerk reactions.

 

* MxMIndia is also to blame for this. We did name the publication that the photojournalist interned at in our comment on Friday. We figured later that it wasn’t the right thing to do, and deleted the reference. Our apologies. – Editor.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

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