Ranjona Banerji: Lack of professionalism and sympathy in gangrape coverage

23 Aug,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The morning on Twitter after the gangrape of a young photojournalist in Mumbai was an unnerving experience. Suddenly, the discussion was about how the media does not report rapes that happen in slums, about the class of the people raped and raping and how people react only when people of their class are raped.

 

This is a stomach-churning sort of justification of rape and such reactions (the area was deserted, it was late in the evening, when women in slums are raped no one cares) are symptomatic of why rape is seen as a legitimate threat on social media. Sadly, some of these reactions were coming from journalists – showing, together with everything else, a lack of sympathy for a member of the community.

 

Pop sociology is the scourge of journalists and of course of anyone who has access to a public platform. Which is fine as far as it goes. We are all entitled to our own opinions. But in Ye Olde Worlde, journalists had to clock in more than 365 days in the profession before they became final arbiters on just about anything. Now, of course, you turn on the TV and you are bombarded with the “new shrill India” – according to The Times of India’s worthy edit page – exercising its right to be heard.

 

I am not sure however that being new and shrill is a justifiable excuse for lack of professionalism at least as far as the Indian media is concerned. Somewhere, editors have taken the backseat in a frenzied campaign to let youth have its say. No need to denigrate youth but no need to follow all its opinions and pronouncements either, minus discretion and better judgment.

 

The fact that TV journalists get shrill and unprofessional in their coverage of such events does not help. On Times Now, the anchor wanted to know the class of the accused — a needless interjection at this stage. The Lower Parel area of Mumbai is introduced as a corporate hub – again making subliminal societal suggestions extraneous to the case, especially at this early stage. TV anchoring is all about editorializing before the facts are known or processed. That is of course part of the reason why watching TV news can be so exasperating. And dare I say it again, being bad for blood pressure.

 

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The miserable side of all this is that despite all the largely excellent coverage of the Delhi gangrape of December 16 and the public upsurge of anger in the way women are mistreated in our society, nothing has changed. Our police, investigative and political responses are as incompetent and asinine. The Delhi case is limping along in the courts. And the cynic suggests that this Mumbai case will go the same way.

 

Regardless of how people and people in the media get excited by the impact of their work, there is only so much that the media can do. Society and the system have to do their part as well to make a substantial difference.

 

And there’s the rub.

 

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In other news, the apparent collapse of the Indian economy has had varying reactions from different media outlets and big ticket commentators. A person with limited knowledge of money matters would be left impossibly confused if she read a variety of reports and comments. The rupee falling is good, is bad, is terrible, is wonderful, X is a genius, X has no idea about anything, listen to Y, Y is a fool…

 

At the end of it, the media tracker is as confused as the economy. Mission accomplished?

 

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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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Lack of professionalism and sympathy in gangrape coverage”

  1. Guest says:

    To give credit where it is due, even in the context of such a tragic occurence, the police, earlier in Delhi, now in Bombay, have apprehended the suspects swiftly. The courts, one is sure, will also deliver a fair verdict with minimal delay. Hang them in public is a natural reaction but it does little credit to senior public figures who, as law makers, are expected to know the law. The reported statistic that the perpetrator is known to the victim in 98% of the cases should cause very deep introspection indeed about our society. Not fair to blame public authorities for all that is going wrong. As for the shrieking, we seem to need a new outrage each evening to keep us in business.

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