Ranjona Banerji: Is it right to watch the Tejpal tapes?

04 Apr,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


How seriously should journalists take the Supreme Court rulings on keeping secret the identity of a woman who has filed a rape complaint? And do journalists have to respect court and investigative procedures if they get hold of evidence that is material to a case? Is the search for a story more important than everything else?


Tarun Tejpal is still in jail on rape charges (or sexual assault amounting to rape). The case had many sensational elements in it, was highly publicised and both the accused and the accusers were journalists. Issue of work place harassment, India’s new rape laws, the functioning of Tehelka, how seriously journalists take themselves, the role of Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury were all discussed. Tejpal is still in jail, bail pleas having been rejected.


And now as the case comes to trial, we see defence for Tejpal being built in the media. Articles on blogs and in magazines claim to have seen the CCTV footage of Tejpal and his accuser leaving the lift where the incidents are supposed to have taken place. Now this footage is part of the evidence. It lies only with the defence and the prosecution: or that is how it should be. Those who are part of the young victim’s (or accuser if you prefer) support team have not seen the CCTV footage nor it seems has the young woman herself seen it, according to lawyer Vrinda Grover.


Journalist Manu Joseph in Outlook first suggested that he had seen the footage in his article ‘What the elevator saw’ but is later quoted as saying that it is not “relevant” whether he has seen the footage or not. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap says he has seen the footage which proves that no rape took place. Senior Seema Mustapha also says she has seen the footage and it proves that the young woman was lying.


So does a journalist who comes by such red-hot material abide by the law and refuse to view it or write about? Or does a journalist see this as a massive scoop where journalistic ethics trumps the law? The Supreme Court ruling about keeping a rape accuser’s identity secret is precisely to avoid the sort of vilification that is taking place by the Tejpal defence. How seriously should journalists and editors take that? Is a journalist one might ask supposed to take sides and work for the defence of either an accused or an accuser?


After the Niira Radia tapes expose by Outlook and Open magazines, Joseph, then editor of Open, is supposed to have told Barkha Dutt, as I was reminded by a very senior journalist: “Sometimes the source is the story” or words to that effect. The implication was that Dutt had missed the fact that a telecom lobbyist was pushing for A Raja as telecom minister. So did Joseph ask himself why he had been given the tapes and whether he was being used as a stooge by Tejpal’s defence team?


I am asking these questions because we are in a very grey area here. We all have our personal responses to the issues of rape and sexual harassment and mine is that the Supreme Court ruling as far as the identity of the accuser is concerned must be followed. Certainly, any journalist is free to argue for and against any person. But if he or she wants to take on the Supreme Court on the subject of keeping a rape accuser’s identity secret, then they should do it directly. By talking about the CCTV coverage, they have showed bad judgment and bias.


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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Is it right to watch the Tejpal tapes?”

  1. Guest says:

    The media discourse so far has proceeded almost entirely on the basis that Tarun Tejpal is guilty. That is not how it should be. Shoma Chaudhury, too, one feels has been treated unfairly. This Bastille like mood will ultimately do more harm than good to the cause of justice. No reason at all why bail should have been denied all this while.

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