Mumbai gangrape : reality check for the media...and society

IN Media Practice | 25/08/2013
Is the horrendous assault on a woman journalist in Mumbai last week only about the media and women journalists? Or is it symptomatic of the depths of violence in our society?
A HOOT editorial
The alleged gang-rape of a woman journalist and the assault on her male colleague has shaken up the media fraternity and exposed their vulnerability but it has also ripped away any vestige of protection and privilege journalists have traditionally rested easy on.
Journalists have reacted with shock and anger, holding demonstrations and meetings, demanding greater safety and security for the media. Some media organisations have again reiterated their demand for a separate law to tackle crimes against journalists, though the media is as much part of society as any other.
There have also been apprehensive voices about the impact of the incident on field assignments for women reporters and safety for women journalists on the field. Undoubtedly, the assault does bring to the fore the increasing sexually targeted attacks women media professionals confront, especially in situations of conflict (the rape and molestation of women journalists in Egypt, for instance. Also, see extensive guides on how women should protect themselves).
But is the assault, horrendous as it is, only about the media and women journalists? Or is it symptomatic of the depths of violence in our society, the   everyday acts of hostility and brutality that pick their victims at random, like blind hunters?
Clearly, from all the accounts emerging of the shocking incident in Mumbai a couple of days ago, the perpetuators of the violence chanced upon their duo when they were on an assignment shooting deserted and abandoned buildings. Their ‘victims’ could have been anyone, any woman or man who had walked into the territory they appear to have taken over.
That they callously and nonchalantly sexually assaulted the young intern was a chilling reminder of the perilous state of the safety of all women, everywhere. Already, in Mumbai, there have been a number of shocking incidents of violence against women, not the least being the attack and mugging of a foreigner on a local train last week, the acid attack that killed a young woman who had come to the city for a job and with the perpetrator still at large.
Crime statistics for Maharashtra provide a more depressing picture of the general deterioration of law and order. The latest crime report for the state shows the sharp increase in murders of women. But what the data does not show is the bias and sexist mind-set that permeates official responses to crimes against women. In his release of the report, Himanshu Roy, who is Mumbai’s Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), explains the data by saying that jealousy and crimes of passion were the principle reason for the killings of young women! And the killings of older women – property!
Someone should direct Mr Roy to the observations in the Verma Commission report on amendments to criminal law that these so-called ‘crimes of passion’ are really an expression of power. Women’s organisations, who campaigned for amendments in criminal law and deposed before the Verma Commission had suggested several changes – systemic and structural, seeking reforms in the police force and gender sensitization, the setting up of rape crisis cells, better policing, especially in trouble spots and additional personnel to deal with sexual offences.
Media reactions also don’t help the situation as television talk shows quickly churn out their spiel – whether the Delhi gangrape was more brutal, whether Mumbai is now no longer the safe capital but the new crime capital of the country and other such completely inane and fruitless suppositions. Print media reports have provided graphic and sometimes contrary accounts, while some newspapers have been completely unethical in publishing the photograph (albeit pixellated) of the male journalist!
Was his consent taken? As in all coverage of crimes against women, it is the media’s responsibility to provide accurate information in a sensitive manner, devoid of sensationalism.  If the media systematically covered all instances of assault and violence, irrespective of whether the incident took place in a metro or a remote village, irrespective of the class or social background of the victims or even their perpetrators, will we see a change in institutional response to such crimes?
For journalists, who have come together following the incident, other issues will need to be addressed – safety training for young entrants to the profession, insurance for media workers, monetary protection in the event of loss of life, injury or equipment, greater responsibility of media establishments for both staffers as well as commissioned freelancers who risk their lives for a story, strengthening of journalists’ organisations almost non-existent today due to contractual work and an erosion of editorial independence and strength, strong legal support in the event of any attack and an end to the impunity which dogs almost all attacks on the media.

Only if  the messengers are secure will the message will get out. And that’s the simple truth. 

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