Positive reporting of Delhi rape

IN Media Practice | 23/12/2012
The continuous coverage by print and electronic media without exception, compelled the authorities to focus on catching the culprits,

 The media and civil society have achieved a great democratic success when the pressure made the Delhi Government commit to establishing  fast-track-courts to conduct trial of rape accused, in order  to secure speedy justice to the victims. The Union Minister of State for Home had a bus ride and the Home Secretary patrolled the routes to understand the insecure atmosphere in city. Eternal vigilance is the price of democracy. Only the vigilant watch of vibrant citizens deter the police, prosecution and other forces from manipulating the law and legal process to help the criminals.

Media as a catalyst

One of the major positive contributions by the media in recent times is the immediate positive reporting of the ghastly incident of gang rape of a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy in a moving luxury bus. As a catalyst the media has spurred anger among civil society.  The continuous coverage of the spontaneous protests all over the country by print and electronic media without exception,  created a kind of atmosphere compelling the authorities to focus on catching the culprits starting with arrest of a driver, the prime accused in whose cabin gang rape was committed.  Social media invites, media website calls helped collecting huge crowd for protests in national capital. The very loud and clear demand for justice increased.

Harassing the TV anchor

The media continued to show the protests almost every day and some channels led campaigns to make roads in the national capital safe for women. It is a paradox that a female anchor of Headlines Today had to suffer ‘harassment’ from three young persons who stopped their car and passed some unreasonable comments. The journalists tracked the wrong doers and made them to apologize.

The driver’s facilitation of the brutal rape in Delhi bus makes him equally guilty of the crime whether he actually committed it or not as per the well-established norm of criminal law which was codified in section 34 of Indian Penal Code. Section 34 says, when a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone. An abettor of crime or one who finances or facilitates will become liable to get equal punishment along with the person who actually committed it. The role of driver in commission of gang rape is worse than that of perpetrators of that crime.

Social Protests

Social protest indicates that people no longer tolerate such brutality.  The constant vigil and continuous reporting in follow-up alone compels the authorities in all the three wings of Constitutional governance, legislature, executive and judiciary besides the police and bureaucrats to perform their duty.  If not, in this corruption-ridden and procrastinating system of administration and prosecution, it is not possible to expect justice to happen on its own.  Though it is stated that the law will take its own course, until someone initiates it, it will not begin and unless someone keeps a continuous watch on it, it will not progress in right direction. This is where the media and conscious civil society has a major role to play. The only apprehension is whether media continues the ‘watch’ or forgets about the story once it loses its ‘sensational’ character.

The victims and society has to be thankful to those two persons who reported about the fall of injured victim and her friend thrown out from the bus. Their report in the dead of night has in fact, moved the entire machinery into action. Without prompt reporting to police or ambulance, the incident might have ended differently.

Not publishing photos of culprits

By not publishing the photographs of the arrested persons, the media has made yet another contribution to facilitate justice. Criminal justice requires the independent identification of accused by the witness or victim. Presentation of the accused by police in media conferences and undue publicity by the media to the photographs of accused will create a suspicion that victim or witness were influenced by the media and identification was not solely based on their memory. This factor will either harm the process of conviction or help accused to get lesser punishment.  The injured companion of the victim has reportedly identified the accused in test identification parade conducted in jail. If witness points out the culprits, even when they were standing among other persons, that makes the process of identification beyond doubt.

Not disclosing identity of victim

Media’s restraint in not publishing the name and other personal details of the victim deserves appreciation. It is relevant to remind that Section 228A of IPC specifically criminalized disclosure of identity (not just name) of the victim in such sexual offences and punishes the publisher with imprisonment of either rigorous or simple kind for a term which may extend to two years besides fine.  The only exception is the police officer can reveal the name for the purpose of investigation. If the police officer discloses the identity of the victim, he also can be punished under this section. If the victim authorizes in writing to reveal the identity, then alone the publisher can escape.  Sub-section 3 of 228A also prohibits publication of proceedings of the case in court of law without authorization of the court. For that again, imprisonment up to two years is possible.

Critical issues to be addressed

The cause of low conviction rate in rape cases (as low as 6 to 7%) and percentage of reporting of crime (not more than 20% rapes are reported) is fear of social insults. There are two more reasons. One is the trauma of medical examination, which include inhuman and insulting ‘finger’ test. Second, the ruthless cross examination, insulting the victim with a purpose of creating doubts in the minds of presiding judge about her character only to help accused to escape.  The civil society including media has to focus these issues and force the authorities concerned to sensitize the trial courts or introduce jury system including sensible persons as members to ascertain the facts. The rape victims should not be subjected to the second rape of medical examination and third rape of insinuating cross examination. Without addressing these critical issues which dissuade women from complaining and help culprits to escape, demanding imposition of capital punishment to rapists will be counterproductive.

Madabhushi Sridhar isProfessor and Coordinator of Center for Media Law and Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.


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