How much is too much?

BY AKANKSHA SHARMA| IN Opinion | 13/09/2013
Letter to the Hoot: Nirbhaya's rape is played out time and again with painful details on the front pages of all leading newspapers. The conduct of the top four papers in the country in reporting this can only be called poor,

December 16 will go down as one of the darkest days in collective memory of Indians. The events that followed the horrifying day shook the nation and pushed people to streets, propelling the police and media into action. The subsequent reportage of the event on TV and in newspapers was closely scrutinised. But today, as we look at the possibility of a strong conviction in the case, the newspapers that have rallied for the cause so far need to be scrutinised again.

During the past week unforeseen violence has been witnessed in some parts of the country. With such grave reports coming in, it was expected that the newspapers will show some discernment in reporting the trial in question. However, things took a turn for the worse. On September 11, 2013 Tuesday, most newspapers were celebrating the verdict even as the court decided to adjudicate on the quantum of the punishment after some time. The reports in the paper included details of the incident, the dying declaration of the victim and the reaction of the perpetrators, the dramatic arguments and counter arguments of both sides.  However, the most shocking thing was the way most newspapers quoted parts from the judgment that gave out gory details about the incident. Specific pieces of the verdict that focused on the exact way the act was done and the sequence of events were reproduced on the front page.

The Times of India, quoted the verdict
"The act of insertion of rods and pulling out the internal organs after committing gang rape can in no manner be seen as an act done only to facilitate…gang-rape," and in a detailed report - "The MLC of the girl shows brief history of intercourse through vagina and anus. It shows rectal tear.

The Hindu went a step ahead and reproduced an entire paragraph:-
As for the murder charge, Justice Khanna said the accused had planned it, going by the brutality with which they hit the victim's abdomen with an iron rod and pierced it inside her body through her private parts. And when the rod was pulled out, her internal organs came along with it. Her internal organs were later pulled by hand by one of the accused. "This act of complete destruction of the most vital parts of the body can never be termed [one] intending to cause bodily injuries; rather it will be an act done with intention of causing death."

The Hindustan Times reported
Victim had said in her dying declaration that the accused during the rape inserted iron rods into her body, ripped out her internal organs, beat her and bit her all over.

The Indian Express stated:
It cited medical evidence which suggested that iron rods had been repeatedly inserted into the private parts of the woman and her alimentary canal had been pulled out after iron rods and hands were inserted into the body.

Para after para went on to describe the ghastly incident in detail. The fact that no editorial discretion was applied and no effort was put in by these newspapers to make the language less grotesque is more than obvious. Also, the claim that one is only reproducing the judgment or trying to build public opinion is also hollow as the same could have been reported factually without providing the details. The stress on capturing the emotions of the guilty as the verdict was pronounced shows that there is a deep impact over the top TV debates on newspapers. Newspapers need to work hard to preserve the last dying shred of sensitivity that electronic media has already lost.

The conduct of the top four papers in the country in reporting these can only be called poor. It is strange that we have such irresponsible reporting going unchecked. The country is on the brink and this kind of insensitivity can land us into deeper trouble. It's time that even those in the profession give written tests proposed by Justice Katju to prove that they haven't lost their sensitivity to sensationalism.
Aakanksha Sharma
September 12, 2013

Assistant Professor- BJMC
JIMS, Vasant Kunj
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