The Shweta Basu episode and the media’s skewed sense of ethics

Posted: September 10, 2014 in journalism, journalist, Media
Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday’s (September 10, 2014) edition of a Pune newspaper reports that a father was arrested for molesting his six-year-old daughter. So while (thankfully) they didn’t name the victim, they showed even more consideration by not naming the father. I wonder why. Shouldn’t they have released the name of this monster? Was it because he wasn’t a well-known personality, but just a casual labourer?

Having been a journalist for nearly 25 years, I abhor censorship of any kind when it comes to writing. I believe media should be free to report anything and everything as long as they have the facts and stay within the bounds of propriety, language, journalistic ethics without maligning, defaming or hurting anyone in the process. In other words, we practice some form of self-censorship.

However, there is a huge difference between having the freedom to report anything and everything and still maintaining some sense and sensibility. As of now, the Indian media is straining on the proverbial leash (no pun intended), but it has some way to go before that leash can be taken off. As it is, with the advent of online media and social networking sites news coverage has changed dramatically. Every time one believes they have reached the stage where they can be called responsible, the media shoot itself in the foot. Judging the way the media reported the Shweta Basu Prasad incident, I think they still have a long way to go before they can be called a truly responsible media.

I was waiting for some follow-ups from the ‘professional journalists’. However, there was pin drop silence. I waited for some more time hoping they were getting their facts. There was still nothing. There were the usual condescending, self righteous articles from some journalists. Then one of the newspapers ran an online poll on the subject with the actor’s picture, and that’s what got my goat. Under the garb of meaningful journalism, some people will do anything for a few hundred hits. And this, from the newapaper that I was proud to say I had worked for!

Whether they believed the actress’ story or not; whether she was telling the truth or not, or whether she was doing business are not the issues here. And I am not even defending the woman. Let’s face it. Many of our actors, who often wear a halo, do tend to have more skeletons in their closets than we can possibly imagine. Likewise, Shweta Basu Prasad may have been back in the news for all the wrong reasons, but to be made into a headline the way she had been, was just appalling.

What were the editors thinking when they allowed their news editors to use the name and picture of a 23 year old woman in their publications and the TV channels? Was it just for a few hundred copies and some TRPs? Did they not once consider the fact that she might have had a family somewhere who will have to live with that stigma for the rest of their lives? And if there were so concerned about the prostitution racket this woman was involved in, why was there this almost deathly silence when it came to revealing the identities of the men who were caught with the actor in the prostitution racket in Hyderabad or the kingpins of the racket? Surely, they know who these people are. Or is it because some names are too familiar and too close for comfort for them to print?

As journalists we are often asked not to disclose names of organisations or departments either, if a matter of sexual assault is to be reported. In Prasad’s case not only are we talking about the gross ethical violation in terms of publishing her biography and filmography on every story; but just in case the public’s memory needed to be jogged, newspapers and TV channels went the extra mile to release her picture without bothering to blacken out the eyes or blur the face.

Journalists are taught to exercise caution when reporting even the most insignificant case of sexual assault. For a fraternity that continues to remain cautious when mentioning the December 16 gang-rape episode, what happened when reporting on the present case? Was the fact that we were talking about a National award winning actor and not a college student that the free pass for journalistic ethics went flying out of the window? What followed was even worse. They brought out human interest stories on how the media owed her an apology, without ever offering one.

I remember an incident after the bomb blasts in New Delhi in mid-2000. Some TV channels carried the picture of a young boy who had identified one of the men who had planted the bomb. I was appalled when I saw the child’s picture. Thankfully, it was pulled out soon after. However, the next day I was even more shocked to find that a national newspaper had carried the picture of the boy. Since I happened to know someone there I asked why they had violated the child’s privacy and more importantly since he was the only eyewitness. The reply I got was, “Oh, the TV channels already broke that rule, so why blame us?”

It’s unfortunate that the media, which is quick to pounce on hapless bloggers and writers on social media platforms and threaten them with law suits for publishing something that lampoons them, is now strangely silent. Wouldn’t it be nice if one read a public apology in the newspapers addressed to the young lady and her family? Do they have the guts or the courage to do that? Or do they believe that an apology doesn’t really matter anymore since the damage is already done? Or, even more importantly, do they believe they are above the law?


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s