Turning a Blind Eye

Print media has shown shocking indifference, disinterest and incompetence while reporting on the Assam molestation case.

WrittenBy:Sunayana Singh
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Sickening footage, lots of perpetrators and very few arrests. On Monday, July 9, 2012 a mob attacked and molested a 20-year-old girl in Guwahati. Dipya Bordoloi, a night reporter with Newslive, and a cameraperson managed to capture the incident – which was then aired on the channel that night. There has been widespread outrage at not just the fact that a girl was molested by a 50-strong mob in the heart of Guwahati while bystanders did nothing, but also that the camera crew did not try and stop the attack and carried on shooting the incident for 30 minutes. But when I looked the newspapers on Sunday morning, more outrage was to follow.

While the incident had taken place on Monday, July 9, 2012, it was four days before the national newspapers began reporting on it – on July 13, 2012. By Sunday, Hindustan Times had relegated the news to a small tiny write-up on the right side of the front page, and The Hindu, The Times of India and The Indian Express had ignored it altogether on their front page. What seemed to qualify as front page news (other than a horrifying incident on the main streets of a state capital, while many including the media just watched and filmed) was theft of antiquities (The Hindu), Ansari being nominated as VP, cell phone towers causing radiation sickness (HT), and, the irony of ironies, a half-page ad in TOI called “Mujhe Pankh Dedo” (a Stayfree initiative to empower women). The news of the molestation was relegated to page 6 and 8 of all the newspapers. As was any mention of the reporter who supposedly orchestrated the whole episode.

What I’m really aghast at is the way the newspapers just print verbatim bytes and write stories without any follow-up questions or investigation. For example, HT even on Saturday, July 14, 2012 reported that the journalist who was filming the incident is the one who egged on the mob. And they had the same news on Sunday quoting the Right to Information activist Akhil Gogoi claiming the same. No follow up. No further news on who, what, when, why.

While the newspapers were simply regurgitating news, on July 14, 2012 on NDTV Kishalay Bhattacharya reported that Gogoi was claiming that an off-duty Newslive journalist, Gaurav Jyoti Neog was present at the spot and was not only involved in the assault on the girl but “directed” the entire attack. Bhattacharya said that when he saw the recording which was in Gogoi’s possession, he heard someone (whose voice Gogoi claim belongs to Neog) ask the victim, “What happened?” to which the girl replied in Assamese, “I was in a birthday party at this bar and when I came out, this is what you did to me”. The recording by Akhil Gogoi has not been shown on channels. The link to this NDTV interview is given below.

Gaurav Jyoti Neog has resigned today, July 16, 2012 and has reportedly said that he will wait to be cleared of all charges.

So my question is this. Why was there no interview of either Gaurav Jyoti Neog or Bordoloi who recorded the footage in any of the papers? What was Neog doing there? The victim has also said that they just filmed her instead of helping her? Why did Neog call a camera crew from the office and not run inside into the many bars and call 20 people who could’ve helped? I’ve seen the footage. No one seems to be helping. Instead the cameraperson seems to be zooming in and out and having fun filming a rape scene for a full 30 minutes or more. He’s literally on top of the girl. Why is he a hero for standing and filming something where it doesn’t look like he’s been threatened?

Mukul Kalita, the editor of local newspaper, Ajir Asom, told NDTV and CNN IBN that he was passing by when he saw the girl being attacked by the mob. He stopped, tried to help and even asked the cameraman not to carry on filming the incident. Why are there no interviews or even any information on Neog? According to the HT report, “Journalist Instigated The Mob”, July 15, 2012, Akhil Gogoi also claimed that, “Neog was heard telling a colleague who joined him later that he had organized the incident”. Who is the “colleague” whom he said this to? It’s great that HT got this story, but shouldn’t they have followed it up to see if it’s true or not? Either absolve the guilt of the reporter or confirm it. Where is the follow up? This is a member of the fourth estate who may have abused his power to film an incident and increase TRPs.

Why aren’t print journalists investigating this? Surely the combined might of all our national dailies and their significant presence in Assam could easily lead to some in-depth reporting on this story, and take to task one of their own fraternity – if he is guilty. But nothing. Just a similar-looking report in all the papers and no follow-up investigations. And why did it take four days after the footage was aired on Newslive in Assam for the national press to wake up? It is left to TV channels and websites like Firstpost to bring out the relevant details and throw up lots of questions concerning the role of the media. And do some real reporting.

To make matters worse, the very well-dressed and snazzily turned out Alka Lamba of the National Commission of Women announced the identity of the girl during a press conference. Hello! Isn’t that illegal? And unethical? Here is how The Indian Express put it: “Interestingly, Lamba revealed the victims identity at the press conference”. Interestingly? Maybe the word used should have been “shockingly”. And rather than questioning her on why she did so, and how the NCW has flouted ethics by naming the victim – especially since the NCW is supposed to protect her – the report just continues with something else. Ms Lamba should also be taken to task and removed from her position for displaying a total lack of sensitivity. But no one seems to have questioned her. Looks like the newspaper reporters went there, wrote down everything, and came back. There was batti, but their lights were switched off.

Also, most newspapers seem to have followed suit and mentioned the name of the victim along with a picture of her accompanied by Alka Lamba. The picture has been attributed to PTI, which probably means that PTI sent this out to all publications. A quick search on google will show you that almost all publications have mentioned her name. Outlook, New Indian Express, PTI News, Deccan Herald to name a few. According to the Norms of Journalistic Conduct as defined by the Press Council of India – “While reporting crime involving rape, abduction or kidnap of women/females or sexual assault on children, or raising doubts and questions touching the chastity, personal character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published.”

So, where is our champion of the media? Where is our venerable head of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju? Considering he has views on everything from Sarabjit, TV babas, Obama and god-knows what else, why is he silent now that a journalist has been accused of being involved in this heinous crime? Why is there a reluctance to officially prosecute him?

It’s time the newspaper reporters did some full-fledged investigation into the Assam molestation, and especially into some from their own fraternity.

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