MUMBAI: Eight women’s groups on Saturday protested outside the offices of the Times Group — the publishers of The Times of India — accusing the Mumbai Mirror newspaper, also published by the group, of sensationalising the story of a rape victim and violating her right to privacy.
A student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai was reportedly raped by six men last Sunday. Following the registration of a case with the local police on Tuesday evening, newspapers in Mumbai have extensively reported on the case, featuring the story on their front pages every day since the story broke.
The Mumbai Mirror on Friday published in entirety the statement made by the victim to the local police, detailing her age, her country of origin — she was an international student — and even the course she was enrolled at the TISS, an institute which does not have many international students. The statement also graphically described how the victim was attacked by the alleged offenders.
The eight women’s groups on Saturday filed a complaint with the police, who registered an FIR against the Mumbai Mirror, the Times Group and its owners Bennett, Coleman and Co. under Section 228 (A) of the Indian Penal Code for disclosing the identity of a rape victim, said Sandhya Gokhale of the Forum against Oppression of Women, one of the groups involved in the protest.
While the newspaper did not reveal her name, women’s groups said that by revealing the other details, the newspaper left no scope for her identity to remain confidential thereby violating her right to privacy. “This isn’t ethical journalism at all, it’s a violation of her privacy,” Ms. Gokhale said.
“Everyone in her college, and elsewhere, knows her identity now. This is irresponsible reporting.”
The Mumbai Mirror carried an apology in its pages on Saturday after many readers wrote in to complain about the graphic descriptions of the girl’s rape that was contained in her statement.
The women’s groups said this was not enough as the newspaper apologised only for offending the readers’ sensibilities, and not to the victim. “We want the newspaper to apologise to the victim,” Ms. Gokhale said.
The incident has ignited a debate on where boundaries lie in reporting such crimes and when newspapers should refrain from publishing information that may offend the sentiments of victims, or possibly worse, disclose their identity.
Nandita Gandhi, a prominent women’s rights activist with the non-governmental organisation Akshara, said this was in her opinion “the grossest incident of reporting a rape case in recent memory.”
“An FIR may be a public document, but it’s not a document that is meant to titillate or sensationalise,” Ms. Gandhi said. “The competition between newspapers is so vitiated that they are pulling out all the stops. The newspaper can argue they have not named her, but they have otherwise revealed her identity. They may have kept the law, but they violated its spirit.”
Ananth Krishnan, The Hindu, April 19, 2009