Questions raised over media’s role in Guwahati molestation

July 15th, 2012 - 5:22 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 15 (IANS) While the telecast of the shocking Guwahati incident of a mob molesting a teenaged girl has helped nail some of the culprits, questions are being raised about the ethics of it all: Should the cameraman have filmed the entire 20-minute-odd episode or helped the terrified victim? And what if the mob went on to rape, would he have filmed the incident too?

While the Guwahati-based channel News Live gained its TRPs from telecasting the Monday night episode, questions are being asked as to why the cowering girl was made to show her face to the camera, and why she was asked her name at the end of her humiliation.

The channel head has claimed that his cameraperson did try to intervene to stop the molestation, and when he found himself helpless, he went on to record the episode - which was subsequently initially telecast without blurring the girl’s face.

The uncut version of what News Live aired - leering men pulling the girl by her hair, trying to paw the kicking, screaming girl, with some dramatic background music to boot - is on YouTube for anyone to see. The reporter asks the girl her name, not once but twice, which she replies, then her address and her school.

T.R. Ramachandran, senior journalist who is also president of the Press Club of India, says while journalists at a scene have a social responsibility, “they can’t just say we are filing”.

“What would happen in a worst case scenario (rape) - then what would he have done? Would he still have gone ahead and filed and say I was doing my job? The molestation went on for about 20 minutes, and for a girl even one second is like hours. It was absolutely hell for her,” Ramachandran told IANS.

“I don’t subscribe to what the editor said. It is fine to give evidence, but one should also have to have social responsibility to intervene and stop the incident,” he added.

Independent journalist, commentator and educator Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who has written a book on media ethics, said however much TV channels or photographers try to justify it questions will be raised.

Mentioning the case of photojournalist Kevin Carter who won a Pulitzer for his photograph of a vulture approaching an emaciated baby in Sudan in 1993, Guha Thakurta said Carter, who committed suicide a year later, waited for the vulture to enter the frame with the baby before shooting. “The picture created a huge controversy, but Carter argued that it highlighted the famine while others asked: ‘Are you a human being first or a professional?’”

Thakurta added that whatever happened in Guwahati was “shameful”. “But since, from what I hear it went on for some time, the TV person should have kept the camera down and saved the girl. It was another journalist passing by who saved her.”

“It is an age old dilemma, not just in India, but across the world. But at some point they have to take a call… If you ask me, your instinct as a sensitive human should take precedence over your role as a professional. It is your responsibility to prevent than take a picture.”

Sevanti Ninan, who runs the media monitor, thehoot.org, said the cameraperson can’t just be blamed for shooting the episode. “How did the newsroom decide to telecast it? The channels and its gatekeepers are to blame,” Ninan told IANS.

“There are guidelines, which have to be adhered to. It shows a complete failure of self regulation.. They had no business showing her face…There must be a level of morality involved, ” Ninan said.

Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, told IANS: “While we appreciate the role of media in providing proof, it is very helpful. But this is not acceptable. A more intense discussion should take place, media ethics should be put in front of the scanner.”

The media role in the Guwahati episode has been muddied further by allegations that it was orchestrated. Though News Live has denied it, Team Anna member and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi has alleged that the reporter instigated the mob. On Saturday Gogoi produced before the media in Guwahati six video clippings of the July 9 incident and alleged that a News Live reporter (Gaurav Jyoti Neog) instigated the mob to strip the victim in public.

The Electronic Media Forum Assam (EMFA) has asked the Assam government for a high-level impartial probe into Gogoi’s allegations.

A team from the National Commission of Women (NCW), which met the victim Saturday, has also hit out at the news channel and said the camera crew continued recording even though the girl was begging for help.

In a statement, News Live reporter Gaurav Jyoti Neog has denied the allegations “as malicious and wild”. He said he was performing his professional duty as a “responsible journalist” “so as to fulfill the social responsibility of identifying the molesters and get them punished”. He has resigned as reporter until the probe is over.

Nitumoni Saikia, Executive Editor, News Live, in a statement, justified the decision to telecast the clip “to enable the viewers to see the ugly face of these molesters and help the police to identify them and get them punished”. He said the attempt was successful as the visuals helped identify the culprits. While strongly denying the charges against the reporter of having orchestrated the incident, Saikia said “We are not trying to protect or shield anyone and cooperating and would cooperate to get the culprits.”

The girl was groped and mauled by a large group of men outside Club Mint on the busy G.S. Road in Guwahati at around 9.30 p.m. She had gone to the bar-cum-restaurant to celebrate the birthday of a friend and had stepped out when the incident happened.

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