In an article by Seema Mustafa in The Statesman on 4 April 2014, headlined “When feminists brook no opposition,” in which she responds to criticism of her recent article in The Citizen based on the CCTV footage in the sexual assault and rape case involving Tarun Tejpal, Mustafa has referred to a statement sent to the Press Council of India (PCI). We assume this is the letter to the PCI written by members of the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI).
Mustafa evidently believes in the dictum that attack is the best form of defence and, instead of responding to the specific problems with her article highlighted in the NWMI letter (and in other critiques of the article), resorts to name-calling (what better insult than “feminist”?!) and accusations.
We will refrain from commenting on the inaccuracies, exaggerations, misrepresentations and diversionary tactics that abound in the article. We would only like to clarify a few points regarding the nature and purpose of our complaint about the two recent articles on what is now, apparently, being referred to as “The Tarun Tejpal Tapes.”
Our letter does not deal with the merits of the case itself. We are media professionals and our letter focuses very specifically on the issues of legality and journalistic standards and ethics thrown up by the articles, including the one in The Citizen. These issues include:
1. The illegality of viewing, showing and commenting on the CCTV footage (ref. a trial court order on the matter).
2. A disregard of the laws in India relating to sexual assault/rape that specify what can and cannot be construed as consent, what evidence is and is not relevant, and the legal provisions to protect the identity of the complainant, which are being breached.
3. The disregard of not only laws but also professional guidelines (issued by self-regulatory media bodies) that place restrictions on the reporting of sexual violence in the interest of women’s rights and justice.
4. The breach of professional standards and ethics involved in using just one of the many items of evidence in an ongoing case of sexual assault/rape to discredit the complaint and the complainant.
5. Again, the breach of professional standards and ethics by the use of hearsay and assertions by the accused as incontrovertible evidence to question the veracity of the complaint and endorse the arguments of the accused.
6. Calling attention to violations in journalistic ethics does not constitute censorship and we hereby reiterate that we are not in favour of bans or censorship.
7. We also reject the attempt to equate “disclosure” journalism that is irresponsible and prejudicial with investigative reportage that upholds fairness and accuracy.
We stand by our assertion that the case against Tarun Tejpal must be fought in court, and that the media must not conduct pre-trials on the basis of inadequate evidence, and certainly not through illegal or unethical means. Our critique certainly does not fit any definition of a “lynch mob” mentality, as Mustafa argues.
Our letter was a collaborative response from media professionals concerned about media ethics. Our network continues to receive emphatic endorsements of the letter from women journalists across the country.
5 April 2014