There are some things that are intrinsic to being a TV journalist and forward planning is one of those, which I hate. For a journalist like me who lives to break news and who also loves finding stories in the least expected places, it’s a tedious aspect of the medium to plan, plan and plan for all possible scenarios.
But it is essential because in a technology-dependent mode, the more you anticipate and prepare, the better TV content you produce.
My newsroom colleagues and I have been preparing this past week for a judgement that will be delivered on Tuesday, September 10. We always prepare for big legal days like the coal case in Supreme Court and the Batla House Encounter.
But Tuesday’s judgement has consumed us all in more than one way. On Tuesday, we will find out what the judge sees as fit punishment for the men who raped the 23-year old paramedic on December 16.
I already know that on Tuesday I, along with a couple of other colleagues, will probably be standing outside the district court where the verdict will be read out. I can just about imagine the number of cameras and journalists local, national and international that will be elbowing each other in a room that’s meant to accommodate a fraction of the crowd.
I know all of this, and my Indian Penal Code and my criminal procedure and I have good lawyers on speed dial to talk to whenever in doubt, but for the first time in my almost 15-year-old career, I’m scared of doing something wrong. I’m nervous about saying the wrong thing and my shoulders feel heavy with the weight of it all.
Let me explain why. There used to be a time when all we were concerned about was how to get the story right, how to get the truth first. In television, we wanted speed, sure, but we didn’t want to get it wrong. But now, since December 16, we have to be really, really careful about how we tell our stories too.
My friend, who is an excellent crime reporter, got severely criticised the other day because she narrated what a police officer told her about the Mumbai gang-rape. The officer said the photojournalist had “displayed immense courage even though the damage to her was irreparable.’’
When my colleague reported this, she was made out to have made a zinda laash ala Sushma Swaraj like statement. Should she have edited the officer’s words?
A friend and I discussed the implication of all of us referring to the eyewitness of the Mumbai gang rape as ‘male colleague’. It was a fact, but was it also implicit in our reports that he should have played the role of a ‘protector’ more actively? Or, does it invite speculation over why they were in Shakti Mills for a recce together? Will simply saying ‘colleague’ suffice?
The code on rape reporting now says that you shouldn’t use the word ‘victim’ but the more positive ‘survivor’ which gives a better projection of the person who was raped. The thing is, the 23-year old who was gang-raped, died under the most heartbreaking circumstances as a consequence of that attack! Is it okay to call her a victim? I wouldn’t want to her family, so I just stick to the facts and call her ‘the 23-year old’ or ‘the paramedic’.
The other day on Twitter, I found a lot of criticism about a newspaper article that had reproduced the police statement of the photojournalist’s colleague in Mumbai. They felt that by reproducing it, it may give clues to the girl’s identity or perhaps provide gratuitous details of the crime.
I read with fear and desperate curiosity, because for me it was an accurate account of what happened that day and in some ways, helped me learn how I can make myself safer and whether there are obvious warning signs that I should look out for. I, for one, was glad that the newspaper printed that entirely. I also noticed that they edited out details from the girl’s account too graphic, they explained.
And that’s where the dilemma lies the fine balance between wise editing and censorship. For instance, there was another case of a minor girl being brutalised in the same manner as the paramedic. It made me think, were we as journalists playing an active role in encouraging copycat attacks?
After all, as author Tasleema Nasreen told me when I met her recently, she believed the number of rapes has increased after that attack. “Did you know that the day they hanged Dhananjay in Bengal for raping and murdering a young student, there were 20 rapes in the city?’’
she asked. So now, is it our civic duty to hold back details or play down rape stories? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to all this.
And this soul searching may be a good, much-needed churn for all of us. On Tuesday, the least we can do is not descend on the 23-year old’s parents, when they come out of the courtroom after the verdict, like vultures as we may have done in the past. Maybe, we can make sure that we’re there and wait for them to come to us. We don’t have to stop asking questions, just make sure we do it with the sensitivity it deserves.