A public appeal was issued on Saturday to the media and independent writers by a group of journalists and social activists asking that the privacy of the Tehelka journalist who was the victim of sexual assault be respected. The following is the text of the statement:
To all editors, journalists, bloggers, users of social media, and the public:
We have come together to reiterate the broad principle of protecting the privacy of those who face sexual assault. Over the last couple of days, several websites and blogs posted or reproduced parts of the Tehelka journalist’s complaint to the magazine’s management. Following this, many newspapers have published the journalist's messages, in part or full, in their coverage of the incident. Perhaps this was done with intent to expose a grave act of sexual assault by a man occupying a powerful position.
However, in doing so, publications are violating basic ethical and legal injunctions on the way cases of sexual assault must be reported. The journalist’s complaint to her company was a private document and not a public one. While private documents can be leaked in the ‘public interest’, this principle is applicable to the emails of Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury sent to Tehelka staffers, not to the journalist’s emailed complaint. In cases of sexual assault, it is a well established principle that the media can name the alleged perpetrator, but not the victim. The identity and privacy of a victim must be protected at all costs, unless the victim approves the disclosures.
We are distressed that many people have circulated the journalist’s emails, and that other journalists, bloggers and users of social media published it in parts or whole. Some have argued that the leaked email has exposed the gravity of the assault, which justifies it coming into the public domain. While we are determined to report violence against women, we also believe in doing it sensitively. It is possible to report and comment on sexual crimes without providing explicit accounts that cause additional distress to the victim. While we stand behind the journalist in her courageous fight, we support her right to choose how she wants her experience reported in public.
We are aware that excerpts of her private email are now part of the FIR filed by Goa police, which is a public document. Even so, we request that caution be exercised and gratuitous and graphic details not be published without consent to avoid distress to the woman.
In the absence of consent, we request all users of social and mainstream media to refrain from infringing on a woman's privacy. We request those who have posted such content online, or linked to it, to remove this material immediately.
We are aware that the media needs to discuss and debate issues of consent and how it can be obtained in cases of reporting on sexual assault. We would be glad if this moment initiated this important and urgent debate. Let us be sensitive as we extend support to the journalist.
Arindam Banerjee, Prime Minister's Rural Dev Fellow, Midnapore; Chinki Sinha, journalist, New Delhi; Raghu Karnad, journalist, Bangalore; Rohini Mohan, journalist, Bangalore; Sameera Khan, journalist, Mumbai; Shaheen Ahmed, research scholar, New Delhi; Supriya Nair, journalist, New Delhi; Supriya Sharma, journalist, Mumbai/Raipur; Tusha Mittal, journalist, Kolkata.