While news channels have been reminded to conceal the identity of victims of sexual assault, the industry regulator also advocated a “balance” between the survivor’s right to privacy and public interest in media coverage of such cases.
A fresh set of “Guidelines on reportage of cases of sexual assault” was issued by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) on Monday, less than a month after the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old in a moving bus in Delhi, which outraged the country and continues to spur daily headlines.
Noting that “news coverage of crime influences the mindset of the viewer and has a significant impact on the public perception of such crime,” the NBSA advised news channels to “carefully balance the survivor’s right to privacy and that of the survivor’s family with public interest.”
The guidelines urged channels to be careful, especially in cases where disclosing gruesome details of a sexual assault would only serve to “re-traumatise” the survivor. However, the NBSA also asked channels to exercise sensitivity, discretion and sound judgment when such details need to be disclosed in order “to secure a safe environment,” thus serving the public interest.
The NBSA is chaired by Justice J.S. Verma, a former Supreme Court judge, who has also been named to chair the government-appointed committee looking into the laws dealing with crimes against women.
The media’s coverage of the recent Delhi rape case has triggered a debate, with a British newspaper publishing the name of the victim — apparently with her father’s approval — and an Indian news channel broadcasting an interview with her male friend who was also assaulted and was a witness to the rape. As one of the six accused is a legal minor, his identity is also protected under the law.
Reporting on cases of sexual assault on women, victims of child abuse and juvenile delinquents must not reveal names, photographs or other details which could disclose their identity or those of their families in order that their privacy is respected, insisted the guidelines. If victims of sexual assault — or witnesses to such acts — are featured in news reports, their identity must be concealed, with visuals of victims completely morphed.
The NBSA pointed to the legal provisions in the Indian Penal Code and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, which protect the identity of victims of sexual offences and of juveniles in conflict with the law.