No self-censorship

There were questions regarding the report, “State govt. suspends former Special DGP” (March 19, 2021). The senior IPS officer is facing sexual harassment charges made by a serving woman IPS officer. While the Tamil Nadu government did not issue a formal notification, the newspaper’s reporter gathered information from reliable sources that the officer has been suspended pending inquiry. Earlier, the government had suspended the Chengalpattu Superintendent of Police in the same case for acting in favour of the Special Director General of Police and trying to prevent the survivor from making a formal complaint. Rightly drawing from earlier court directives that prohibit the media from revealing only the names of the victims in sexual assault cases and not the offenders, readers asked why the newspaper did not publish the names of the two IPS officers involved in the case.

Abiding by the court’s order

There are several rules and codes that govern reporting on sexual violence, including Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, which was brought in through an amendment in 1983 to Section 6(ii) of the Press Council of India’s ‘Norms of Journalistic Conduct’. It is true that there is neither a legal bar nor an ethical bar in naming offenders. In this particular case, the court had intervened and issued a binding order restraining the media from publishing not only the names of the survivor but also of the accused and witnesses. I would like to draw the attention of the readers to a report, “Madras HC to monitor probe against former Special DGP” (March 2), which read: “Passing an elaborate interim order, he [judge] restrained the media from publishing the names of the complainant, the accused and witnesses in the case as there was an express bar on such publications under Section 16 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013.” While one can argue that the single judge’s order contradicts earlier judicial pronouncements, the fact remains that a newspaper has to abide by the present binding order.

In another case, K. Balakesari, a contributor to this newspaper, asked: “Why has The Hindu not carried a single item of news these past few days about the resignation of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University, apparently because of him being considered a political liability by the University’s Trustees? I thought in such matters, The Hindu would be in the forefront of publishing the facts about the case.”

A detailed report

On March 19, in the national news section on Page 11 (Chennai edition), the report “Arvind resigns from Ashoka University” dealt with all the developments in Ashoka University. The strapline for the report read: “Devastated by circumstances behind P.B. Mehta’s resignation, says former CEA”. Further, the opening paragraphs of the report dealt with Mr. Mehta’s case exclusively. They read: “Political scientist and commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned from Ashoka University after a meeting with the university’s founders made it clear his association with the institution could be considered a ‘political liability’. In his resignation letter dated March 15 to Vice-Chancellor Malabika Sarkar sent on Tuesday, which The Hindu has seen, he said his writing was ‘perceived to carry risks for the university.’” The report also carried the operative portion of Mr. Mehta’s resignation letter: “After a meeting with Founders it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the University may be considered a political liability. My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens, is perceived to carry risks for the university”.

The perception among some readers is that the newspaper had resorted to one form of self-censorship or the other in the two cases — one in not naming a senior police officer in a sexual harassment case and the other in not reporting about shrinking academic freedom. But a closer reading reveals the gap between this perception and the reality. In the sexual harassment case, The Hindu had reported as much information as possible in the light of a binding High Court order. Regarding the developments in Ashoka University, the newspaper looked at all issues arising from Mr. Mehta’s resignation.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 7:07:50 PM |

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