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The art of profiling criminals

All those who are active on social media are immune to the three Ts: being trolled, tagged, or targeted. Journalists who are active on social media are aware that these are possibilities. However, when all this happens unexpectedly, it can be a really uncomfortable experience. January 12, 2022 was one such day for me when my story on Niraj Bishnoi, the Bulli Bai app-accused , appeared in this newspaper. When the story was shared on Twitter, many raised questions about why the family of the accused had been given a voice and why the accused had even been written about.

Sociological background

There are a few practices that journalists follow while reporting on crimes and criminals. The story was an attempt to inform our readers about the sociological background of Bishnoi; about how a young man whose political inclinations seem obvious can come from a family whose political views appear to be contrary to his own.

 

At best, the story was a profile of an alleged criminal, a practice very common in crime reporting. I have profiled Delhi’s famous criminals – Sonu Dariyapur , Jitender Gogi , Neeraj Bawana, and Sushil Kumar , the convict in the Tandoor murder case. And when reporters profile criminals to understand what made them criminals, the obvious voices are of family members. The family members share their views, which the reader may or may not agree with. A reporter’s job is to report all sides of a story. For instance, the report on Bishnoi quoted his sister who said she believes that he created the application for people who posted statements against Ram Mandir and also quoted the police who denied her statement. Is it fair to pick out selective quotes from a story and share them on social media?

While covering crime stories, reporters cannot pick and choose narratives that suit their point of view. As a woman, I was outraged seeing the names of other women, including that of a fellow reporter, on the app, but as a reporter, it is my job to report every aspect of the story, including what the accused’s family had to say. Reporters and editors in newsrooms are mindful of the fact that the person being profiled is an alleged criminal or a criminal. So, the intent is not to humanise the person but tell a fuller story so that readers are more informed. It is for the readers to make inferences from the report.

Don’t shoot the messenger

As a reporter, I cannot block out Bishnoi because I am enraged by his act. If that is the case, no lawyer will ever be able to do his job while trying to defend criminals or no doctor will be able to treat a criminal. It is not a reporter’s job to defend anyone, it is their job to report. No one can decide the punishment for Bishnoi except the courts. Journalists cannot decide how he should be punished, the police cannot, and certainly not those on social media.

Also read | Bishnoi used a gaming character to run Twitter handles

And while people on social media were busy commenting on the report being an attempt at ‘whitewashing’, the larger point was lost, which was that Bishnoi was the boy next door, kept to himself and was perceived as studious; and words used by TV news anchors and politicians can have a massive impact on viewers, which many parents don’t realise.

Therefore, to shoot the messenger is not the solution. It is important to understand why and how someone became a criminal. To do that both sociology and the chronology of events are important.

hemani.b@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | May 22, 2022 6:46:30 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-art-of-profiling-criminals/article38268903.ece