Getting in the way of justice

Tarun Tejpal is charged with a serious case of sexual assault and rape, but who will prosecute the lynch mob that’s masquerading as the media in this case?
Shone Satheesh Babu Delhi

A man is not punished for stealing horses. He is punished so that horses are not stolen anymore. So goes the old saying. The sexual assault case involving Tehelka’s founding editor Tarun Tejpal, if you whittle away the salacious details, is simply a case of sexual assault. Or rape, according to the new law in the aftermath of the JS Verma committee recommendations. The guilty must be punished, no doubt, for acting in the most reprehensible manner. But the spectacle that is being witnessed in the Indian media is equally revolting. What’s on display is not a campaign for justice, but discussions bordering on smut. Some TV channels even attempted to absurdly reconstruct the incident in the same lift where the ghastly assault had taken place. The alacrity with which certain newspapers – known for their creed of measured reportage and restraint – published sordid details of the victim’s emails on the front page was downright disdainful. Already, gossipmongers on social media and the internet, catering to a primitive voyeuristic gaze, had published the full account of the victim’s travails, with not a shred of concern for her identity. There is no end to the blogs and websites containing her name, photographs, and details of the school and colleges she went to – a criminal act that carries a punishment of two years. But who cares, this is the internet.

The media fraternity, while doing an admirable job in putting Tejpal in the docks, spared no efforts to throw muck at an institution and its employees that had nothing to do with the offence (full disclosure: I worked there for over two-and-a-half years). This too, was quite unprecedented. When the Niira Radia tapes were leaked to the media, many publications, including Tehelka, refrained from releasing it before verifying it from the journalists concerned. Now, the same senior TV anchor, who figured in the Radia tapes, is leading the lynch mob on social media and on her television show. In all this mass hysteria, it’s become crucial to scrutinize the role the media played in influencing the outcome of the events at every step; if not to preserve the sanity in the discourse, then at least to ascertain whether the frenzy has in some ways stripped the victim of her agency to demand justice on her own terms. She had initially indicated precisely that, but thanks to the wannabe judges and executioners who sit in television studios, the issue has transmogrified into a reality show. Instead of reporting on facts, in keeping with the strictures of journalism, everyone in the media is busy airing their lurid opinion. It’s increasingly sounding like the buzz of flies rushing to the dead piece of meat. Like a mass of vultures circling a decaying carcass.