The Network of Women in Media, India, is gratified that our letters to the Press Council of India and the Editors’ Guild, regarding the recent articles in Outlook and The Citizen, have generated a debate in the media and in society.

Other critiques of these articles, and of attempts to use the CCTV footage (or the “Tejpal Tapes”) and the media (including social media) to discredit the complaint of sexual assault/rape against the former editor of Tehelka have also contributed to this necessary discussion.

We believe that a robust debate is healthy and imperative for generating a better understanding among media professionals about the seriousness of reporting on issues of sexual violence, the importance of respecting the law and observing journalistic ethics, as well as of upholding basic human norms of sensitivity and fair play – within a broader framework of public interest – while reporting such issues.

Manu Joseph, the author of the Outlook article on the CCTV footage, has specifically referred to our letter in his response to criticism of his article. We do not know where his response was first published/posted, but it has been reproduced on some websites. We are posting his responseherealong with our own response below:

1. Manu Joseph’s note outlining how and why he wrote the story does not address the substantive issues of legality and ethics that our letter raises.

2. The Outlook article certainly reflects better journalistic practice than the one in The Citizen. Joseph spoke to “the counsel from the prosecution side” and his article includes inputs from different sources and more than one perspective on some of the assumptions.

3. However, we maintain that the article, including the title, the lengthy introductory section, the visuals and the highlighted pull quotes, clearly infers that the complainant’s account of the events of 7-8 November 2013 is implausible. In our assessment, the overall impact of the story is to cast doubts on the veracity of her complaint, question her character, strengthen the defence argument that the sexual activities in the lift (which Tejpal has not denied) were consensual, and influence public opinion in favour of the accused.

4. We assert that it is unethical to selectively use just one of the many pieces of evidence in the case to discredit the complainant’s allegations; it also constitutes bad journalistic practice. In any case, it is up to the courts, not the media, to examine, evaluate and adjudicate on all the evidence assembled by the investigating agencies. While the media can, and must, analyse court judgements, it is not the role of the media to conduct what amounts to a pre-trial, that too with incomplete evidence.

5. Manu Joseph feebly attempts to sidestep the illegality of viewing, showing and commenting on the CCTV footage by claiming that the details of the footage were, “in a way” in the public domain, since they were “mentioned in the latest court order denying Tejpal bail” and detailed “in the submission of the defence counsel.” However, four out of six news reports on the latest denial of bail (print, television, online), datelined 14 March 2014, did not even mention the footage. A television report quoted the police saying that they had gathered CCTV footage as well as e-mail and SMS exchanges in the course of their investigation. The daily which carried the most detailed report merely mentioned that the defence had showed sections of the CCTV footage, submitting that “the footage does not corroborate the version given by the victim.” According to the court “…the CCTV footage, prima facie, does not help the applicant to prove his innocence, since it did not cover the incident inside the lift.” Such brief references to the CCTV footage are not the same as detailed descriptions of the supposed content of the footage.

6. Our letter referred to “what appears to be a renewed media campaign” and articles “which appear to be part of an orchestrated campaign” because the near simultaneous appearance of the two articles, by two senior journalists, highlighting the CCTV footage, as well as their circulation on social media, are unlikely to all be coincidental.

7. Manu Joseph asserts that there is “a compelling journalistic reason to put the feed in perspective.” We believe it is necessary to put the complex issues raised by the case “in perspective” in order to increase and improve public awareness and understanding. There are many useful and meaningful ways to put the multiple issues raised by the case in perspective. However, the Outlook article, which merely minutely dissects the CCTV footage, clearly does not serve this purpose. The only justification for resorting to illegal and/or unethical practices in the pursuit of a story is that it is done in the “public interest.” In our opinion, while the Outlook article may interest the public, it cannot claim to serve the public interest.

5 April 2014


Read here –