A (Long Overdue) Call to Responsible Reporting of Crimes Against Women

We’ve been watching the recent coverage of the rape of an NLSIU student with considerable alarm. As if the incident isn’t horrific enough on its own, its flagrantly insensitive and inaccurate reporting adds considerably to the victim’s distress in this, as in all other cases of reporting on crimes against women. It is without question that measures, both palliative and reformative, are sorely necessary to address the problem. We hope to flesh out what exactly those should be in forthcoming posts.

NLSIU’s student body has taken the commendable step of taking some proactive measures in addressing the larger problems, through petitions addressing lapses in policing leading up to the incident and in the reporting of the incident itself. We welcome you to sign both.

They’ve asked that we publicize the contents of their petition to the Press Council and newspaper editors, and I’ ve reproduced it in full, along with its annexures below:

To,

The Chairman, Press Council of India,

Editors of national newspapers and news channels.

Bangalore, 2012.

Dear Sir,

SUBJECT: FLAGRANT VIOLATIONS OF JOURNALISTIC ETHICS AND PRESS GUIDELINES

This is in light of the alleged incident of gang-rape of one of the students of National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU) in the Jnanabharati campus last Saturday, the 13th of October. Unfortunately the manner in which it has been reported by the national media has been nothing short of shocking. The incident has been sensationalized and the identity of the victim has been divulged. We write to you in light of this irresponsible reporting.

Privacy of the victim of a crime of rape ought to be protected. This is necessary given the social prejudice attached to the act of sexual assault. A victim of rape has to live with the stigma of this crime, long after the crime. Under s.228A of the Indian Penal Code, disclosure of the identity of a rape victim is punishable with imprisonment for up to two years and fine. The right to privacy has been recognised by the Norms of Journalistic Conduct released by the Press Council of India in 2010 which states that, “while reporting crime involving rape, abduction or kidnap of women/females or sexual assault on children, or raising doubts and questions touching the chastity, personal character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published.” This guideline has been flagrantly violated by the recent media reports of this incident which have divulged personal details of the victim, stopping only short of revealing her name. In fact, even the Hon’ble Supreme Court on various occasions has also directed the media to exercise restraint when reporting incidents of rape such that the victim’s privacy is protected. These directions too have been ignored by the media. (Annexures 1-5)

What is also disconcerting is the manner in which the reports have questioned the victim’s character. This is unbecoming of responsible journalism. That a woman can be raped irrespective of the time of the day, the place she is in, or the manner in which she is dressed is well known.

Media reports about the incident have resorted to victim blaming which will have serious repercussions on the manner in which the victim is perceived by society. This could even prevent the victim from regaining a sense of normalcy post this traumatic experience. Furthermore, such media bias has the potential to prevent other women from reporting instances of rape in the future for fear of being blamed. It is urged that the media be sensitive when reporting about this incident henceforth at least. (Annexures 6-8)

Furthermore, at a time when it is imperative that the investigation is conducted smoothly, media hype and hyperbole deter efforts of state agencies. The media has been irresponsible enough to publish and report misinformation and conjectures even though investigations are still under way. (Annexures 9-11)  Students of NLSIU are being hounded by journalists, even as the student community is itself going through a difficult time amidst misreporting about the management’s response to the situation. (Annexure 12-14)

This has created a situation in which there are many versions of the truth, thus creating a sense of panic which is not only unnecessary but also dangerous. The danger of this hype is twofold – the first is that this could affect an unbiased investigation from being conducted and secondly, this makes it impossible for the victim and other students of the NLSIU community from regaining a sense of normalcy. It is imperative then for the media to not only be sensitive while reporting the case, but also accurate. They should be at the forefront of informing and educating the public at large about the larger law and order issue as opposed to creating cheap publicity.

Thus, in the interest of the victim and in the interest of justice, we implore you to direct journalists of all media organizations to exercise restraint and adopt responsible journalistic practices in reporting this deeply disturbing incident. The NLSIU community seeks your cooperation in these testing times.

Sincerely,

Student Bar Association,

National Law School of India University.

Attached: Annexures

Annexure – 1

DNA, 15 October, 2012

A second-year law student from Nepal, studying at National Law School of India University (NLSIU), was allegedly sexually assaulted by a gang of eight miscreants near Bangalore University premises on Saturday night at around 9.30 pm.

The 22-year-old woman was strolling with her boyfriend Nirmal Kumar, an employee at a technology firm, on a desolate stretch between the law institution and the BU campus when they were stopped by miscreants.

Available at:

http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_law-student-allegedly-gang-raped-near-bu_1752580

Annexure – 2

Times of India, 16 October, 2012

The victim is a second year BA, LLB (Hons) student and stays in the NLSIU hostel. The boy, from Kollam, Kerala, works with an IT major. They were sitting in a car in the Jnanabharathi campus when they were accosted by the iron rod-wielding gangsters. The men broke the windshield of the Volkswagen Polo car and beat up the boy before taking away the girl deep into the wooded area.

Available at:

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-16/bangalore/34498281_1_nlsiu-drunk-men-volkswagen-polo-car

Annexure – 3

The Hindu, 16 October, 2012

A 21-year-old law student was allegedly raped by a gang of eight members near Gandhi Bhavan on the Jnana Bharathi campus here on Saturday night. The victim, a second year student of National Law School of India University (NLSIU) and a native of Nepal, had gone with her boyfriend, Nirmal, to the secluded wooded area about 2 km from Gandhi Bhavan around 10 p.m.

Available at:

http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/karnataka/law-student-says-gang-raped-her/article4000131.ece

Annexure – 4

Zee News, 20 October, 2012

The victim is a second year student of the National Law School of Indian University and hails from Nepal.

Available at:

 http://zeenews.india.com/news/karnataka/five-arrested-in-bangalore-law-student-s-rape-case_806596.html

Annexure – 5

Deccan Chronicle, 20 October, 2012

The victim is a second year student of the National Law School of Indian University and hails from Nepal.

Available at:

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/nation/south/six-arrested-law-student-gang-rape-case-968

Annexure – 6

Times of India, 16 October, 2012

But once the mikes are switched off and pens sheathed, the officers and administrators launch into a barrage of innuendos and insinuations against the victim.

Here’s what The Times of India gleaned from top officers and administrators:

“The girl’s complaint says she was gang-raped but she has no bodily injuries to show any forced sex. The girl’s clothes, too, were intact,” said a police officer.

“How can a girl walk back after being raped by eight men?” asked another officer.

“She says she was raped inside the NLSIU campus. How can she be made to forcibly scale a 10-ft high wall that was in the way?” he said.

Some police officers are also brazen in their attempts to tar the victim’s character. “She was seeing a boy and then parted ways with him. Then she began seeing this guy who was with her when she was allegedly gang-raped,” one officer said.

Another top source in the home department imputed motives to the girl’s complaint. “She was rusticated last year by her university due to shortage of attendance. This year, too, she has an attendance problem. She is resorting to this drama to gain the varsity authorities’ sympathy,” the source added.

However, TOI’s inquiries with NLSIU sources revealed that the girl has not had any attendance problems till date.

Available at:

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-16/bangalore/34498016_1_nlsiu-police-officer-national-law-school

Annexure – 7

One India, 21 October, 2012

The 21-year-old who is pursuing a course at the National Law School of India University had gone out that day with an IBM employee whom she had recently befriended. On the way back to the hostel where the victim stays, her friend stopped the car to have a brief chat.

Available at:

http://news.oneindia.in/2012/10/21/7-held-for-raping-law-student-in-bangalore-1087126.html

Annexure – 8

DNA, 16 October 2012

Citing the alleged failure of NLSIU in reining in its students from being indisciplined, BU authorities have decided to issue a circular to the law school. An official circular from BU will reach NLSIU officials on Tuesday. BU’s registrar (evaluation), BC Mylarappa, told DNA, “We are fed up with the way the students of NLSIU are behaving and also about the bad name our campus is getting because of them. We will not tolerate this anymore and will issue an official notice.” He said the notice would only be a warning. “(But) if they do not correct themselves or continue to fail to keep their students under control, we will consider withdrawing our land provided to NLSIU,” said Mylarappa.

The alleged gang-rape of the law student, who hails from Nepal, has triggered afresh the latent anger nursed by BU authorities over NLSIU students using BU campus well past 10 pm. A lot of forested land is part of BU campus, and these areas are notorious for all kinds of activities.

Available at:

http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_bu-mulls-over-evicting-law-school_1752944

Annexure – 9

Deccan Herald, 27 October 2012

Initial medical examination report of the law student, who complained she was raped by a gang of eight men on the Jnanabharathi campus on Saturday night, has not been able to establish rape.

Dr O S Siddappa, Dean and Director, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, said on Monday the doctor who conducted the medical examination of the victim informed him that there were no traces of any sexual assault on the victim’s body.

“The condition of the victim would have been very bad had there been a gang-rape, but there were no such traces found during the medical examination. However, minor abrasions were found on the victim’s body. Samples have been sent to forensic laboratory for further examination,” Dr Siddappa said. Police officials, however, deny receiving the report.

The girl, a second year student of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), has claimed that she was with a male friend, when the gang accosted them and raped her.

Police sources say that vaginal swabs of the victim had been sent to forensic lab. The report is expected in a fortnight.

Though police officials refused to speak on record on the issue, they are sceptical about the victim’s claim of multiple rape. The alleged spot of the assault on the girl is dotted with thorny bushes. Police expressed surprise that the girl had sustained no injury. The medical condition of the girl is stable and she has not received any medical treatment after the incident, say the police. The medical report seems to have shared the scepticism of the police. The girl is presently lodged at the law school hostel.

Available at:

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/285686/loose-ends-rape-plaint-baffle.html

Annexure – 10

DNA, 16 October, 2012

The police team investigating the case involving the rape of the law student from Nepal inside the Jnana Bharathi campus suspects that the complaint filed by the 22-year-old girl is fake. However, the police are waiting for the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report before arriving at a conclusion.

On Monday, a team of around 30 police officials went to the spot where the girl was allegedly raped. It took almost half a day for the team to find the spot at the end of forest area inside the Jnana Bharathi campus. The police officials walked close to five km through the forest before the girl helped them spot the area which is surrounded by a seven-feet high compound wall. There are also two dilapidated buildings and a small Lord Shiva temple near the spot.

The area cited by the girl is strewn with thorns and broken pieces of liquor bottles. According to the police, had she been raped at the spot, she would have suffered injuries due to thorns and glass pieces. Since she did not suffer any injuries, the police suspect that her complaint may be fake.

The girl reportedly told the police that she was raped by the gang at 9.30 pm. But she managed to reach the hostel in the campus by 12.30 am. A police officer who visited the spot told DNA: “We spent almost half a day to reach the spot during daytime. But the girl reached the hostel in two and a half hours in darkness. This also makes us suspect that the complaint may be fake.”

The girl also told the police that the gang helped her climb the wall after raping her and fleeing the scene. According to the police, even if the gang helped her climb the wall, it would have been difficult for her to jump from atop the wall after being raped by a gang of eight miscreants. “Also, she must have suffered injuries while jumping as the area is full of thorns and glass pieces. But she did not suffer any injury,” the police officer said.

When questioned, her boyfriend Nirmal Kumar, who is working with a private firm, reportedly told the police that the gang threatened the two after finding them near their car. Nirmal told police that he got scared and fled the scene. But he did not rush to the police station; he contacted the police only after the girl reached the hostel.

During interrogation, he told the police that the miscreants first demanded money. When Nirmal told them that he had left his wallet in his car, they asked him to fetch it. But they insisted on keeping the girl with them until he returned. Nirmal, leaving his girlfriend alone, ran back to get his wallet. But on returning, he found that the miscreants had vanished with his girlfriend.

After subjecting the girl to a medical examination, the police took the feedback from the doctors who told that there are only a few reasons to make them believe that the girl was raped.

According to police sources, the girl had a rivalry with the gang over some issue and hence she tried to file a fake complaint.

When the police asked her whether they can call her parents to the city and inform them about the incident, she requested them not to inform her parents. According to the police, one of the girl’s friends was giving statements to the police on behalf of her.

Available at:

http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_law-students-rape-plaint-may-be-fake-suspect-police_1752953

Annexure – 11

Times of India, 19 October, 2012

Is the boyfriend a suspect in the October 13 gang-rape case? The police seem to think so.

The youth, an employee of an IT major, was with the victim, a National Law School of India University student, at the Bangalore University campus when she was allegedly gangraped by a group of 7-8 men. Police have sought a virility test on the boy, according to a document in possession of The Times of India.

The memo said he was the victim’s friend. He was present at the time of the crime and was assaulted by the hoodlums, it said. Yet it named the boy as an accused and said virility and other tests should be conducted on him.

Police asked for the tests to determine whether the “accused was capable of engaging in sexual intercourse”. The memo also sought a medical report on whether the “injuries on the youth’s body were a result of assault or some other situations”.

Available at:

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-19/bangalore/34583155_1_memo-medical-report-bu-campus

Annexure – 12

Times of India, 15 October 2012

When TOI contacted NLSIU registrar V Nagaraj, he said, “Talk to the vice-chancellor. Talk to the police who are investigating.” Vice-chancellor R Venkata Rao was not in the country, according to the woman who took the call at his residence. Students and fellow hostellers have refused to talk.

Available at:

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-15/india/34471590_1_hostel-room-nlsiu-police-constable

Annexure – 13

Deccan Herald, 15 October, 2012

The registrar of the premier institute said the incident had taken place on the Bangalore University campus limits and, therefore, NLSIU cannot be held responsible for the lapse in security. “There is no need to step up security on the law school campus. There is already enough security. Please speak to the police commissioner as he is responsible for security arrangements outside the law school gate,” the registrar told Deccan Herald.

Bangalore University Registrar B C Mylarappa said he would convene a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of setting up police checkposts at all important points on the campus.

The law school has to step up security and advise its students not to step out late at night, he added.

“What business did the student have to go out with her friend at that hour,” he asked. BU officials have washed their hands of the incident saying it did not involve their student.

Available at:

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/285674/nlsiu-denies-security-lapse-says.html

Annexure – 14

India Today, 17 October, 2012

Three days after a second year student of the prestigious National Law School of India University(NLSIU) was raped by unidentified people in the adjoining Bangalore University campus, the future lawyers have locked horns with the NLSIU management seeking deployment of police or central forces for security.

The fact that the NLSIU has a fair mix of students from across the country has intensified their demand for better security. Tensions between the students and the management have increased following the rape incident.

Available at:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/nlsiu-students-management-police-cover-rape/1/225154.html

___

The Fine Line Between Private and Public: How Private a Person is Robert Vadra?

Guest post by Maneka Khanna, a third year student at NUJS.

Much defense of the Vadra-DLF controversy has been centered around the private nature of the deal, a deal between two private entities, with special focus on the ‘private person’ status of Robert Vadra. There has been speculation about which side of the ‘private-public’ spectrum Vadra falls in, fuelled by his ‘son-in-law’ nexus, the nature of his business transactions, and most recently Facebook categorizing him as a public figure. Those claiming that he is a public figure have also cited the Congress government’s defense of Vadra and his airport security exemptions to support their claims. This post will look at the legal definition of public figures that Courts have expounded while discussing the tensions between freedom of speech and competing claims of public figures.

Legal Definition of Public Figures

The first case dealing with freedom of speech and the right to privacy of public figures in the Supreme Court, R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, provided no conclusive definition of public figures. However, it did emphasize their role in ordering society and influencing policy. Taking this understanding a step further, the Delhi High Court proposed an interesting definition of public figures in the landmark Phoolan Devi case, holding that public figures are those who have arrived at a decision due to which public attention is focused on them. This is apparently a tautological definition because, by the Court’s logic, the public scrutiny that a person receives determines his status as a public figure, rather than the other way around. To put this in context, it appears that Vadra could be termed as a public figure as a result of the controversy centered around him, rather than on some independent criteria of his position. Needless to say, such a definition could be problematic while deciding the legitimacy of media exposés of those whose public status remains undetermined.

A more sophisticated approach of the Delhi High Court can be seen in Indu Jain v. Forbes, where the Court held that persons whose “standing, accomplishment, fame, mode of life or profession” gives the public a legitimate interest in their affairs may be termed public figures. Two important principles emerge from this definition: first, the role of legitimate public interest in the determination of a public figure and second, the emphasis of the court on the voluntary nature of those in the public sphere.

Public Figure by Affiliation

By emphasizing profession, standing and accomplishment as criteria for public figure status, the Court in Indu Jain minimized chances for those involuntarily dragged into the limelight from getting public figure status. Courts in India have had a conservative approach in this aspect, as is evident in the Madras High Court judgment in A. Raja v. P. Sreenivisan, where it held that the family of A. Raja could not be termed public figures merely due to familial political affiliation, despite the large political scandal surrounding A. Raja at the time. Therefore it is unlikely that Courts would find the mere martial affiliation of Vadra suffice to term him public figure.

However, official orders have seen this marital affiliation as sufficient to extend the privileges of public officials to Vadra, namely, the exemption from airport security checks. RTI queries show that Vadra is exempt merely because he is married to a Special Protection Group protectee, as per AVSEC order 06/2009. Such official recognition of Vadra as a ‘special’ citizen dilutes the private person claims made in his defense. Moreover, reports have also cited money laundering regulations and standards to categorize Vadra as a “Politically Exposed Person”. The intergovernmental organization to combat money laundering, the Financial Action Task Force has, in its guidelines, categorized important public officials along with their families as Politically Exposed Persons. Grouping of public officials and their families in the same category gives due recognition to the higher risk of involvement of these individuals in bribery and corruption due to the power and influence they hold. While such guidelines are not binding and have no constitutional significance, it remains interesting to see that officials and their family are being categorized in such a manner, due to the innumerable examples of impropriety that families of high ranking officials have been involved in.

However, despite this, I argue that Courts will be conservative in terming individuals ‘public figures’ merely due to their affiliation, when they have not voluntarily entered the public domain, because of the significantly lower threshold of protection that public figures enjoy in the face of public scrutiny.

The Role of Public Interest

Therefore, the last trump card, not only used in deciding competing claims of free speech and privacy but also in determining the threshold question of who a public figure is, is that of ‘public interest’, as seen in the Indu Jain definition. While the contours of what public interest comprises of remains unsettled both nationally and internationally, what may be concluded is that in cases where the status of public figure remains dubious, the justification for the public scrutiny of the person is decided on the public interest in the subject matter. This undoubtedly has been the case in the present controversy, as few have been able to question the level of public interest in the same.

However, some senior advocates argue that without the state government’s role in the controversy, the matter would not fall into the public domain. This brings us to another question brought up by the controversy; what threshold do private financial transactions have to pass to come within the public domain and open to public scrutiny. At what point can the media be legitimized in exposing details of private business transactions? While public limited companies such as DLF are not bound by the Companies Act or Accounting Standards to disclose details of each business transaction, such dealings have been viewed as corporate governance issues. The investor and larger public interest in dealings of large public companies such as DLF is evident in the slump in DLF stock prices following the controversy.

Similar tensions between transparency and privacy have been the subject of public debate surrounding the RTI and the Prime Minister’s statement and merit consideration in a separate post. Without delving much into these matters, I argue that many of these answers, similar to those related to public figures, lie in the public interest in such information and the level to which the larger public is affected by such information.

Perhaps a more nuanced understanding of the term ‘public figures’ will be helpful in answering the threshold question of which category a person falls in, in order to decide the legal protection that would accrue. Concepts such as ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ public figures (see e.g. Wolston v. Reader’s Digest Assn., Inc.) and ‘limited purpose public figures’ (see Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc.), used in the United States defamation case law, can be used to draw more watertight distinctions and concrete standards. I argue that such standards, when used by the media and the Courts, will bring objectivity and reduce reliance on the much contested ‘public interest doctrine’.