Crimes against women in India are so commonplace, that a man stabbing his wife as many as 25 times on a crowded Delhi street in broad daylight has failed to shake our collective conscience. In a fit of rage, Harish Mehta (40) is seen brutally attacking his wife, as bystanders fail to intervene while the act was captured on video.
While many media publications reported the crime, it was The Tatva’s Instagram post titled ‘Why Being A Woman In India Is Not Easy’ that grabbed eyeballs. The post included two videos of the murder as well as a picture of the deceased’s wounded body. Anyone with a basic understanding of journalistic principles would know the importance of reporting such stories with sensitivity and respect for the privacy of the deceased. Instead, The Tatva, which has now garnered more than 1 million views on their post, has rather chosen to sacrifice basic human dignity at the altar of viewer engagement and attention through its sensationalism.
Many, especially women, took to Instagram stories to share their anger and disappointment over the needless show of violence and commented on the post asking why the publication did not at least use appropriate trigger warnings. The Tatva’s callous attitude towards the reportage of such crime is reflective of the Indian society at large. Just like the bystanders that stood by and watched as the man attacked his spouse, we as an audience have become digital bystanders who are stunned, yet unwilling to make the effort to intervene when publications choose to propagate the sheer savagery of gender-based violence.
It’s not okay: Normalising gratuitous violence
The magnitude of India’s gender crime problem is indicated by the fact that one in three women are likely to have been subjected to intimate partner violence of a physical, emotional, or sexual nature. ‘UP man cuts off wife’s head, walks with it to the police station’ reads the headline of one story while another is titled “Man kills wife by slitting throat’. What the media fails to highlight is the patriarchal nature of our society that allows men the impunity to conduct these crimes. Instead, the focus is always on the barbaric nature or the “unusualness” of these acts.
In a field that is obsessed with TRPs and readership, grabbing eyeballs through the shock-and-horror value comes to the forefront while reporting with sensitivity takes a backseat. The dangers of such reportage do not end here. From suicide to mass murders, research has shown that irresponsible media coverage has resulted in “copycat crimes” across the world.
If the aim of such stories is to inform and provoke action, it is failing miserably on that front too with gender-based crimes still on the rise in the nation. By openly sharing violent videos of such crimes, certain media organisations are choosing to make voyeurs out of their audience instead of an informed viewer and perhaps, making them immune to the seriousness of such brutality.
The way forward
From publishing the names and photos of sexual assault survivors to using representative images of women being harmed in their reports, media organisations have a long way to go in terms of improving their reportage of gender crimes. The focus needs to move away from the survivor to the perpetrator. Several media platforms and human rights organisations have created toolkits with ethical guidelines and best practices for media professionals to use in order to report gender-based violence sensitively, which needs to be adopted by more mainstream media. The audience too needs to exercise their ability to call out publications that engage in depictions of gratuitous violence against marginalised genders. The onus also lies on organisations like the Editor’s Guild to have better systems in place to ensure that the media does not engage in irresponsible reporting that could cause more harm than good.
When it comes to gender-based crimes, there is also a need to highlight the systems that have failed to keep women and people from marginalised genders safe. From the lack of timely intervention by the police, long-drawn cases that stagnate in court and other barriers that prevent women from getting justice, the media needs to shift its lens and follow up with these cases to identify the gaps. The inherent duty of the media is to be the voice of the people, not to entertain but to advocate for change; by failing to do so, they simply become another cog in the patriarchy.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)