Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Times of India's coverage of a rape: insensitive and inaccurate

This morning's papers all covered the tragic gangrape of an American student studying at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The Times of India's story, written by V Narayan and Anahita Mukherji, was headlined, 'US student raped by batchmates in Mumbai'. I heard of the incident last night, but it was a fresh shock to wake up to this headline. I found it hard to believe students of TISS would commit such a crime, given the institution's concern with fighting institutionalised discrimination of all kinds.
Reading the full Times report, I found the 'batchmates' theory was being advanced by the police, who were the source of virtually all the information in the piece. The only other voice in the article was that of an unnamed person from TISS, who contradicted police claims that the rapists were students of the institute.
How did the Times so confidently speak of the rapists being TISS students though there was an alternative version being put forward, and though the police are notoriously bad with facts in such matters.
It now appears the TISS source was right, and the police wrong.
Another shocking bit in the Times report was this opening line, "A 23 year-old American scholar at the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) at Deonar was gangraped after a drinking binge in a Mumbai apartment, police said on Wednesday." What kind of binge is it which has a woman sleep through a gangrape and wake up only the next afternoon? Isn't it far more likely the rapists had a plan already in place, and spiked the victim's drink? Why use words like 'binge' at all, which dredge up the sordid history of the victim's character being made the centre of rape trials, aside from giving the impression that maybe the rapists were too drunk to know what they were doing?
The writers will claim they were only quoting the police, but how many policemen in the city even know what the word 'binge' means? The sentence is no direct quote, and probably involved translation from Hindi or Marathi, which means the final wording was entirely up to the reporters.
I just read a newer article which quotes the vicitim saying she believes her drink was spiked, exactly what the circumstances suggested in the first place. She also speaks of how the police did not help at all when she first approached them the day after the rape.
The Times is fond of silly stunts like italicising the word 'alleged' in every crime report, presumably to highlight the contingent nature of what is written. It would do better to sensitise its reporters to the need for a careful use of words when writing about such important issues.


Anonymous said...

isn't it sadomasochism at its best ... reading ToI day in and day out ? Like watching "Gossip Girl", you know its bad, you know you are more mature than that - but still you keep watching :D

(ok .. I know its a serious issue .. but come on!! .. ToI sucking ! what else is new ?)

Unknown said...

Good point raised.

Media is all set to have a blast with this incident,albeit, relying on sources that do not always convey the whole truth, thus making it very easy to manipulate, and incite the crowd.
Few factors that add spice:

1. victim is American.
2. A student of prestigious institution like TISS.
3. everyone involved, is from urban middle class.
4.the six accused are not from Amchi Mumbai. MNS/Shiv Sena must be happy with all the fodder for more "demonstrations"...with the elections at hand.

the victim deserves her privacy. the accused should be heard too, and not just be treated as hard core criminals until they're proven guilty.

personally, i believe, the fact that three of the accused are absconding,and the remaining did not attempt to escape along with them, should show us some sort of difference in the actual involvement of the two groups created among the accused.

Dr. Ally Critter said...

Isn't it always made to look like the victim's fault when there is a rape? If not, why do they report it as "Girl raped" not "someone raped a girl". The very language used makes it into a perpetrator-less crime. Like the rape just happens.

Girish Shahane said...

I wouldn't go that far. We often read headlines like 'Man murdered', or 'Police Camp Attacked'. Indians are fond of the passive voice. I'm not going to analyse why that is so, but it is a fact.

Mr. D said...

You should do a special on bad reporting from the Times, though it might take you a lifetime....

Anonymous said...

just one probably unpopular point: while the girl's identity is always concealed, the alleged rapists' is never, with photographs et al. when the charges may eventually turn out to be false (present case unlikely) , but the damage to the males is done.

LotusEater said...

What was it that Bob wrote in his poem Hard Rain " the executioner's face is always well hidden"

Anonymous said...

the reporting has been terrible. Tiss ought to sue TOI for slander. and for good measure take on the cops as well...our cops are notorious for leaking info and its high time they got their come uppance.

and why have we not had any more election posts pl ?
S Anand