Is the media guilty of running a parallel trial against the sixth accused in the Delhi gangrape case, a juvenile, despite insufficient evidence to prove his involvement in the brutality?
A petition filed in the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), Delhi, on Thursday has put Delhi police in the dock for selective leakage of information regarding the juvenile, thanks to which a perception has been created that he was the most violent of the accused.
By providing details pertaining to the juvenile, such has his village’s name and family background, the Delhi police violated section 21 of the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, under which juvenile offenders are tried in India, the petitioner, Delhi-based lawyer Imran Ali said in the petition.
Section 21 prohibits the media from disclosing any detail that can lead to the identification of the juvenile in conflict with law (JCL), unless such disclosure is allowed by the authority conducting the inquiry. Violation of section 21 is punishable with a maximum of a Rs 25,000 penalty.
The leaking of specific details about the juvenile is also a blatant violation of two international documents India is signatory of- UN Standards Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice and Conventions of the Rights of Child.
While the police investigation report was yet to be filed before the JJB, news reports had gone to the extent of calling the juvenile “the most brutal” of the accused, “savage” and a “beast”, stated the petition. The petition argues that information given by the police allowed sensational media coverage, which hinders the rehabilitation process of juvenile offenders and results in a negative perception about the JJ Act.
“Such unsubstantiated news coverage serves no purpose except that of shutting down the possibility of rehabilitation and mainstreaming of this juvenile. The damage being so caused is irreversible and is bound to generate extreme hostility towards JCL in society,” Ali said in the petition.
He has also demanded identification of and action taken against the concerned police officers who gave ‘exaggerated’ and probably ‘incorrect’ facts to the media, thereby causing unprecedented vilification of this juvenile.
The petitioner has made Delhi police commissioner and DCP South district as respondents in the matter.
Commenting on the media trial of the juvenile accused, Bharti Ali, co-director of Delhi based NGO Haq: centre for child rights, said the constant reference to his role in the crime by media can harm the juvenile or work in his benefit.
“Fellow juvenile inmates may try to harm him because their image of him is of the most merciless of the six accused. On the other hand, this perception of him can make him change his statement to shift the onus to his co-accused,” said Ali.
Even as the petition raises questions about the role of police and media in the ongoing trial of the juvenile accused in Delhi gang-rape case, a complaint has also been filed with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights seeking review of the provision of the JJ Act which governs media coverage of juveniles.
The Commission is empowered to take cognizance of child rights issues and issue recommendations to the government.
According to the complaint filed by Delhi-based lawyer and child rights expert Anant Asthana, the penalty clause in section 21 does not act as a deterrent. A media organisation can violate the provision and get away with paying a nominal monetary penalty.
"Violation of section 21 should be made a punishable offence as is the case under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act-2012,” stated the complaint.
Going beyond the prohibition on disclosure of identity, Asthana wants the scope of section 21 to be broadened to cover instances of causing stigma or vilification of a juvenile.
“A child who stands stigmatized can never lead a normal life, even after he is reformed. This defeats the very intent and purpose of the JJ Act,” he said in his complaint.
Asthana said that the monetary ‘penalty’ for violation of Section 21 should be replaced by the ‘compensation’ and the government should ensure the same reaches the aggrieved person.
“Ideally a child who suffers should get the compensation which is not the case at present,” he said.