The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) has asked news channel Times Now to issue an apology and pay a fine for its reportage on the Jasleen Kaur case.
For those who don't remember, Kaur is a student of the Delhi University who had accused Sarabjit Singh of harassing her verbally at a road crossing in Delhi. She had taken a photo of the incident and it splashed across news channels including Times Now in August 2015.
Kaur was one of the talking heads that night on several news channels and she was backed by members of the Aam Aadmi Party which is the ruling party in Delhi. The incident involving Kaur went viral with her Facebook post being shared over a lakh times. It also prompted a quick response from the Delhi Police who arrested the accused within a day on charges of sexual harassment.
Despite Singh and his family denying the allegations, several news channels continued to hound them. Days later, a man, claiming to be an eyewitness in the case, said the girl fabricated the story.
Celebrities including Sonakshi Sinha had backed Jasleen, but had to later apologise.
The NBSA order, as quoted by Livemint, condemned Times Now's reportage saying it was of an “aggressive, intimidating, and browbeating style". Further, the order stated that the telecast of carried "tag-lines treating the accused as guilty".
According to the Livemint report, the NBSA said, "Broadcasters cannot condemn as guilty persons accused of having committed a crime or offence when the matter is still under investigation or where the court is yet to decided upon the guilt or otherwise of the accused."
The NBSA's rap on Times Now comes as a wake up call for the entire media industry. The Jasleen Kaur case is a glaring example of several factors that is wrong with the media today.
Unlike earlier, when the morning daily was the only source of news, the time between an incident and it appearing on tickers and Twitter feeds has reduced drastically. Often, like in the Jasleen Kaur case, a viral post on Facebook or a tweet is picked up by the media and it becomes a story. In a bid for TRPs and clicks fact checking, accuracy and getting the other side of the story is mostly forgotten.
Technology (in this case, social media) cannot be good or bad. It is just how we use the information which is out there. And there is an abundance of it. So due dilligence and discretion should be thumb rules.
While it was a right for the media to pick up Jasleen's story, the least they could have been done before putting Sarabjit in the witness box was to get his side of the story. As rightly pointed out by the NBSA, "Media howsoever bona fide its intentions are, cannot act as the judge, jury, prosecutor and investigator in regard to any matter pending before a court or under investigation. It should be kept in mind that the reputation or credibility of a person once lost, as a result of a sustained media campaign focus, can never be regained."
Publishing funny viral videos and posts are one thing, but a line needs to be drawn while reporting on such serious incidents.
In digital and broadcast news organisations, the basic rules of journalism are given a miss in the pursuit of being the first to break a story. Especially in cases like Jasleen's, where it has potential to cause outrage, the fastest-person-first attitude always works because the consumer takes what media houses publish at face value.
During these times of fast-paced news, media organisations have to look inwards and be aware of the moral responsibility that rests on their shoulders. The reportage, as we have seen several times in the past, has the potential to make or break a case. A glaring example is the 2012 Delhi gangrape case. It wouldn't be wrong to say that the Indian media played a significant role in fuelling public support for justice in the brutal case. The protests and public outcry that followed resulted in the formulation and changing of laws that punished crimes against women in the country. However, when the public outcry is wrongly directed at one person as a result of shoddy reportage, it can have grave consequences for people involved.
The NBSA order is for all those media houses who, in their unending quest to "get it first", forget that a huge responsibility rides on their shoulder. And that should not be ignored while airing or publishing a story.