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Hyderabad shame: How the media 'framed' innocent women

After the Delhi gangrape incident, the television media in India hasn't stopped portraying itself as the saviour of women; as the one entity that asked all those tough questions without which crimes against women would have remained unnoticed.

But as four girl students of  National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, University of Law Hyderabad, (NALSAR) found out, television media can very often turn against women.  Firstpost spoke to two of the girls, Prachi Arya and Adwitiya Das about the incident that took place outside a pub in Hyderabad.

So what exactly happened? The students had just finished attending their farewell party thrown for them by their juniors in a pub and when they got out a man with a video camera started filming the girls present at the scene.  Prachi who was present says, "We were just getting done with our farewell thrown by juniors and were taking cabs, when we saw a guy taking videos of girls from his camera phone. We demanded that he hand the phone over." The man did eventually hand over the phone but it was a different phone without the video footage he had shot.

When the girls went back to confront him, a bigger crowd had gathered and while the girls tried to explain the situation to the police, a media crew from a local station turned up.  From then on things took a downturn with media crew recording the girls, despite them explicitly asking the media persons to not record. In fact the crew didn't even allow them to leave. Says Prachi, "The cameraman thrust his camera into the cab and we couldn't even the shut door while trying to leave the place."

Representational Image. AFP

Representational Image. AFP

What followed after that was a very conveniently edited story on regional television networks about loose girls, pub culture and abusive women. Prachi points that the footage had run on a number of channels and one channel even claimed that the blue films were being distributed at the pub in question.

According to Adwitiya, "Thanks to the vicious editing it looks as if we were belligerent and drunk when it was not the case." In fact one of the videos, blurs out the top of a girl to indicate as though she was in a state of undress which was certainly not the case. You can view one of the videos here.

Adwitiya points out that local media in the city has taken to running several of such 'anti-pub' culture stories. She says that the road which has pubs often has television crews lined up waiting for some or any scandalous footage that they can later edit and run to suit their ends. "In the minds of the audience this is sending out very wrong message and in fact the media is distorting public discourse by running such defamatory content," she adds.

As far as the police were concerned, the girls say they were helpful and did try to defuse the situation. "One of the policeman standing there offered help when we confronted the first guy who was taking our video. He said they had called their senior (police officers) and were waiting for them," said Prachi.

Adwitiya also points out that the camera men of the media crew in fact also called up the DCP of the city to complain about  the girls. She said the camera guy lied to the DCP stating that the girls were creating ruckus at around 1 am in the night, when in fact he made the call at around 11.30 pm.

For now, NALSAR has also come out to help its students and asked the channels concerned to take down the footage and apologise for the content. The students have also started online petitions on Change.org seeking action against media channels that report voyeuristic and sensationalist stories about women.  (You can view their petition here.)

But as the two girls point out this isn't an isolated incident. It seems for local news channels running stories about 'drunk' women outside pubs is an excellent TRP magnet. Of course, the stories have a Aaj kal ki naari angle attached to them and wax eloquent about the morals of the women in question.

The incident brings to mind the shocking video footage of what happened in Guwahati where a girl was molested by a mob while a television crew recorded the whole act. In fact in the Guwahati incident it was alleged that the media played a role in inciting the mob and was itself running a story on 'anti-pub culture.' As we had noted on Firstpost earlier, this was how the channel played out the story initially, "Angered by the fracas caused by two inebriated girls on the busy GS Road, people beat up the duo this evening to teach them a lesson. They even went to the extent of tearing the clothes of one of them." Of course, later the same channel claimed that it had not been for them the culprits would not have been caught.

While the girls in Hyderabad did not face any such violence, but what stands out in the both incidents is the dubious role played by regional television channels. Clearly the media in our country has very little moral qualms about what it shoots and how it presents those stories.

Before clamouring to position itself as the protector-in-chief of women and criticising political leaders and police for their gender insensitivity, perhaps the television media in India could do with a little self-introspection about how it represents women.