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Jose Thettayil sex tape: No one should have to see that

There are some things that simply should not happen. No child under the age of 5 should be told Santa Claus doesn't exist. Fans of Narendra Modi shouldn't be engaged in a debate about his 'loh purush' persona. To do such a thing is cruel and unusual, and serves no purpose other than upsetting everyone involved. Similarly, under no circumstances, should a simple Google search on an individual lead to a sex video as the first suggestion.

Jose Thettayil. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Jose Thettayil. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, former minister and present MLA of Angamaly, Kerala, Jose Thettayil and his son Adarsh were accused of having subjected a woman of abuse over a period of a year. She claimed that after promising to marry her, Adarsh began to abuse her. This continued for a year, until October 2012. Somewhere along the way, the woman alleges Jose entered the picture, as her father in-law to be, and joined in the abuse. According to The Hindu, she said she filmed the abuse on a webcam so that there was documentary evidence to support her claims, and at the time the report was filed, the police said they hadn't got the videos.

Well, the Internet claims to have it even if the police don't. Put "Jose Thettayil" in Google and the first suggestion is a "leaked" sex video. If this is indeed the incriminating 'evidence', then it must be stated that any abuse here is being inflicted upon those who click that link. Albert Einstein is believed to have said, "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's relativity." The Thettayil duo's sex video -- if this is indeed the incriminating evidence that the accuser collected against the two Thettayils -- is less than a minute but if you watch all of it, chances are you will feel like a year of your life has been brutally taken from you. Partly because absolutely no one needed to see the elder Thettayil's bare bottom but also because the woman in the video is plainly seen smiling. Her teeth gleam through the blur of low-resolution (which is the one saving grace of this video. These sights in HD would be more effective than any family planning campaign). The only thing more soul-destroying than the images in the video is the idea that someone may actually be titillated by it.

Abuse is no laughing matter, contrary to the expressions of the parties involved in the video. However, the implications of this video being so freely available are beyond the confines of this particular case. Those who scream hoarse about how women fabricate claims of abuse against men will in all probability pounce on this video as proof of how men are falsely accused or how women enjoy being abused. The video has already been aired on a few news channels, which is alarming because it's distinctly A-rated. Considering television channels are threatened with dire consequences for sexual innuendo in their programming, it's ridiculous that this content was aired without any censure. Why? Because it's under the guise of journalism, with "guise" being the key word.

Let's face it: the only people who need to see the sex tape are those entrusted with the responsibility of deciding whether or not the Thettayils abused the woman who has accused them of such behaviour. When a channel chooses to air that video in a news capsule, it's not reporting the facts of a story; it's trying to grab eyeballs tastelessly and behaving irresponsibly.

There's been a lot of debate of late about the role of journalists in our society. The recent governmental report on paid news was scathing in its analysis of Indian media's impartiality and Indian journalists' conduct isn't helping our reputation. A senior editor at a leading newspaper thought it was tasteful and necessary to ask one of the IAF pilots rescuing stranded pilgrims in Uttarakhand, "So what was it like for a Muslim to be one of the first to come to the aid of Hindu pilgrims?" (Read story here) Television journalist Narayan Pargaien thought it made complete sense to send a video capsule from Uttarakhand while sitting on the shoulders of a man who had, by Pargaien's own admission, "lost a lot" in the flood and had "very little food and water". As far as Pargaien is concerned, he paid the man (who insisted the journalist sit on him) Rs 50 and the villain of the piece is the cameraman. "This was entirely the cameraman’s fault, who, it seems, almost tried to sabotage my career by shooting from that distance and angle and releasing the video mocking this whole incident, and making me the villain," he told Newslaundry.com.

The worst part about scandals like these is that when good journalism is needed -- during crises and complex cases, like those involving allegations of sexual abuse -- the Indian media seems to be hell bent on proving its ineptitude and greedy sensationalism. The justification is always that the viewers or reading public want it, that this is simply a journalist doing their job. Except of course it isn't. The role of a journalist is not to exploit circumstances, but to report them and provide perspective. So here's a news flash: journalism is facing enough challenges in the modern era without journalists themselves making the tribe a laughing stock.