Media harassment of Nalsar students: How can it be prevented?
A look at the implications of the controversy surrounding the media coverage of NALSAR students leaving a Hyderabad pub.
‘Drunken ladies hulchul in Hyderabad’, ‘Special focus: Girls romance in hostels and rooms’, ‘Drunken women creates hungama.’
These were among the headlines of news programs recently aired on local TV channels in the south India. With videos of youngsters- preferably girls- arguing on camera, running away from it or being chased, the programs offer a programmes that almost attempt to of titillate through voyeurism. The content often comes closer to resembling a reality show than news footage. While media organisations bask in the glory of unearthing scams and relentlessly attacking the government, these programs present a flip side of the power of the lens.
In the latest episode, students of Nalsar Law University, Hyderabad, have put a slew of regional channels in the dock for depicting them in a program in a misleading and defamatory manner.
On the morning of 12 April, news channels including TV9, Saakshi TV, Studio N and ABN Andhra Jyoti, aired a news story in which they claimed minor girls had created ruckus in an inebriated condition in Hyderabad. The Nalsar students in question have refuted the story saying it was a concocted version of what actually happened.
Nalsar student and a witness to the episode, Shruthi Chandashekharan, said she was aghast to find that in this age news channels think pub culture and hostel culture constitute news stories.
“It deepens the gender stereotype which we are trying to fight. They should understand that the Indian culture we talk about is actually heterogeneous,” she said.
Doctoring facts to get eyeballs is one of the ways to misuse the power of media, said PN Vasanti, Director of Delhi based Centre for Media Studies. The trend of manufactured stories, said Vasanti, is something which encourages those demanding regulations on media.
“This is what happens when you use the potential of camera and microphone for unethical purposes. They don’t realise that they are cutting the branch on which they are sitting,” she said.
Vasanti underlined that the difference between national and regional media is visible in coverage of such incidents.
“National television channels are somewhat conscious about the consequences of such stories. They have also formed a few associations for checks and balances. But local media is unaccountable and most of the times, get away with such incidents,’ she said.
TV9, one of the channels which aired the story on NALSAR students, faced flak in 2011 when it carried a news programme titled ‘Gay culture rampant in Hyderabad.’ The channel revealed names and personal details of members of the gay community, noted the Centre for Internet & Society, a Bangalore based NGO working on privacy issues.
National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) took suo motu cognizance of the matter and slapped TV9 with a fine of Rs one lakh.
“After receiving TV9's defence, Justice Verma of NBSA issued his decision on the 22nd of March. In his order, Justice Verma was unconvinced by any of the defences raised by the channel and held that TV9 had violated Clauses five (Sex and Nudity), six (Privacy) and nine (Sting Operations) of the NBA Code of Ethics which bind news broadcasters. TV9 was ordered to display an apology for carrying the story on its channel for a fixed duration during peak hours. In addition TV9 was also fined an amount of Rs. 1 lakh to be paid to the coffers of the NBSA,” noted Privacy India.
However, prima facie, the NALSAR episode seems more than just an breach of privacy. It is an attempt to identify and seclude a certain community and reinforce the point that belonging to that community is not the ideal thing to be.
“It used a combination of voyeuristic images, factual misrepresentation and perhaps infringement of privacy to de-legitimise certain social behaviour - what we commonly have come to know as the ideological practice of moral policing," said Vibodh Parthasarathi, Associate Professor at the Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.
"This may contribute to, cumulatively, the inculcation of a sense of fear. And incrementally perhaps even a chilling effect on the unfettered behaviour of individuals and, in cases, of groups,” he said.
Delhi-based lawyer and activist Mihira Sood said in cases like the one involving Nalsar students, victims should diligently take recourse to defamation laws.
But a blanket law that extends to all media organizations is not the solution, Sood said.
“Then we will be entering into the realm of curbs on the freedom of press. That is a very slippery road. I am all for free press, but free press should not mean creating such stories to cater to the lowest common denominator. I believe the solution lies in non- legal strategies, self regulation, for example,” she said.
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