Tarun Tejpal video: Times Now's use of material proof in an ongoing trial undermines law, ignores victim's rights

In June 2016, Arnab Goswami spent a significant portion of his primetime news show on Times Now denouncing so-called “#PseudoTejpalLiberals”. In particular, he lambasted “known” liberals like Bachi Karkaria, Prahlad Kakkar and Shazia Ilmi, who had all come out in support of senior media editor Tarun Tejpal as he faced rape charges by a former colleague. Their support back then was apparently bolstered by a video that was allegedly being circulated among Tejpal’s friends. The recording showed Tejpal and the colleague entering and exiting a hotel elevator in which the alleged assault took place.

Back then, Times Now’s editor-in-chief and star anchor angrily referred to “the alleged perpetrators' point of view”, a video “given” to liberals by Tejpal to sway opinion in his favour and hinted darkly at a “powerful campaign which is happening in Delhi to influence minds” and attempt “to put pressure on a due legal process by transmitting footage and building opinion against the victim”. He also vehemently questioned some of the people who claimed to have seen the footage. He asked how they could be sure that the video was not doctored.

Fast forward to 28 May, 2018. Times Now, now sans Goswami, in a three-hour-long primetime news broadcast spread over two consecutive episodes anchored by current Times Now editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar and managing editor of politics Navika Kumar, discussed the ongoing Tejpal case and actually showed the controversial video recording of Tejpal and the victim.

 Tarun Tejpal video: Times Nows use of material proof in an ongoing trial undermines law, ignores victims rights

File image of Tarun Tejpal being arrested and remanded to judicial custody in a Goa jail. Reuters.

The channel’s stance on the issue of Tejpal’s guilt does not seem to have changed since 2016, but its method of argument and presenting ‘proof’ has taken a total U-turn: While continuously asserting Tejpal’s guilt, it aired in-camera evidence that was never meant to be shown publicly outside court, accompanied by what appeared to be a retelling of the victim’s entire testimony, followed by a dissection of the events that focused in painful length on the harrowing details of the victim’s account.

So back in 2016, Times Now lambasted “liberals” for viewing and basing their opinions about this case on a video, but now the channel is relying on the same dubious footage to make its arguments.

Whatever its motivations, Times Now’s actions were illegal. Thanks to amendments to India’s rape law made all the way back in 1982, rape trials are held in camera in India. In order to protect the victim’s privacy and dignity, such trials are deliberately not held in open court, but in private, closed hearings are not open to the public. And the evidence presented in these proceedings is also protected and cannot be published without the express permission from the court, and certainly cannot be splashed onto our television screens.

According to Supreme Court senior advocate Rebecca John, Times Now’s action clearly violates Section 327 (2) and (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, given that the video has been presented in court as part of the body of evidence. Not only this, the additional Court in Goa, in which this case is being heard, has even expressly prohibited this video to be shown to the public. Obviously, the channel pays no heed to the law and has no qualms about airing evidence in a rape case. The hypocrisy here has sprouted a whole new ugly head: Times Now didn’t just break the law, it also went against its own previous editorial assertion that there was reasonable doubt the videos were doctored, and more importantly, were released by Tejpal himself to sway opinion in his favour.

Some social media commentators were virtually scratching their heads in confusion, wondering why Times Now was airing footage that would potentially make a case for Tejpal, or at least enervate his “liberal” support base, when he’s been such a popular enemy of Times Now’s favoured right-wing for so long. Others asserted that this was a concerted effort to deflect attention from the recent Cobrapost sting, which showed how the Times Group, among many other media houses, will happily accept money in exchange for publishing certain kinds of political stories that support extremist agendas.

Journalist and author Kalpana Sharma caustically tweeted to Times Now that in “pretending you are for the survivor, you are making her relive the horror. I know that you’re not in the business of journalism but this has touched a new low.” Journalists Geeta Seshu and Ranjona Bannerjee suggested that the episodes on the Tejpal tapes were a distraction from Times Now’s involvement in the Cobrapost sting, with Bannerjee even calling it a “cheap sleazy and disgusting” move.

Activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association Kavita Krishnan also pointed out how the channel has actually illegally aired the court’s property, and in doing so, certainly has not helped the survivor. The National Women in Media Network has also published a strongly worded statement detailing which laws and guidelines laid down in the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and News Broadcasting Standards regulations of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) the channel has broken.

Soviet film director and theorist Lev Kuleshov believed that a careful juxtaposition of completely unrelated shots could be used to manipulate the emotions of the audience. He once edited a film that showed viewers the same shot of a man’s expressionless face, alternated with shots of a bowl of soup, a coffin and a beautiful woman. Viewers weren’t aware that the shot of the man’s face remains unchanged, and automatically felt that he looked hungry when he looked at the soup, sad when looking at the coffin and happy (or something) when looking at the woman. This is called the Kuleshov effect.

In the same way, if you see a picture of a child and apple with a headline about world hunger, you’re bound to feel the child looks hungry. A picture of a straight-faced woman and a headline about widowhood, makes you think she looks sad. And if you see the very same straight-faced woman alongside a headline about dominant businesswomen, you’ll probably read her expression as a sign of her competitiveness, competency and martial dedication to work.

It feels like Times Now, forgetting that it is in the business of news, attempted a rare toxic blend of the Kuleshov effect and kuchh bhi: Manipulating the emotions of the audience using the same piece of evidence, just accompanied by radically and almost laughably different commentary, innuendo and analyses, in an attempt to manipulate viewers into believing exactly what the channel wanted, the law and consistency be damned.

Perhaps in response to the subsequent outrage, Times Now has now deleted the video from the online version of the story, making it clear that the channel is now fully aware that it shouldn’t have broadcast it in the first place. Too late now though, isn’t it?

The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women’s magazine delivering fresh and witty perspectives on politics, culture, health, sex, work and everything in between.

Updated Date: May 30, 2018 19:11:32 IST