Outlook essay on Tehelka CCTV footage sparks Twitter war

Just when you thought that the Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi versus Arvind Kejriwal versus a bunch of other ambitious politicians war has pre-booked headlines for the next of couple of months, the Tehelka sexual assault case has shot back into limelight. There was no major development in the legal proceedings, but a Outlook cover story which sought to point out the differences in the victim's statements and clips from the CCTV footage stirred up a hornet's nest on social media.

Outlook  published a story penned by Manu Joseph, former editor of the Open Magazine, which suggests that there are several inconsistencies in the statements made by the victim and what the actual CCTV footage from the hotel shows. In the nearly 4,000 word long account, Joseph recaps the victim's , description of the physical interaction between her and Tejpal before and after they entered the hotel lift where the assault allegedly took place, and notes that a number of her claims are not corroborated by the footage shown to him by the Tejpal family.

 Outlook essay on Tehelka CCTV footage sparks Twitter war

Tarun Tejpal. AFP.

At around the same time, another e-zine, The Citizen, helmed by senior journalist Seema Mustafa, reported on the same CCTV footage as the one accessed by Manu Joseph. The editorial concludes with the following paragraph:

"The CCTV footage shows them getting into the lift as outlined earlier, and in 20 seconds they are on the second floor. The door opens, she walks out first, Tejpal follows her out. He then stops and without touching her turns and goes back into the lift. And she runs back behind him and enters the lift. She could have taken the stairs if all that she said had happened, it was just two floors down. There was no dragging back, no pulling her in. And 20 seconds later they re-emerged from the lift on the ground floor, and walk out quite casually together.

The jury is clearly out on this one."

The questions raised about the victim's testimony immediately led to a backlash against these writers and the publications on Twitter with leading journalists, writers and prominent public figures trading accusations. In response to the Outlook story, writer Nilanjana Roy tweeted out a series of articles on how the media should report on rape. Former Hindu editor Siddharth Varadarajan storified the tweets and urged Mustafa, Joseph and Outlook editor Krishna Prasad to take heed.

Some defended Joseph and Mustafa, arguing that neither story went so far as to exonerate or defend Tejpal or blame the victim, but only stated what they saw on the clips from the CCTV footage from the Goa hotel. Others accused the journalists of breaching  ethics of reporting on sensitive matters of rape and sexual assault. Shivam Vij in an extended tweet offered a blistering critique.

"Has the "other side of the story" not been heard in the Tarun Tejpal case? 

Total lies and bullshit.

Did we not hear what Tejpal had to say? Did we not read his emails, sms-es and press notes? Did we not see Shoma Choudhury get endless airtime to defend herself on channel after channel? Did we not see an endless stream of public figures defend Tarun Tejpal on TV: Sanjoy Roy, Alyque Padamsee, Namita Devidayal, Dilip Tahil, Rahul Singh and then some? Have we not read the pieces by Prem Shankar Jha, Roger Cohen, Anusha Rizvi and Manisha Sethi, Palash Krishna Mehrotra, Charu Nivedita, Many Joseph, Seema Mustafa? What do all these people want? Basically, until we start saying the aggrieved woman journalist was lying, they will keep saying 'the other side of the story hasn't been heard'. Shameful dishonesty."

Journalist Aman Sethi, also put out a series of tweets criticising the articles. His tweets have been storified by a Twitter follower here. 

Defending his story on his Facebook timeline, where he has been accused of being insensitive and over-ambitious, Joseph said, "Was this a story or not? I believe it was and I decided to approach it in the best way possible. I met Tejpal and the girl, visited the hotel, travelled in the lift, spoke to the relevant lawyers. People have read the story according to their psychiatric conditions, which is what they do."

Seema Mustafa, on Twitter, alleged that she has been at the receiving end of endless abuse ever since she chose to reveal the contents of the CCTV footage.

Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, according to Indian Express, declared on Facebook that everything that the victim says in her statement is falsified by the contents of the footage which he claims to have seen.

The Indian Express reports that the victim's step mother has written to Outlook expressing shock at the article they published and how it traumatized the victim. She writes:

“My stepdaughter has faced the most vicious character assassination campaign ever known in recent times… We see her every day and we know what a living hell her life has become… Perhaps this is exactly what every victim of sexual assault has to go through if and when she dares to stand up to her aggressor. Call her names, attribute false motives, give it a political colour and generally cloud the issue.”

The magazine responded with the following statement:

"The ‘Outlook’ cover story speaks for itself. It is not intended to interfere in any way in a matter currently before the honourable court. It is a balanced and nuanced journalistic exercise into a sensitive story and represents all points of view, including that of the Prosecution.”

Updated Date: Apr 01, 2014 15:47:17 IST