Media is termed as the “fourth pillar” of democracy. It goes without saying that a media that is free of influence and functions independently is a hallmark of a democracy. In a country like India where women’s safety issues, rape cases, grievances has been swept below the rug for decades, it is the media that has brought women’s issues in the spotlight. Often criticized for media trial and despite its several political ambitions and inclinations, the Indian media has proactively criticized and brought into light rape cases from remote corners of the country and has led the movement towards an equal India. It has helped tear down notions of “men will be men” and has instead started a conversation about accountability. Powerful people who would go scot free have been held accountable by the media. Therefore, it was a shocker when the Patna High Court passed a gag order against media reporting on the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case. Although, the apex court of the country, vacated the Patna High Court judgment it highlighted the misuse and abuse of freedom by media houses which needed to be brought to a halt. With great power, comes great responsibility, and the Supreme Court has ensured that the media takes note of the same.
The Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case, is a testament to the fact that power mongers like Brajesh Thakur can go free as long as they are in the good books of ministers and police officials. It took almost two months for the police to file a case about the disappearance of 11 women from a shelter home run by him, Despite the uproar over the rape cases of 30 girls through media activism, the local child protection officer blatantly refused to file a complaint with the police.Much of it, sources indicate, was due to the power that Brajesh Thakur had in the locality.Shocking accounts of rape, torture, drugging, beating- have been since been revealed by the media of minor girls living at the shelter home.
While, giving its judgment the bench consisting of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta urged the print and electronic media to not sensationalise such an incident. This was a case where minors were involved and the media houses have to start acting more responsibly and take accountability for any report published. The apex court also criticised how the Rewari gang rape case was portrayed by the media and all details and accounts of the nineteen-year -old victim was given way. While agreeing that a blanket ban is not reasonable in case of sexual assault or rape case, the Supreme Court disapproved of the way the media had already given its verdict on the accused and their leak of reports and investigations was hampering the ongoing trial. The bench even restrained all media houses to show the victims of sexual abuse and violence in blurred or morphed forms or interview victims who has undergone such trauma. This was held to be in the interest of the victims. Lastly, the court has also asked the Supreme Court registry issue notices to the Editors’ Guild of India, News Broadcasting Standards Authority and News Broadcasters Association so that they can assist the court in this matter.
By Prerona Banerjee,
Student Reporter, INBA.