Sunday, April 26, 2009

Horrifying "un-coverage" of sexual assault

The sensational "un-coverage" of the sexual assault on an international student from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, has generated wide discussion.

The most immoral of the reporting has been in the Mumbai Mirror, one of a family of tabloids published by the Times of India group. As an editor and working journalist since 1983 and a teacher of journalism in Pune since 1987, I am horrified by this reportage, which violates all the ethics of journalism. The reporters who covered the story, the sub-editors who allowed it to pass, and the editor in whose name the paper is published, deserve to be severely censured by the community of professional journalists.

Among the many protests against the sickening coverage is an article entitled, “Who is the Sleaziest of Them All”, written by Shilpa Phadke, a sociologist, researcher and pedagogue; Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar, documentary film makers and academics, who teach and research in the area of media and cultural studies.

The protest features in “Ultra Violet” a superb blog taken out by a community of young feminists blogging on various issues, challenges, and triumphs that affect women in India today. Ultra Violet, in turn, is an initiative of the Hengasara Hakkina Sangha, a women’s rights resource centre. You may write to them at: ultraviolet.editor[at]

I am not actively attached to any publication today and so I am unable to take up this issue as a professional journalist from inside a newspaper. However, through my blog “Against the Tide” I want to raise my voice, instigate and rouse each and every one of my students (past and present), friends and colleagues everywhere, to completely familiarise themselves with the various issues at stake.

We must protest in whatever we can, through professional bodies, signing petitions, and campaigning inside offices and even on the streets, against the scandal-mongering coverage and sensationalism that is becoming rampant today. This is a part of the rotting disease that is destroying the core of journalism in India.

Please keep up the pressure and build a strong movement among journalists for responsible reporting.

Your support is our strength,
- Joe.

Pune, Sunday, 26 April 2009.


Mohan said...

"....the scandal-mongering coverage and sensationalism that is becoming rampant today. This is a part of the rotting disease that is destroying the core of journalism in India."
Joe, my friend, pray, why are you becoming so hysterical?
Why doesn't the Mumbai Mirror coverage bother me? Because that is the journalism of today and that’s what sells. That is what the average reader (not the more discerning ones like you and me) want to read.
First the newspapers publish the story, notch up their circulation figures and then publish an apology. After all, doesn’t cost them much to say sorry. Much less, I’m sure, than the copies they've sold that day!
Remember the Mira Road incest case? A staid, broadsheet newspaper like the Hindustan Times published on its front pages in lurid detail, the story of the victim. Why? I think we know the answer to that.
If you remember, during the serial blasts in GK market, TV channels and even some Delhi newspapers flashed the picture of the little boy who saw the bombers. I spoke to a friend of mine in HT Delhi the next day and her answer was “Don’t blame us, the TV channels started it. So why should we be left behind?”
You can get as hysterical as you want, but the newspapers are going to keep doing this, because THAT IS WHAT READERS WANT.
Let me quote from my own blog
“Most people pick up the morning papers and read the page 3 stuff, the peccadilloes of the rich and famous, and the sports pages, because hard news is old news! The down side of this media explosion is that with news channels in a race for TRPs the concept of ‘breaking news’ has been sent to the cleaners!
And for that, I was called a defeatist!

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Mohan,

I am not as cocksure as you are that what appears in sleazy tabloids like Mumbai Mirror (and Pune Mirror, if I amy add), is "what readers want".

Some readers, certainly. You are good company. Even the BBC, I am told, has "discovered" that viewers of 24x7 TV news like gossip and half-baked stories.

But there is a significant number who stopped buying Pune Mirror, when the TOI group decided that it was not going to be complimentary and that readers had to buy it.

The TOI would not dare to release the print order for Pune Mirror, when it was complimentary and now when it has to be bought. That would give us a rough idea of the hard-core readership that wants (or does not object to) sleaze, for we know that sleaze, like porn, has its niche readership.

Again as in "No! No! Nano", may I remind you that hysteria is NOT my affliction, so please desist from imposing it on me.

My purpose is to try and rouse journalists against the tide that washes people off their feet and shoves them down the drain towards "Page 3", sensationalism and sleaze.

I make the same attempt while instigating the readers of my blog against war or violence. I will not take things lying down. I resist the tide. Therefore, against the tide.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Gauri Gharpure said...

Speaking in a strictly personal capacity, I have this to say:

While we attribute anything that goes in print to the newspaper house, it largely revolves around the ethical stands of just two kinds of people: a) the reporter and b) the sub. Many a times, what the reporter says finds its way to the newspaper unsieved because in most cases, the story has come at the last minute and huge disappointment though it may be, major revisions and editing will leave an acute space crisis. Like, a 600 word story filled with fluff and ridiculous writing, if subbed to size, may end up being only 100 words, thus leading to a huge crisis of shuffling the entire copy slots -- a disaster with the deadline lurking dangerously close... the sub is in a fix and the reporter has merrily left for home feeling like an invincible king..
good reporting can only start and be finetuned at an individual, professional level. we could do with intense classes on morals at all journalism schools

Joe Pinto said...

Gauri -

Yes!!! As a sub, beware of the last-minute doodhwalas, who dump over-diluted copy. Warm them! Keep substitute copy ready the next time, so that you are not at their mercy to fill the page.

Thank you, Gauri, I will introduce a series of "intense classes on morals" in the journalism classes I teach in Pune.

Fortunately since 1987, my students so far have appreciated the values I espouse in class, even if the free-marketeering money-grubbing editorial managers, sitting in deep corporate pockets, have other ideas.

Besides I'll keep hammering on my blog too. The best of my students and colleagues shall desist from sensationalism and scandal-mongering as in the "Mirror" tabloids of the TOI group.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Mohan said...

Hi Joe,
I think you seem to have confused me with one of those readers who wants to read "the sleazy stuff"! As someone who learned my journalism under you, I'm dismayed you think that of me.
Believe you me, it saddens me even more to see the news presented the way it is.
But as much as you and I might talk about a return to morals and ethics in journalism, in the present times (pun intended) market forces (unfortunately) play a big role in deciding what we read and how it is presented.
I would happily go back to reading the news as it was presented then. Unfortunately, and as Bob Dylan famously sang, "The times they are a changin'"
The second point, do we even as News Editors and even Resident Editors, have the authority to defy our seniors? As a News Editor just a few years ago, there were occasions when even the RE was instructed that a copy had to be used in a certain way for various reasons. Sometimes copies were edited and sent along with instructions that they were to be used as is. NO changes please!
On one occasion we had to repeat a quarter-page story in one of our pullouts, for a very big business house, only because the reporter in question left out ONE LINE and the business house threatened to stop the ads. So where are the ethics?
Can your student Gauri defy her editor who wants the news slanted to suit a certain section of readers? She can argue her case, but if the editor of her paper wants to carry the statement of a rape victim in detail, that's how it will go, won't it?
I also talk about ethics and morals in journalism in my classes and the kids listen. But out there, in the real world, how they grasp the nettle speaks a lot about their own values and what they have imbibed from their teachers.
And Joe, you'll be delighted to learn that some "money grubbing editorial managers" have banned their children from reading the tabloids!