A public meeting was organized on Feb.22, 2014 at the Press Club of India in New Delhi to discuss cases of ‘trial by media’ and the potential for misuse of stringent laws recently enacted by Parliament.
Prominent journalists, activists and academicians discussed the implications and long term consequences of ‘sensationalist reporting’ indulged in by the media, particularly on television, in the meeting organized by the Campaign for Khurshid Anwar.
It may be recalled that Anwar, a well known NGO director, committed suicide on the morning of 18 December last year after being accused of raping an activist, after the allegation got played up on social media and on television. The family and friends of Anwar have been alleging that he was driven to this desperate step as the complainant did not take recourse to legal process and did not undergo a medical test. A social media ‘campaign’ was run with a view to harm Anwar’s reputation and professional interests, it is alleged.
Veteran journalist Seema Mustafa made a sharp attack on the phenomenon of ‘trial by media’, saying that loud reporting blurs the specific differences between different cases, uniformly casting all accused as guilty and usurping the role of the courts.
Film-maker Anusha Rizvi noted that in certain recent cases “people who are not really powerless have chosen to go to the media, rather than following the due legal process. This is a very disturbing trend as the media cannot act as judge, jury and executioner”, remarking that allegations of sexual assault are a very serious taint and the accused deserves a reasonable chance to clear his name.
Senior journalist Saeed Naqvi expressed the fear that unless remedial measures are taken urgently the media will lose what is left of its credibility.
The newly amended criminal laws, which were updated in the wake of the rape and killing of ‘Nirbhaya’ were also discussed, with academician Shohini Ghosh saying that “feminists and activists got carried away with emotion after the shocking December 16incident, and a law was enacted which can be grossly misused”.
Anwar’s family have filed a criminal complaint with the police on December 23, accusing certain persons of making false charges, and abetting suicide.
Apoorvanand, professor at University of Delhi and a friend of Anwar’s expressed his disappointment at those who want the matter dropped, saying that they are trampling upon the rights of his family.
Certain activists representing North Eastern interests raised questions at the conclusion of the meeting, and demanded that justice be sought not only for Anwar but also for the girl who has leveled allegations against him.
“The Campaign for Khurshid Anwar wholeheartedly welcomes this demand made by our north eastern friends. We have been insisting that the police file an FIR and investigate the matter from all angles. Only then can the whole truth come out and all involved can get closure”, said Ritwik Agrawal, spokesperson of the campaign.