Report on the Public Meeting organized on Justice, Human Rights & Media Trials

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.

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National Dailies cover Justice, Human Rights & Media Trials – The Death of Khurshid Anwar & Beyond

Campaign for Khurshid Anwar organized a public meeting on Justice, Human Rights & Media Trials – The Death of Khurshid Anwar & Beyond on 22nd February, 2014 at Press Club of India. Leading national dailies have covered the meeting extensively and focused on many important issues raised.

“It’s been two months since Khurshid Anwar, executive director at  Institute for Social Democracy, an NGO, allegedly committed suicide by jumping from his third-floor residence at Vasant Kunj after some news channels aired clips showing a woman accusing him of rape. The family alleges that police haven’t registered a counter-FIR till now, and there is no progress in a defamation complaint by  Khurshid Anwar on November 29.”

Read full article here – Anwar kin demand speedy probe – The Times of India

“Shohini Ghosh, professor at AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, said with the social media gaining prominence, it was difficult to draw a line between the public and the media.” Read full article here – Lens on sensational reporting, ‘trial by media’ – Hindustan Times

“Speaking on the topic, “Justice, Human Rights and Media Trials — The Death of Khurshid Anwar and Beyond,” noted filmmaker Anusha Rizvi said, “Nowadays, if a person is a victim, he/she goes to the media and social networking websites and not to the police. In doing so, the law is undermined as it should have been reported to a government agency in the first place.”” Read full article here – Demand to probe activist’s death – The Asian Age

Saeed Naqvi, veteran journalist said that till the system remains the same, we will see many such Khurshid Anwars come about. We need to come together and demand a speedy probe into the matter. Read the full article here – Khurshid Anwar mamle ki ho vistrit jaanch – Jansatta

 

Remembering Anwar, a victim of media lynching – Prof. Purushottam Agrawal writes in The Asian Age.

Prof. Purushottam Agrawal has written in the Asian Age on the hurry to act and its dangerous consequences.

“Everybody, including intellectuals, seems to be in a hurry “to act” on their chosen causes. The idea that calm reflection must precede any action — individual or collective — seems to have become quite old-fashioned. Even in the response of institutional structures to serious issues, one can discern a mob mentality under the garb of political correctness. The growing reach and power of the electronic media is contributing greatly not only to the creation, but also to the institutionalisation of such a mentality and needs to be balanced with a sense of responsibility and ethics.”

“Such laws are not empowering individual victims but rather “representatives” of identities which have a stake not only in perpetuation of conservative power structures, but also in creating an even more oppressive state machinery. The presumption of innocence till proved otherwise has been replaced by the presumption of guilt; instead of the state proving the accused guilty, the accused has to prove his/her innocence under a regime of so-called “progressive” and “empowering” laws.”

Read the full article here.

Prof. Purushottam Agrawal is a visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies. He was formerly member of UPSC. To know more about Prof. Purushottam Agrawal, visit his personal website.

Public Meeting on Justice, Human Rights and Media Trials – The Death of Khurshid Anwar and Beyond

Campaign for Khurshid Anwar invites you to a public meeting on Justice, Human Rights and Media Trials – The Death of Khurshid Anwar and Beyond on Saturday, 22nd February, 2014 at 3:30 PM at the Press Club of India, Raisina Road, Windsor Palace, New Delhi.

Speakers:

Arundhati Roy, writer

Saeed Naqvi, veteran journalist

Syeda Hameed, member of the Planning Commission

Seema Mustafa, veteran journalist and editor in chief of TheCitizen.in

Poornima Joshi, political editor of The Hindu Business Line

Shohini Ghosh, Professor at AJK Mass Communication Research Centre

Anusha Rizvi, film maker

Saheba Faruqui, All India Democratic Women’s Association

… And other academicians, activists and journalists.

It has now been two months since the shocking suicide of well-known activist Khurshid Anwar but the police have still not registered an FIR on the matter.

Following his death on the 18th of December, Dr Anwar’s family filed a formal complaint with the police on 23 December 2013. This complaint accuses several persons of propagating a false charge and causing irreparable harm to Dr Anwar’s reputation which ultimately drove him to suicide.

Dr Anwar’s family and friends have come together as the Campaign for Khurshid Anwar to press for a thorough investigation. This demand does not presuppose his innocence of the serious charges levelled against him.

Our Demands:

1. A thorough probe, without assuming the guilt of either the accused or the accuser. The probe must go into the entire chain of events unfolding on Facebook and the events pertaining to the distribution of the CD shot by Madhu Kishwar.

2. Action against those who vilified Dr Anwar on social media even before charges had been framed, ultimately pushing him to suicide.

3. The formulation of a transparent set of guidelines on crime reporting by TV news, to preserve the dignity of both the accusers and the accused, and to prevent cases of ‘trial by media’.

Strangely, our democratic and reasonable demands have been misrepresented, variously, as: harmful to ‘feminist causes’, an attack upon people from Northeastern states, an act of vengeance etc.

We are shocked to learn that a demand for a thorough probe, without assuming guilt on either side, can be reacted to in this manner. Particularly when a life has been cut short. Those asking us to ‘move on’ are suggesting they have no faith in the legal process.

Any complaint, whether ours or the one levelled against Dr Anwar, cannot be treated as the gospel truth and can only be substantiated in the light of an investigation and due legal proceedings.

Dr Anwar was denied a legal process in life. We appeal to self-anointed czars of various kinds of ‘isms’ to not deny the same to him in death, and to avoid trampling upon the rights of his family. 

Trial And Error | The Caravan

A balanced and well written article by Supriya Sharma of The Caravan on the motivations and the dangerous implications that follow when the media assumes the role of the court of law.

She notes, “Even when well intentioned, recent coverage of sexual violence has tended to degenerate rapidly into a series of trials by media, with the media arrogating to itself and the public the powers of both judge and jury. As a consequence, the media has chipped away at the already precarious agency of assault victims, and also undermined the possibility of justice being delivered.”

She echoes our dissatisfaction with hyped and slanted media reports when she writes, “A news report that relays only the essential details of an alleged assault might make for less riveting copy, but it is also less likely to impinge on the privacy of a victim or unfairly denounce an alleged assailant.”

She ends the article on an important note, “In the recent high-profile cases, we might have done better to stick to the more neutral “complainant”. That would have amounted not to unfairly doubting the testimony of the women who came forward, but to rightly doubting the media’s ability to be a court of law.”

Read the full article here.

Kiran Shaheen supports our demand for thorough probe into the case.

Khursheed was a dear friend and I always believed in his genuineness and still do.
I wish his name comes clean and we must make efforts .
– Kiran Shaheen

Dr. Vasanthi Raman supports Campaign For Khurshid Anwar.

Dear Friends,
I am with you wholeheartedly in this issue. While I did not know Khurshid Anwar personally, but I do know his brother Ali Javed and also know what the struggle is all about. I am fully with you and all others. You may add my name in any petitions/letters etc.
– Vasanthi Raman