ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revisiting the Legal and Ethical Framework Governing Media Reportage of Sexual Violence

A Crisis of Identity

Current media reportage of sexual assault cases in India not only violates journalistic norms but also gravely impacts the victim’s right to privacy. Against the backdrop of the Kathua gang rape and the #MeToo movement, this paper argues that the law surrounding the identification of sexual assault victims must be amended to help better secure justice for victims, while also ensuring that their dignity is safeguarded. Adult victims ought to be granted statutory agency to speak out regarding instances of sexual violence they have faced although separate guidelines are required for the reporting of child sexual assault. Additionally, the ethical guidelines governing media reportage of sexual violence must be revisited. With respect to #MeToo, while media houses should report accusations, they are also required to ensure that pronouncements of guilt are not being made

In April 2018, reports of a brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in the Kathua region of Jammu and Kashmir sent shockwaves throughout India. However, in the ensuing media outrage, which was undoubtedly justified, the media failed to follow certain important due process norms with respect to the reporting of sexual assault. These violations were blatant—the name and photographs of the child were plastered all over print, television and online media. The Delhi High Court took suo motu cognisance of the matter, stating that it was an absolute violation of the victim’s right to privacy under the existing legal framework, which bars the media from revealing the name of the victim (Hindu 2018).

Against this backdrop, this paper seeks to illustrate due process norms with respect to the media coverage of cases of sexual assault, and four issues arising thereof. First, it illustrates the agency exercisable by adult victims and their next of kin in disclosure of their identities. Second, it suggests that there are differences applicable with respect to survivors as opp­osed to cases of sexual assault leading to death and/or murder. Third, it illustrates the differences in norms applicable to the reporting of child sexual assault. Fourth, it highlights the ethical and legal issues that arise when reporting on accusations of sexual assault or harassment where the victim has not sought formal recourse, as was seen in the reportage following the Harvey Weinstein accusations and the #MeToo movement.

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Updated On : 17th Jul, 2021

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