The Sarvjeet Singh Case Raises Troubling Questions On The Media’s Role In Reporting Crime Against Women

Posted: November 15, 2019

While there is no doubt that we should report on complaints of harassment or assault of women, it is not the job of the news media to pronounce judgement.

Sarvjeet Singh Bedi was subject to the most vicious kind of personal attacks by some news channels back in 2015 when he was accused of harassment by Jasleen Kaur. Media (and especially television channels) used words like ‘rapist’, ‘pervert’ and ‘Delhi ka darinda’ for him without verifying the facts of that case.

Any incident of alleged violence against women must always come out in the open because more often than not, these allegations are true. For women, to bring out in the open the abuse that they face on a daily basis is never easy because most of it is sanctioned by our society and committed by the very people who have power.

Sometimes, merely reporting on these cases is not enough as the accused somehow manage to escape punishment and go about their lives as if nothing ever happened while the victims face unbearable hardships.

The problem was that the media used this accusation made by Jasleen to pass judgment on Sarvjeet and his family without waiting for the investigation to even begin. A lot of their coverage was extremely biased and the fact that it was done just to get TRPs is even more disturbing.

Arrest, trial and the final verdict 

Jasleen Kaur, then a student of St Stephen’s College in New Delhi, penned a post on Facebook in August 2015, with a picture of Sarvjeet, alleging that he had verbally abused and harassed her on the streets of Tilak Nagar in Delhi. He was later arrested by Delhi Police based on the her post and because of the pressure created by news channels.

The trial that followed lasted for four years, mainly because Jasleen didn’t show up in the court till December 2018, in which the prosecution was unable to prove that the accused was guilty of harassing or abusing Jasleen. The final judgment questioned the veracity of the testimony and case made by the prosecution while absolving Sarvjeet of any wrong-doing.

It is important to note that many such cases in India do not lead to punishment for the perpetrator, due to a variety of reasons including mistakes by the investigation and prosecution. That does not necessarily make it a false accusation. However, it is equally true that the media cannot pronounce its own judgment in such cases.

The mad rush for TRPs

Why does our news media (especially TV) have to slander someone without corroborating the facts? Why does every case become a ‘witch hunt’? It is easy to malign anyone and profit from it precisely because television rating points (TRPs), based on ‘being first’ are the prime metric for success.

Why then should we then trust such people to fight for our rights when it is pretty clear that they will discard the cause as soon as they find it financially unviable?

The fact that a former Times Now employee, a channel that was actively involved in making defamatory accusations against Sarvjeet, apologised for his role shows us the pressure on media employees to put facts aside for the sake of TRPs.

And it is not just media – even politicians and the police are not averse to jumping the gun. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s tweet in support of Jasleen or Delhi Police’s decision to award her a cash prize could have been avoided.

Even after the truth came out, no one in the media officially apologized to Sarvjeet. The fact that they appear to be getting away with their misconduct is even more alarming. 

Hold your media to account! Ask for better standards

It is not just this incident alone. There are several other cases where media has played fast and loose with the truth. There are some channels that get their viewership only because of their misreporting. What does it say about us if we keep on listening to known offenders like them? It is time that we start calling out anyone who engages in unethical journalism and frames someone as ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’ without waiting for any investigation.

Many still watch these channels because either they are the only source of getting the daily news or that people still believe that they are telling the truth. The broadcasters know this, which is why they deliberately keep their audiences misinformed and rake in the profits.

Almost everyone in our country is frustrated by the lack of justice, especially when it comes to crimes against women. So every time we see someone fighting for their rights, we support them wholeheartedly. The news channels realize this, which is why they manipulate our emotions by pretending to be on our side. They painted Sarvjeet as the molester-in-chief while making their life a living hell for him and his family, all for those wretched TRPs.

Image courtesy Quint – Youtube

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