When rape claims prime time

IN Books | 14/01/2013
TV news channels devoted 252 hours of prime time to rape coverage in December.
RADHIKA SACHDEV says this is a big improvement on the 46 minutes devoted to the subject in March 2012

The Delhi gangrape threw open the floodgates of angst against the impotent State machinery.

It emerged as a metaphor for the whole middle class’s abject vulnerability. To be sure, there have been other rapes more brutal than this one, including of minors, mentally and physically challenged women but none got the media or the public so incensed.

Ignoring Information & Broadcasting Minister Manish Tiwari’s advice to TV channels to exercise restraint, the maximum hysteria over the incident was whipped up not just by a clutch of private channels, namely NDTV 24x7 (1,998 minutes), Aaj Tak (1,104 minutes) and Zee News (1,275 minutes) but also the national broadcaster, DD News that devoted 1,208 minutes (way beyond the 92 hours of prime time) to the Delhi gangrape incident.      

Almost nothing, in the past or present compares with this kind of media attention, roughly 7,551 minutes or 252 hours of news coverage, special bulletins and talk shows against the 46 minutes devoted to all rape cases in March 2012 and 17 minutes to cases of molestation, according to a study carried out by the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS).  (The March data was CMS’ annual report on media coverage of gender-based violence and the most recent data  available on this issue).  

DD News’s coverage was most surprising as the protests were mostly directed against the government and the police inaction. CMS’s content analysis shows that a bulk of DD News coverage was live footage of the protests at India Gate. “At best, DD coverage was about countering attack from the private channels. At worst, it was busy wiping egg off the government’s face. “They had little choice in the matter. They had perhaps never dealt with such a mass reaction before,” remarks Prabhakar Kumar, the head of the CMS’s Media Lab.

Finance minister P Chidambaram came on air (virtually, a first) to announce a judicial probe into the incident, followed by our usually taciturn prime minister Manmohan Singh’s address on the victim’s death that called for calm, while the police commissioner Neeraj Kumar also made an appearance to apologise for the police’s inaction. According to media reports, Pankaj Pachauri, communication adviser to the prime minister, was taken to task for Singh’s theek hai?” that cut no ice with the viewers.

“We’d not seen DD News floundering like this before, not during Ambika Soni’s time and not even during the pinnacle of Anna Hazare’s anti-graft campaign at Ram Lila Maidan,” remarks Kumar.

Indeed, the only other instance that compares to the Delhi rape incident, albeit by a long shot in the amount of media attention that it received, is the Aarushi Talwar murder case. A CMS media analysis done in June 2012 revealed that six channels beamed news and special programmes on the double murder for 39.30 hours between May 16 and June 7, 2012. That’s 42 per cent of prime time stretched over 23 days. By that yardstick, 252 hours devoted to the Delhi gang rape is almost six times over and it’s still not fallen off the channels’ radar!

Besides the duration, the other important distinction between this and the Aarushi case was the media treatment accorded to the two crime incidents involving two young women in their prime. While the Aarushi case had elements of pulp fiction with a mysterious twist, in the Delhi rape case, the motive was never in doubt; the sequence of events is well established; the main accused are already in the dock; just the soul-searching question looms large – why did it have to happen?

Indian Express was the first to do a sociographic profiling of the seven accused in its Sunday edition following the incident, but even that fails to explain the mindless violence in our midst. These seven men were not mentally unhinged. So was their depravity a product of their deprived backgrounds? We still don’t know the answer.  

Instead, media is trying to sensationalise the issue and not giving space to rational thought with a commitment to human rights. It is not airing experience and expertise on how to counter patriarchal values in a manner that would get people thinking. “Many of our talk shows and panel discussions come across as highly imbalanced,” says Saumya Uma, an independent consultant on gender, human rights and the law. “The way they keep focussing on the demand for death penalty and chemical castration actually goads and influences public opinion in a regressive manner. The same with the continued demand for 'quick justice,' and fast track courts with no regards for fair trial standards,” she adds.

Despite such wide coverage, the weightier  issues on gender-based violence remain unanswered, giving plenty of leeway to self-styled godmen like Asaram Bapu or the President’s son, Abhijit Mukherjee, to stoke the fire with their over-simplified, outrageous theories on what drives men to such crimes.  

The question is: how long will this newfound media interest in rape last?

“Not very long. Then public anger and public memory will fade. The media may occasionally revisit the issue, but will not be able to pursue it in the same persistent and intense manner. If people's interest moves on to other issues, so will the media's, that eventually reflects what people want to see,” says Uma.                          

Prime Time (7-11 pm) Coverage of Delhi Paramedical Student Gangrape Case and Related Issues

(17-31 Dec 2012)

Channel

News stories

Time

Specials

Time

Total Time

Aaj Tak

33

200 min

41

904 min

1104 min

DD News

78

709 min

20

499 min

1208 min

Star News

225

300 min

31

626 min

926 min

Zee News

89

418 min

46

857 min

1275 min

CNN IBN

72

353 min

23

687 min

1040 min

NDTV 24x7

49

559 min

33

1439 min

1998 min

Total

546

2539 min

194

5012 min

7551 min

 

Source: CMS Media Lab

 

Prime Time (7-11 pm) Coverage of Women & Girl Children-related Crime Stories  (March 2012)

 

 

S.N

Story Topics

Aaj Tak

DD News

Zee News

Star News

CNN IBN

NDTV 24x7

Total

N

T

N

T

N

T

N

T

N

T

N

T

N

T

Subscribe To The Newsletter

Doordarshan interviewed  two BJP ministers in the afternoon about what they thought of Rahul Gandhi's speech during the no-trust motion, and why BJP MPs had felt the need to come outside Parliament and attack him. Ministers of state Ashwini Chaubey and Ram Kirpal Yadav answered at considerable length and were allowed to have their say. The reporter also asked one of them what he thought about RG's hugging the PM and he effectively snorted in disapproval. When a panel discussion began after this,  more leading questions from the news anchor about this 'jadu ki jhappi."  And more criticism followed.                        

Moneycontrol.com  says that  HT Media has reported a drop of 86 percent in its net profit for the June quarter to Rs 5.8 crore against Rs 41.5 crore reported by the firm during the same quarter of last year.  In May this year however  HT Media had reported over a two-fold increase in consolidated net profit  over the previous quarter, according to TOI.                     

View More
Announcement