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Most media oulets threw ethics to the winds by naming the Orissa rape victim

After two months of silence, the nun who was raped and paraded naked by a frenetic mob of Hindu rightwingers in Kandhamal in Orissa, chose to speak about her horrifying experience at a press conference in New Delhi on October 24, 2008. She narrated her ordeal, and issued a signed statement. Many news outlets reported the heart-wrenching tale. But there were others who threw elementary media ethics to the winds and went overboard—they named the victim. Though two-thirds of the news stories that were tracked by Newswatch desisted from identifying the nun by name, a substantial one-thirds did.

If this proportion was not alarming enough, when the researchers narrowed down the number of news items tracked for the study to distinct and original stories, it was found that slightly more than half of the news establishments which reported reported the press conference were guilty of naming the victim.

The fact that deciding to speak to the press was the nun’s own choice, the signed statement was not a fait accompli for news outlets to mention her by name in the reports about the press meet. That two-thirds of the news establishments refrained from doing so, showed that they were sensitive in reporting about sexual violence. In spite of a Supreme Court advisory about not naming victims of sexual violence, the ones who made the most of the “sensational” story did so with their callous handling of a sensitive subject.

There were insensitivities in other areas too:

  • A story by Indo-Asian News Service was carried by two news portals headlined ‘Raped Orissa nun speaks about her sordid tale’. Only edited out the word ‘sordid’.
  • The Telegraph even hailed her as the Indian incarnation of Pakistan’s Mukhtaran Mai.
  • The Times (London) carried the most graphic description of the rape: One of the mob raped her, while two more held her down, and then a fourth tried to rape her again, before they paraded the priest and her, minus her blouse and underwear, along a road, she said.

PROJECT CREDITS: Study supervisor: Subir Ghosh; Research assistant: Priyanka Mittal

Date posted: October 28, 2008Last modified: May 23, 2018Total views: 22