NEW DELHI: Over the past fortnight, news channels on television have been nudging the viewers with one persistent question: Is there an absence of security for women, and people in general, in the metropolis?
The reason for this concern are two gruesome rapes in Delhi this October. The metropolis has reported 29 cases of rape and 10 cases of molestations this month itself.
Considering that the electronic media plays a significant role in exposing these incidents - and is, in fact, most powerful in the formulation of public opinion, the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) conducted an audience feedback study on the coverage of the recent rape incidents on TV. The study, called TELEVISION COVERAGE OF RAPE IN DELHI: SHARING THE VIEWERS’ PERSPECTIVE, conducted during the second and third week of October was released recently.
The study was based on the two recent rape cases: On 14 October, a 35-year-old Swiss diplomat was abducted from the car park outside Siri Fort auditorium, Delhi, driven around in her own vehicle and raped. A week before that, four bodyguards of the President raped a 17-year-old girl in the Buddha Jayanti Park.
These two cases have particularly highlighted the fact that conditions for women in the country's capital have deteriorated in the past few months. The survey sought out the opinions and the expectations of people from the media on the way it covered the recent rape incidents.
According to a CFAR release, the audience feedback study focussed on three objectives:
Quality of coverage - The survey tried to elicit the viewer's opinion on the quality of coverage. It checked how far the viewers thought the media was able to influence public opinion on such social issues.
Usefulness of coverage - The survey tried to find out what people thought were examples of useful, inclusive and gratuitous coverage by the media. Or whether they thought it was inadequate and irresponsible.
Pro-active coverage: It tried to find out if viewers thought media could play a more pro-active role in bringing into focus similar cases of violence against society.
Are channels up to mark?
The survey was conducted to find the opinion and the trust the common man has on the media today. Most viewers questioned, the release says, were familiar with almost all news channels like Star News, NDTV India, Aaj Tak, NDTV 24x7 and Sahara. It was also revealed that most students were hooked on to NDTV 24x7 while the less privileged preferred watching Aaj Tak.
The first most important question the survey placed before the people was if the recent rape coverage was satisfactory in terms of the importance media gave to the issue and its quality.
A small portion of the viewers thought the media was adequately playing the role of a watchdog. Another segment of viewers, especially the students, opined that the coverage of rape was useful in creating awareness among different sections of the society. A student of Delhi University, Nabila Hamid, was quoted in the release as saying, "I believe that by exposing what is wrong in the society the media acquaints us with what our lawmakers and law executors are doing."
Another Delhi University student Sapana Shakya was quoted as saying, "It is very shocking. I am gripped with a sense of insecurity. The first question that comes to mind is that if army men rape women, then who can we turn to for security?" She gives a thumbs up to the media for its coverage. "I think they have attached adequate importance to the issue but at the same time they are also sensationalizing it a little bit," Shakya says
While viewers approved of the importance the media has given to the rape incidents, they resented the media's attitude of not awarding equal coverage to all sections of society. They accuse it of a class bias. They opined that slum dwellers say that rape is a routine phenomenon in their area but the media does not report it.
Viewers also said that the media has failed to do justice to the cause of Indian women by stereotyping them as a vulnerable section of the civil society. Respondents from the middle class accused the media of stressing the weaker side of women by making them the object of news items only when they are victimized.
The survey also noted that the more horrifying the situation is, the greater is the feeling amongst people that the media has done its bit to sensationalize it. The media has also been accused of adopting an opinionated style of reporting, which deprives the story of its objectivity.
Are criminals inspired by TV fiction
The CFAR survey also acknowledged people's opinion on television soaps and uncovered that most women felt that many of the perpetrators of violence against women get ideas from TV soaps.
A senior citizen Usha Gupta is quoted in the release as saying, "They should stop showing so much violence and rape in the daily soaps. At least 10-20 per cent of such crimes are affected by such serials." Gupta also says, "News does not intimidate us but serials do. This is because, news tells us nothing but the truth and it is not dramatized."
As for cinema, viewers strongly believe that the media should stop glamorizing nudity of women as it encourages rapists.
Is media promoting social security?
Another question the survey asked was if people thought that media can play a pro-active role in promoting social security.
It was revealed that people thought the media should aim at creating awareness amongst people about the various tools of self-defense which are available to them.
A senior citizen was quoted as saying, "Though the media is right in giving the wide coverage it does to issues like rape, it should also try and propagate that the social security of elderly people is not being taken care of by the government."
Also the viewers said that they would like the media to play a pro-active role in celebrating the courage of victims who dare to challenge the culprits in full public glare. They said that the media should make an example of such people, through adequate coverage.
Media must pressurise law-keepers
People also said, the media should put pressure on the executive and the judiciary for delivering quick justice to the victims.
People thought that uniformed men dare to commit rapes because of their lack of respect for the dignity of women, and most importantly, their confidence that they won't be punished or hanged by the courts.
Respondents gave some ideas on the kind of media coverage that will contribute towards addressing the social security problems at their roots. They stressed on investigation and follow-ups as the only way to coax the law to join in.
Viewers and their habits
The company release stated that a group of 56 respondents representing a cross section of men and women participated in the exercise. The respondents were between the ages 20-60+. Feedback was sought from people who were involved in a range of activities such as students, professionals, housewives, retired people and people from less privileged backgrounds.
Viewers who were questioned included 24 senior citizens, 15 middle-class housewives, 10 students and 7 women from under privileged section.
To sum up, the survey revealed, while the viewers - across all sections - do trust the media and the quality of coverage, they also recognise sensationalism of news and expect the media to be more objective. They want the media to shrug off its occasional bias, its class discriminations and present news in a fair and responsible way. They also want the media to get pro-active in punishing criminals.