‘A rape victim I knew was shattered by the media’s character assassination’

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Deepak Bajpai, 38, spoke to Revati Laul about the pressures faced by reporters to dig out the juicy details

Deepak Bajpai, 38
Deepak Bajpai, 38

In his 17-year career, Deepak Bajpai has been passionate about crime reporting and doing investigative stories. He has worked with Dainik JagranThe Indian Express, NDTV and CNBC before joining NewsX as an assistant editor. This is his brutally frank take on why reporting a rape case often ends up in character assassination of the woman and protection for the perpetrators.

When you start out as a cub reporter covering crime, what are the pressures you face?
I remember a story I did for the Indian Express in 1996. There was a girl who was raped 100 times by people from affluent families. Once we broke the news, it became a sensational story and all the newspapers and channels got onto it. They started carrying details about the girl, alleging she was of easy virtue, possibly planted by the police. For a brief moment, even our newsroom got a bit carried away and asked me to get the girl’s details. It was a difficult time for me as a cub reporter.

But when such situations arise, don’t most crime reporters succumb to the pressures of the newsroom?
Of course, it happens all the time. In the Jessica Lal case, a mainstream daily ran a story making all kinds of insinuations about Jessica Lal’s character. Such information is often given out by cops to indirectly help the accused. In another case, a victim I personally knew, was completely shattered by reading media reports that described her as someone of loose character. Reporters don’t realise that this actually makes it difficult for the girl to stand up and face the trial court.

The practice of taking the police version in press meets at face value and reporting it live, what has it done to crime reporting?
That’s a horrible situation. There’s a lot of pressure on beat reporters. Whenever there is breaking news, the reporter has to immediately go live and give details. Many times there is hardly any information about the accused or the victim, and the reporter is unable to get in touch with the cop who’s investigating the case. So when the reporter is on live TV, s/he starts feeding the channel with things that are often just hearsay and rumours. In the heyday of print journalism, we at least had a day to develop stories with accurate information. But for a reporter to get his facts in 30 or 40 minutes or sometimes even 10 minutes is a bit too much to expect.

Would the Aarushi murder be such a case in point?
I covered the Aarushi case. Even a day after the girl was murdered and her body was recovered, the police didn’t know anything. They had so much to hide. The case was completely botched up by the UP Police. So they tried to distract media attention by spreading untrue statements of her character and her life. And the media was very receptive. There was huge pressure from the editors. So even if a reporter doesn’t want to do a certain story, he is under tremendous pressure because other channels are running the same story and the editor is after your life.

Did you face this pressure?
A typical day in the newsroom kicks off with a morning staff pitch meeting. At one such meeting, a story that was being pitched did not even exist, and it was extremely difficult for me and other reporters to convince our seniors. Finally we told them: Boss, we are not pursuing this story. If you want to pursue it, please recruit someone else.

Is it true that once a build-up for a story is done it becomes difficult to annoy the bosses?
Of course, people try to plant stories all the time, and very often senior journalists are responsible for such plants. When they write such stories, news channels follow the same story the next day. In television, even if a reporter doesn’t agree with a story, s/he will find some newsdesk person standing up in the newsroom and doing a live report on it. So television has made it difficult for the reporter to stick to his guns.

Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka. 
[email protected]

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Article first published on 31 Mar 2012.

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