Journalists/media houses could be prosecuted for disclosing rape victim’s identity: PCI to SC

Journalists/media houses could be prosecuted  for disclosing rape victim’s identity: PCI to SC
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NEW DELHI, November 15: Facing ire of the Supreme Court for being soft on media houses and journalists and not taking stringent action against them for violating law by disclosing the identity of rape victims, the Press Council of India has told the court that it is willing to take up the task to launch criminal prosecution against them.
In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the council contended that it has been given very limited power to just issue censure against media organisations for violating laws and breaching standards of journalistic ethics and suggested that the body should be given more teeth to take action against erring persons.
The council filed the response after the apex court pulled it up along with other media regulating bodies including News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA)— for treating media houses with kid gloves and not acting tough against them for journalistic misconduct and violating law by disclosing identity of rape victims.
“It is humbly stated that Press Council of India Act does not provide for initiation of criminal proceeding against the person violating provisions of the Act. Therefore, the Council does not have mandate to launch a criminal prosecution, which may however be initiated against the offenders by the Police under other statutes. However, the Council is ready and willing to take the responsibility of informing appropriate authorities empowered to launch prosecution against such erring news reporter/journalists, if such responsibility is given to the council,” it said in its affidavit.
Responding to SC’s queries on action taken by it in such cases over the years, the council said that it censured only two media organisation in 2017 for disclosing the identity of victims.
In view of recent media coverage by print as well and electronic media in which identity of rape victims in Kathua and Muzaffarpur shelter home rape cases had been made public, the apex court agreed to examine on framing of guidelines to protect the identity of victims and had sought response from PCI, NBSA, Indian Broadcasting Foundation and the Editors Guild on whether they were willing to file police complaint against media organisation to initiate criminal prosecution after the alleged violation of law was brought to their notice.
“People should know that a particular media organisation has committed a criminal act (by revealing identity of a rape victim) and somebody has to be prosecuted. It is a violation of a penal statute and you have to function as per law which says that people need to be prosecuted,” the court had said.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act(POCSO) bars media from disclosing the identity of a minor rape victim including his name, address, photograph, family details, school, neighbourhood or any other particulars and making it as offence with imprisonment for a period not be less than six months which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.
NBSA in its affidavit said that punitive action was not taken against even one media organisation despite getting around 2900 complaints against them in the last ten years out of which 18 complaints were made on reporting of sexual offences by the broadcasters. As per NBSA report, the authority did not take any action in 7 out of 18 cases and it let off the channel with a warning to be more careful in 7 cases and in 3 cases it asked the broadcasters to tender unconditional apology. In one case no violation was found on the part of news channel.
The court is examining a petition filed by social activist Nivedita Jha who moved the court through her advocate Fauzia Shakil in Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case. She challenged the Patna HC order restraining media from reporting on the case. Agreeing with her plea, the apex court had stayed operation of HC’s gag order but decided to examine whether guidelines is required for media to protect the identity of rape victims and had sought response from media regulating bodies. (TNN)