The editor’s media trial

Published: February 21, 2014

The writer is a journalist with Scroll.in in Delhi. He is a Multani from Lucknow, who finds himself trapped in the Republic of South Delhi. He tweets @DilliDurAst

It is a test of the fairness of a country’s criminal justice system if it applies the same standards of justice, mercy and efficiency to the rich and the poor. A criminal justice system that works better for the rich is not a just one. To the extent that the rich can always hire the best lawyers, we’re never going to have real equality before the law. But we must still try.

The voices are growing louder and are no longer limited to drawing room outrage. More and more people are gathering the courage to publicly defend Tarun Jit Tejpal, former editor of Tehelka news magazine, who has been in jail since November 30. The real problem that these people have is that Mr Tejpal is one of us, or that he was a good guy who stood up against the Hindu right or that they don’t see sexual assault and rape by Mr Tejpal as a serious matter. Such matters become serious only if a lower class person does them.

But since these arguments can’t be made publicly, the insidious reasoning goes something like this. Firstly, we are told about trial by media. What’s funny here is that when the Indian media began its culture of doing campaign activism for one or two cases, Tehelka had a key role to play. It was Tehelka that mobilised youth and TV cameras at India Gate to ask for justice for a murdered model, Jessica Lal. Tehelka even did a sting operation on the issue. Nobody wondered how the accused felt about such a trial by the media.

Secondly, Mr Tejpal wants a trial by media. Since his legal case is so weak — he’s admitted his crime on email — he knows the only battle possible to win is the media battle. His friends and family are going around meeting editors and opinion-makers to argue their case. They’ve also taken to Twitter to argue their case. A mass email was sent out by someone who used the victim’s photograph to say that she looks okay and suggests her allegation is false. Why would his reporter, who worked with him for four years, accuse him of rape?

So, while the Tejpal campaign has the right to make its case before the media, the media does not have the right to ask tough questions of him? You ask him why his versions have been changing and it becomes trial by media? He wants the CCTV footage released to media and public so that we can voyeuristically watch and decide if the victim looks traumatised or not? That’s not trial by media?

Then there is the issue of bail. Mr Tejpal has been in jail since November 30 and hasn’t got bail. That is because bail in rape cases is difficult in India, for everyone. Asaram Bapu, religious guru far more popular than Mr Tejpal, has been in jail without bail for far longer on rape charges. Why should the law make an exception for Mr Tejpal?

Mr Tejpal and his friends think the law should be nice to him because he’s a champion of secularism. This is amongst the more disgusting things said in recent times about India’s religious minorities. Allowing Mr Tejpal to get away with sexual assault amounting to rape is not going to prevent Narendra Modi from becoming the prime minister of India. The fight against fascism, communalism and other bad-isms of our times would benefit much more if we were consistent in condemning wrongdoing, regardless of whether the wrongdoer is secular or communal.

Moreover, Mr Tejpal claims the Goa government has unfairly put him in jail because Goa is ruled by the BJP. Does he mean that if Goa was under Congress rule, the police would have been soft on him? Which means the victim could not have had justice if Goa was ruled by the Congress? The Congress party should condemn the suggestion that its cronies in the media have the right to rape women in Congress-ruled states.

Lastly, the new Indian rape laws are not draconian. Even Tehelka magazine had supported them. They are merely in line with rape laws in many developed countries. Would we be calling these laws draconian if the accused was a watchman?

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Reader Comments (11)

  • Parvez
    Feb 21, 2014 - 1:23AM

    In this you seem to convey the fear that somehow or the other Mr.Tejpal may walk free by resorting to media manipulation tactics and your faith in the legal system appears anaemic……..it looks like you’ve jumped the gun.
    Then calling attention to something that you feel is wrong, is absolutely your right to do.

    Recommend

  • Toticalling
    Feb 21, 2014 - 1:35AM

    Shiwam, you are real liberal with courage, talking about weaknesses in Indian justice in a Pakistani newspaper. Hat off to you. I may disagree with you sometimes, but as Krishnamurthy, the late philosopher used to say: As long as your destination is the same, it does not matter which path you choose to get there.

    Recommend

  • water bottle
    Feb 21, 2014 - 7:22AM

    Well done.

    Somehow Indians have a tendency to hype and call our media and justice system as being close to perfect or at least on its way to perfection.

    The reality is, both have crumbled and falling down by the day.

    Good to see some honest analysis of India.Recommend

  • Gratgy
    Feb 21, 2014 - 11:19AM

    I was watching Timesnow yesterday, Tejpal seems to be losing the media battle as well

    Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Feb 21, 2014 - 11:42AM

    In Pakistan he would never had seen the inside of jail and would have been honourably acquitted.

    Recommend

  • Gp65
    Feb 21, 2014 - 11:54AM

    It is not often that i agree with Shivam Vij but in this case i do agree with him.

    Recommend

  • Himanshu
    Feb 21, 2014 - 8:28PM

    I love this guy.Recommend

  • Hari Om
    Feb 21, 2014 - 11:07PM

    Rather than asking for a “Media Trial”, Tarun Tejpal and his supporters may be much better placed by asking for a “Pakistan Trial” given the Shariah Islamic Law derived provision in Pakistan’s penal code which requires four pious Muslim male witnesses for rape to be proven.Recommend

  • gp65
    Feb 22, 2014 - 12:07AM

    @water bottle:
    Unclear how this shows weaknesses in Indian judiciary. Has Tejpal been given bail because he was powerful and connected? No. Did Asaram Bapu get bail? No.

    All it points to is the hypocrisy of some media persons including Tejpal himself who conducted a media trial against Modi for over a decade (even after courts acquitted him) and now complain about a media trial.

    Certainly things in India are not perfect but they are better than they were in the past and moving in the right direction when it comes to issues related to violence against women.Recommend

  • Deendayal M.Lulla
    Feb 22, 2014 - 11:53AM

    What about e-mails written by the accused? He should opine on these.

    Recommend

  • Neha
    Mar 4, 2014 - 10:51AM

    Hello,

    I stay in USA-mentioning it because I am far away from India-where all this happened. I came to know about this incident from the email leaked on the Facebook. If through that email we can believe the ‘victim’ and the Goa Government can take action, why cannot the public like me question the facts in the email. How can someone press the lift buttons and perform actions mentioned in the email at the same time? There are many facts which are mentioned in the email which we have the right to question; not because I am against the ‘victim’, but because she wants us to believe the facts written there without questioning. Why cannot people question the fact as to why she entered the lift twice with Mr. Tejpal. After all, the email was leaked to the public through facebook, so why cannot the public question those facts? Do you get it.. maybe if it were not these emails that were leaked, people like me will not have doubts, but because the case was put out to the public forum..

    Recommend

More in Opinion