The nonstop media coverage of a young woman who died after being gang-raped on a Delhi bus is being criticized by local newspapers, media critics, and even some members of India’s Bollywood community.
Worldwide, coverage of the incident has spurred awareness of the brutal sexual assaults that are common in India, but critics in that country say the circuslike, play-by-play media accounts could spur more violence. As demonstrators stormed the capital last week demanding that the government do more to protect women, the Indian Express cautioned that the protest rallies are being “amplified and primed up hysterically by the electronic media” and are “in danger of becoming even more driven by bloodlust.”
Writing on his Facebook page, the Bollywood film star Amitabh Bachchan slammed the media for eschewing the human element of the story in lieu of sensationalistic “breaking news,” which serves little purpose other than to turn the incident into a kind of sporting event. “Ethics be damned!!,” he posted, citing an anecdote in which a journalist once dressed herself up as a doctor to visit him in an intensive-care unit.
Others called the local press hypocritical for capitalizing on the worldwide interest in a single case when it has habitually been silent in the face of decades of sexual violence against women.
“India can’t hide itself now,” wrote Dhruba Jyoti Deka, chief editor of the Times of Assam, an English-language news portal serving the northeastern Indian state. Citing several victims by name -- including Bhanimai Dutta, a 14-year-old girl who was reportedly gang-raped by men in the Indian army in 1991 -- Deka wondered why such media firestorms have not occurred in the past. “No justice done, no voice raised by even a single national media,” he wrote.
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Some of the criticisms aimed at the Indian news coverage mirror those hurled at the American media in the wake of violent tragedies such as the deadly shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which fuel a frantic 24-hour news cycle desperate for the next tidbit. No shortage of media pundits have pointed to the media’s role in perpetuating violence by turning mass shooters into celebrities, as recently exemplified by Rin Kelly in Salon.
Still, many human-rights organizations have, like UN Women, welcomed the media attention given the Delhi gang rape, which has underscored the need to improve both the general conditions for Indian women and the police response to rape allegations.
The 23-year-old gang-rape victim -- a medical intern who has not been identified -- died of her injuries on Saturday at a hospital in Singapore, where she had been taken for treatment. Her body was cremated Sunday. The woman suffered internal injuries from the attack. According to local reports, the woman and her male friend were returning from the movies on Dec. 16 when they boarded a bus in South Delhi and were attacked by men wielding iron rods. Six men, including the bus driver, have been charged in the case.
Delhi has the highest sex-crime rate among India’s major cities, with an average of one rape being reported every 18 hours, Reuters reported Sunday.