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The Anatomy Of The Media’s Justice System

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When you want to understand what’s happening with a story that everybody is talking about, whether it’s a university protest, a murder or a financial scam, whom do you trust to give you all the information? News platforms, right? Not everyone can go to the scene, speak to the people involved and understand how the case is being handled in court. So we depend on the people who can.

This puts an incredible responsibility on news media – responsibility to deliver the information accurately, to get all sides of the story and to outline the order of events. So when this responsibility is not taken seriously, when it’s rife with scandal and conjecture rather than facts and figures, the media creates its own ‘alternative’ justice system, conducting independent investigations, encouraging public speculation, holding trial and giving sentences.

Here’s a detailed look at the anatomy of this alternative justice system.

By choosing to cover one thing more than another, or choosing to ignore one story in favour of another, news media decides for you what you should consider important. By setting its own priorities, it prioritises for you. The problem with this is that when the people prioritise one thing over another, policymakers follow too.

In August 2017, many parts of the country experienced floods and many human lives were lost. However, the case of a Mumbai-based doctor falling into a manhole during the floods in the metro dominated headlines around the country. This coverage brought people’s attention to the problems with the city corporations. PILs were filed and action was taken. Meanwhile, the 520 lives lost and 1.72 crore people affected from just 19 districts of Bihar were almost completely ignored. The state government was mainly occupied with its political power struggle. Some ignorant ministers even blamed the flood on rats. So while justice was served in that one area in Mumbai, thousands in Bihar have been left to rebuild their lives on their own.

News media has the power to turn the heads of the people and government in any direction. If this responsibility isn’t taken seriously, it can lead to a gross miscarriage of justice.

News media is a service, yes, but it’s also a business – and like any business, it needs to hit the numbers to be sustainable. But, is providing the service more important or hitting the numbers? Well, it depends on whom you ask.

The media landscape today is pretty dynamic. Every news channel and organisation wants to be the first to report ‘breaking news’ and get as many views and TRPs. So, it’s not uncommon for a newsroom to let journalistic ethics take a back seat. That means grabbing eyeballs with the most sensational news stories or even just sensationalising stories that could have been covered more respectfully.

The reportage we saw about veteran actor Sridevi’s death is the best example of this. Considering that the death was sudden, the authorities were still investigating the cause of death when the media began its own speculations. From the anchors questioning her choice of beverage to showing visual effects of the actress floating in a bathtub, it seemed like the media was in a race with the authorities to figure it out. When the case built by the authorities was not scandalous enough, they even went so far as to make their investigation look botched. This only encouraged the public to add to the speculations, guessing if it could be the work of Botox and plastic surgery. Even the constant loops of her dead body being carried out were toeing the line of irresponsible journalism.

Being sensitive to all parties – the victim and their family, the perpetrators, law enforcement – involved in the due process of law rests on the shoulders of media. Numbers or no numbers.

The media can use its knees to squat and lift a case up or pull it down. Investigations carried out by the media can be real assets to exposing criminals and making sure they are brought to justice.

During the Jessica Lal murder case, the media pointed out loopholes in the investigation and forced the judiciary to take a fresh look at the case. Tehelka’s investigation and reporting of cricket match-fixing scandals and Operation West End to expose corrupt defence deals are landmark cases that show how news media can be a sharp tool against crime. Indian Express’ contribution to studying the Panama Papers and holding the Indian perpetrators accountable demonstrate how news organisations can also be the catalysts of justice.

But sometimes, they go too far and in the process, they become liabilities rather than assets. The Supreme Court has time and again criticised the media’s role in the miscarriage of justice by creating a high-pressure situation to deliver a verdict based on what the nation wants, rather than the facts. This can be seen in the Arushi Talwar case, where the victim’s parents were convicted, even though there was plausible deniability – all because popular public opinion, aided my media conjecture, demanded it. Even in the Nithari serial murders, the trial court convicted the main accused Mohinder Pandher due to media and public influence, despite having no substantial evidence.

Here’s the bottom line – What news media talks about has impact. Not only on our minds and psyche but also in real life. Court judgments are skewed to the point that verdicts eventually have to be reversed when the court reconsiders a case after the media coverage of the case has dialled down. That’s what happened in the case of the Nithari serial murders, where one of the charges against Mohinder Pandher was overturned. This is also true in cases where the government changes its stance due to media coverage. After the extensive coverage of the floods in Mumbai died down, attention was given to Bihar and some flood relief action was brought to them.

This means that the political and legal will to do the right thing exists, but excessive and unfair media coverage can be a deterrent to this justice. While the intention behind news media vigilantism may be good, the outcome is not always positive.


Do you think media vigilantism is effective and should be encouraged or do you agree that it must be exercised only when appropriate? Tell us in the comments below.


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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