On January 7, 2011, the Hindustan Times, Kolkata edition created a new bench-mark for sleazy journalism by carrying a front page, seven column lead story on a MMS clip, purportedly the "hottest of this year."
The story under the byline of HT Kolkata correspondent Soumen Datta was about how a student of a city college recorded a sex session with her boyfriend and posted the clip on the site of an "adult Indian English magazine." A lead story of this nature smacks of an attempt to titillate readers and has many precedents. But what is unprecedented is that the story goes on to name the girl (but not her partner) and her college, disregarding the standard practise of changing or dropping names before publishing.
Sample this - "Although nobody really knows since when the MMS has been doing the rounds, one thing is clear that the third-year English honours student wanted her act to be recorded. She was even heard directing her partner to place the camera at a suitable position to record everything properly."
The reporter got the girl, her friends, teachers, psychologists and even poet Sunil Gangopadhyay to comment on what she did. But the comments only added to the critical labelling which becomes clear as the story unfolds. The report quotes the girl as saying that "It’s personal. I don’t want to discuss this with anybody”. It then expresses 'amazement' at the 'indifference' of her teachers and friends towards her 'mercurial', if not ‘indiscrete,’ act because they were quoted saying that “We don’t want to interfere in the personal lives of two adults".
But it also mentioned how people outside the immediate circle of her teachers and friends do not hold the same view and chose to condemn her 'act'. “Her act will do no good to society” and “I think the girl is smart and innovative. Society has to change” were some of the quotes used to drive home the point.
According to Damayanti Sen, joint commissioner of police (crime), uploading the video was illegal and in case a complaint is lodged a case could be initiated against 'them'. But it is not clear what was the motive behind playing up this story? Why did the reporter choose to name the girl? It is interesting to note here that the name of the girl's partner was not mentioned anywhere in the report.
The reporter Soumen Datta was asked about the inconsistencies and missing links. According to him the girl was named because she had no issues with that and was going about town with nonchalance. Apparently he was unable to find out the partner's name and the girl chose not to divulge his name.
And lastly the only reason for doing the story according to him was to highlight the growing trend where such clips are being made only to be used later for blackmailing, which is also leading to suicide attempts. But this was an unique case according to him so he went ahead with the story and took the opinions of many people, all of whose quotes could not be accommodated.
The interest in the video is only likely to increase and the report did a fine job on promoting the video and demeaning the girl. On Wednesday (January 4, 2012) Samar Halarnkar wrote in an opinion piece in the same paper on how people in positions of power routinely demean women and wondered about the "kind of thoughts coursing through the mind of emerging India." Next time he can use this news story as an example to make his point.