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The News Minute Editorial | November 23, 2014 | 04:27 pm IST 

Some issues are bigger than the people they implicate. The invitation by the Times Group to invite rape-accused Tarun Tejpal to be their guest on two occassions at the Times Literary Festival in Mumbai next month is one such. 

On day one, senior journalist Tejpal will moderate a session in which senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani will discuss his memoirs “A Rebel.” On day two, Tejpal is a panelist in a session named “The Tyranny of Power” along with Mani Shankar Aiyar, Basharat Peer with Manu Joseph moderating. The over-arching theme of the festival this year is “Power as Hero and Villain.” 

Tejpal stands accused of raping a former employee and junior colleague in November 2013 in a lift. There is also evidence of a cover-up by the Editor in Chief of the Tehelka magazine Shoma Choudhury who said conflicting things to the media in the days following the incident.

The matter is sub-judice but a small group of hand-picked journalists were shown footage of what happened in the lift and almost all of them wrote pieces in their respective media outlets stating that the sexual interaction in the lift was consensual and not rape as the employee had alleged. Many of us in the media failed to ask the obvious question – who benefits from the leaks? Bacchi Karkaria, senior journalist and one of the directors of the event has been quoted as saying rape victims cannot benefit from anonymity, but has not commented so far on the power equations that matter in cases such as the one under discussion. 

The organisers, needless to say are the Times Group, recently embroiled in a controversy involving Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone over exposing her cleavage, wherein the publication received considerable flack in social media over its stance on the matter.

Tejpal is well known in media circles. He is credited with having left his own footprint on Indian journalism with a series of investigations starting with one on kickbacks in defence deals (Operation West End). 

Ever since the Times event was announced this weekend, artillery from both sides has been busy – some in favour of inviting Tejpal and others condemning the invitation. Justification has been offered from all sides – Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Asaram Bapu etc.

Hollywood filmmaker Woody Allen was accused of rape by his adopted daughter, science fiction author Late Arthur C Clarke apparently gave an interview in which he reportedly admitted to being a paedophile. 

A justification by definition is exactly that – an explanation of something deemed disturbing by groups of people for or against the motion for the jury to take a final call. There is no running away from the fact that post December 5th, Tejpal will be back amongst us and all will be well for those for whom this was a “minor” incident. The same cannot be said of the victim and it would be hypocritical for us to pretend that she will not be hounded for the rest of her life including by some attending the festival. 

What makes this issue particularly disturbing is that it is about the media, with the media, within the media and against the media, for a media that seeks to remain neutral till the jury is in. There are times when we slip up either by ignorance, lack of information or design. There are other times we get it right. 

On the slow road to justice, in the years that drag on, how does one treat the accused?

While many accused are made social outcasts should media’s behavior include giving the individual a platform to rebuild his/her old contacts, network with people who are powerful? What is to be said of those who give such an opportunity to someone who is accused of a crime of harming another person in serious ways ? According to a report in Hindustan Times, inviting a controversial person is good publicity.

At a time when the Times Group is teaming up with the Huffington Post in India, it seems odd that Ariana Huffington who stands up for women’s issues and journalistic ethics frequently on her twitter line may not be aware of the negativity with which she is riding into the world’s largest and noisiest democracy – India.

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