Considering differing versions have emerged about the video from the husband and wife, the media was irresponsible to air such visuals.

Karnataka SPs affair with married woman Why media airing the video was unethicalImage for representation
news Media Monday, July 16, 2018 - 16:36

On Monday, a report appeared in the front page of several newspapers. Bengaluru Rural SP Bheemashankar S Guled has been accused by a woman’s husband, Shekhar*, of coercing her into sexual intimacy.

While his wife, Shobha* is supposedly missing, Devanagere resident Shekhar (40), filed a complaint against Bheemashankar at the Koramangala police station on July 5. The police have registered a non-cognisable offence under section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Shekhar also released videos of his wife and Bheemashankar together as ‘proof’, which a few media channels aired. Many just blurred the woman’s face and showed their photos and one intimate video of the SP and Shobha.

While Shobha is said to be missing, she reportedly told a news channel that she and Shekhar had a dispute, and that the latter had fabricated the videos to defame Bheemashankar and her. According to other reports, Shobha said she was a victim of domestic violence and had been living separately from Shekhar for a few months now.

Bheemashankar, meanwhile, has denied the allegations against him.

It isn't just the matter of telecasting the video as news. The video was aired with judgmental comments by media channels, even as the facts of the case remain murky. One channel for example, resorted to calling the act a ‘rasaleela’ and accused the SP of “breaking families”. This, even as Shobha has supposedly accused her husband of domestic violence and is reportedly estranged from him.

With the matter pending investigation and different versions of the relationship among the three people involved emerging, should media be airing an explicit video where the nature of consent is yet to be established?

Let’s consider three scenarios. Scenario one in which the relationship between Bheemashankar and Shobha is consensual. Scenario two would be where Bheemashankar is indeed coercing Shobha into doing sexual favours. And the third would entail that the video and photos of the duo are fabricated by Shekhar for whatever reason.

In none of these situations is airing a video such as this justified.

Let's take scenario one. If the relationship was indeed consensual, Bheemashankar is still punishable under sections 497 and 498 of the IPC for adultery. While the Indian law treats adultery as a crime, it's also a law which has been termed as archaic and problematic by experts.

For one, the complainant and the accused can only be men. This means that the offence can only be registered against a man for having sexual intercourse with the wife of another man “without the consent or connivance of that man”. 

Needless to say, this law does not take into account the consent of the woman involved. Further, it does not allow a woman whose husband is in an adulterous relationship to file a complaint against the woman he is involved with.  

It's important to ask what the media has achieved by telecasting the video other than titillating its viewers? In fact, showcasing the video goes against the Supreme Court’s recent landmark judgment, which deems right to privacy as a fundamental right. It's true that the video shows Bheemashankar to be in uniform, suggesting that this happened when he was on duty. However, without clarity on what actually happened and which version put forth by the parties involved is factual, such airing of visuals is an irresponsible act which forces the accused into a trial by media.

If what happened was scenario two, that is, Bheemashankar was coercing Shobha as claimed by Shekhar, the video shows her being sexually assaulted. Coercion implies violence, even if the video may not appear to be so to a viewer.  In that case, blurring Shobha's face does very little to shield her and her kin from the re-traumatising nature of the video being aired repeatedly across channels. It is unethical to spread such visuals and force the survivor into re-living the traumatic event over and over again.

And lastly, if it's the third scenario and the video and photos are indeed fabricated, airing them serves no purpose other than cheap titillation without regard for ruining reputations. Women, especially, are at a much larger disadvantage here.

The media's enthusiasm to air such visuals without any sensitivity or effort to understand the real picture must be condemned.