Advocates representing the media houses told the court that the mistake of disclosing the name and showing photograph of the victim was due to their ignorance of the law.
The Delhi high court on Wednesday directed 12 media houses to pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for revealing the identity of the eight-year-old Kathua rape victim in Jammu and Kashmir.
The court also indicated that it may enhance the amount that has to be deposited by the media houses in the Jammu and Kashmir Victim Compensation Fund, which have apologised for revealing the details of the victim.
It asked them to file separate affidavits explaining their conduct in three days and directed that the compensation amount of Rs 10 lakh each should be deposited with the registrar general of the high court within a week.
The money would be transferred to the Jammu and Kashmir legal service authority’s account to be used for the Jammu and Kashmir’s victim compensation fund.
The court, which had initially suggested imposition of Rs 25 lakh cost on each of the concerned media house, later said for the time being, they should deposit Rs 10 lakh each.
Of the 12 media houses which were issued notices by the court, nine made their appearance through their counsel today.
At the outset, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said it would like to see the editors of the media houses to be present in the court as “some line has to be drawn”.
The bench said the repercussions of revealing the identity of a rape victim have to be faced by the entire family who also suffer ostracisation from the society.
Advocates representing the media houses told the court that the mistake of disclosing the name and showing photograph of the victim was due to their ignorance of the law. They said there was misconception that they could name her as she was dead and it will facilitate the prosecution of the accused.
The bench also directed that wide and continuous publicity be given to the statutory provisions of the law regarding the privacy of victims of sexual offences and punishment for revealing their identities.
While Section 23 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act lays down the procedure for the media to report cases of sexual offences against child victims, Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with disclosure of identity of victims of such offences. The penal law provides for jail term of two years with a fine.
On April 13, the high court issued notices to 12 media houses for disclosing the identity of an eight-year-old girl who was gang-raped and killed in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district.
In its news reports connected with the case, The Press Trust of India has not disclosed the name or put out a photograph of the victim.
When senior advocate Sudhir Nandrajog, representing one of the media houses, said the name and photographs of the victim were already in public domain in Kashmir since January, the bench said this does not mean that the media also has to show it.
“You are showing the child’s photograph on the background on TV channels and inciting anger against the accused. The POCSO Act is very clear that if the child dies, even the parents cannot give consent to reveal her identity. The family suffers from long term repercussions and is ostracised from the society,” it said.
“The problem arises if there are others girls in the family. It does not matter whether you are 8-year-old or 98-year-old, people will question you, why you were wearing this and why you were out,” the bench said, adding “we have to set our own limits” on freedom of expression.
Asking which media house had published the two provisions of the law the day after the court’s April 12 order, it said if wide publicity had been given to these laws, the social media would also have stopped revealing the victim’s details.
“Doesn’t the public have a right to know this? When the nation wants to know everything else, doesn’t the nation want to know this also,” it said.
Observing that such conduct by the media was happening in other such cases as well, it said even the worst criminal has a right to fair trial and the kind of influence which media has, injustice is done to the trial court also.
Advocate Anuradha Dutt, appearing for a news channel, said there was no justification for what they have done and they were at a fault. “There was some confusion. I hang my head in shame. We have stopped it,” she said.
The advocates said the media houses will be willing to pay the compensation to enable some help to the victims of sexual violence and their families.
The court had earlier prohibited them “from effecting any publication including the name, address, photograph, family details, school details, neighbourhood or any other particulars which may have an effect of leading to the disclosure of the identity of the child victim”.
The eight-year-old from a minority nomadic community had disappeared from near her home in a village near Kathua in Jammu region on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.
The state police’s Crime Branch, which probed the case, filed the main charge sheet against seven persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district last week. The charge sheet revealed chilling details about how the girl was allegedly kidnapped, drugged and raped inside a place of worship before being killed.