A gotcha trial by media

Even as the law takes its course in the 'Tehelka' case, media and political leaders need to introspect.

Any misdemeanour merits punishment that fits the crime as adjudicated by due process, which is central to a democratic society. However, what we have seen over the past two weeks in the Tehelka matter has been a gotcha trial by media that has been judgemental, sanctimonious and taunting about Tarun Tejpal, the owner-editor, and Shoma Chaudhury, former managing editor of the journal. The one has been arrested and faces investigation before trial in Goa, the scene of his alleged rape of a junior colleague, while the other was savagely hounded until she resigned.

Rape cannot be condoned. The young journalist, who complained of an ordeal at the hands of her employer at Tehelka's annual THiNK fest on November 7-8 at a hotel in Goa, deserves every bit of support and sympathy for the searing indignity and violation of her body that she suffered. So much is admitted and is common ground. Beyond that, the story that has captured the headlines and commentaries has become something of a witch-hunt against Tejpal served up minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour as a heady breaking news cocktail of conjecture, insinuation and self-righteousness garnished with a pinch of malice served by competing media bartenders.

There are two relevant aspects of the episode, moral and legal. What Tarun Tejpal did was morally absolutely wrong. The traumatised young woman immediately confided in three of her colleagues who were also in Goa but otherwise went about her occasions normally. She only wrote a detailed complaint to Shoma Chaudhury 10 days later, around November 18. She cannot be faulted for this delay as she was still getting over the shock and needed to get home to her family and think things through before proceeding further.

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