Readers get no prizes for guessing which media issue has kicked up the most controversy this week. “I am disappointed that (Hindustan Times) chose to carry the picture of (the young woman) doing a striptease on its front page,” wrote one reader.
After Mid-Day published the so-called “Noida sex clip” story, other newspapers, including Hindustan Times followed it up. Mid-Day reported last week that a young man circulated by email a video of his former girlfriend doing a striptease to music in what appears to be a dorm room.
He sent the video to fellow students after the young woman, a 23-year-old student at what the tabloid described as a “prestigious” business school in Noida, declined his offer of marriage.
Not a particularly elevating story, but nothing controversial in writing about it. The story obviously had high reader interest. By one estimate, it was the most searched topic on the Internet in the two days after Mid-Day wrote about it.
But the tabloid did not stop at writing about it: it published grabs of the woman doing the striptease, albeit with her face pixilated to make her unrecognisable.
Hindustan Times, too, published a grab on its front page the following day.
Some readers thought we had crossed the line. One might expect a tabloid to do such a thing, but not a mainstream broadsheet, said one of them.
The story was a powerful tale of love, revenge and shame. It was a story, as the Internet searches showed, that people would read for the sheer drama. Would it have been as powerful without the photos? I doubt it.
The story also had two larger themes, of human venality and naiveté. It showed the depths to which human beings can sink and also sounded a warning — albeit a gloomy one — against being so trusting in love. Again, would these themes have come across so clearly without the photograph. I think not.
The Mumbai editor, Soumya Bhattacharya, said he had no problem using it because there was no danger of the woman’s identity becoming known.
Her face had been pixilated, her name was not mentioned, nor was her business school.
Without the picture, the full horror of what the man had done might not have hit home. “It was a visual aid and made the story stronger,” he said.
I appreciate this viewpoint, but there are also good reasons for not publishing the photo. Sometimes, one has to sacrifice drama and the power of pictures to reinforce larger themes for the sake of other values.
For one, we published the photographs without the woman’s permission.
One could also argue that HT was furthering the spurned lover’s aim of humiliating his ex-girlfriend.
Pictures circulating privately among friends is one thing; a photo appearing in a respected mainstream broadsheet is quite another. Yes, Mid-Day had already published the photograph, but why add to the girl’s humiliation?
Instead, I would have been happy to see some newspaper publishing a photo of the twisted man who sent the videos out.