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Murthal rapes: the risks of premature news

This piece was published by media watchdog The Hoot, on February 29, 2016.

Unsafe women or violent protests within a few dozen kilometres of the national capital would invariably always make front page news. When the two combine, the front page of the day possibly does not need anything else. Except when the reporter himself claims the story is based on limited sources.

Over the last week, there have been dark clouds over what actually happened in Murthal during the Jat agitation, following The Tribune’s front page report of February 24 about women commuters being “raped”. Some more eyewitnesses surfaced on Saturday, and a Delhi woman finally emerged as a victim on Sunday, albeit for a rape she alleges happened at least a day after what the story claimed.

The Tribune story itself said that Haryana police dismissed the incident as a “rumour”, and yet, despite limited evidence, verification and bona fide sources or victims, as on that day, the story made front page news, if not incorrectly, then prematurely.

The entire episode could have been clearer if the reporting was as concrete as the impact it wanted to create. Even if its claims turn out to be true, the story still shows that the media can be vulnerable, if not totally unreliable, in the face of rumours that almost always fly around in times of crisis and mayhem.

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