How does the mainstream English media in India report the alleged transgressions of one of its own?
S.N.M. Abdi, the Calcutta-based journalist who broke the “Bhagalpur Blindings” story in 1979-80 (in which police blinded 31 undertrials by pouring acid into their eyes) for M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday magazine, and now works for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post, was arrested on Thursday on rape charges.
The incident got the most coverage in the Calcutta edition of The Times of India, and barely merited a paragraph in the eastern city’s older English dailies, The Telegraph and The Statesman.
Abdi, incidentally, was Calcutta bureau chief of the now-defunct The Illustrated Weekly of India, the features magazine owned by The Times group, and was at the centre of the infamous J.B. Patnaik case in 1986 under the editorship of Pritish Nandy. “Shocking: The strange escapades of J.B. Patnaik,” the Weekly‘s cover story dealt with the deviant sexual life of the then Orissa chief minister. After a protracted legal battle, the Weekly apologised.
The Telegraph, Calcutta: 23 words; headline: “Rape arrest”
Deccan Herald, Bangalore: 49 words; “Journo held on rape charge”
The Hindu, Madras: 61 words; “Journalist held”
The Statesman, Calcutta: 67 words; “Journalist held”
The Hindustan Times, Delhi: 97 words; “Journalist arrested on rape charges”
DNA, Bombay: 231 words; “Senior journalist held for rape”
Indian Express, New Delhi: 346 words; “Senior scribe held for rape”
The Times of India, Calcutta: 386 words; headline: “Housewife lured with railway job, raped”
Update: S.N.M. Abdi was honourably acquitted of the rape charge in January 2011.
“I have gone through hell. My reputation built on 25 years as an investigative journalist has been destroyed by the concocted case. The judgement has vindicated my innocence and cemented my faith in the judiciary.” said Abdi.
The Times of India and The Indian Express published lengthy clarifications upon his acquittal.
Both newspapers clarified that Abdi was not named by the woman in her written complaint and that their stories were based on police briefings. Both newspapers also placed on record that there was no malice or mala fide intentions behind the publication of the charge in the first place.
While The Times of India expressed “sincere regret” for the adverse impression its report may have created, The Indian Express offered regret for the embarrassment caused to Abdi.
Newspaper facsimile: courtesy The Indian Express