A news editor of a popular daily was arrested in Chennai for clearing a sleaze story alleging that many south Indian actresses are running sex shops in the city.
The story invited a strong reaction from south Indian film chamber leading to the arrest of the editor, which in turn triggered instant protests from the journalists.
The editor though was released on unconditional bail within forty eight hours; this episode has opened up a Pandora box of several issues. However, before going into them, let’s first look at the sequence of events that brought the journalists and the cine stars on a collision path.
All this started with the arrest of Tamil actress Bhuvaneswari running a sex shop with many female models from various states. Bhuvaneswari has acted in many Tamil and Telugu films and also in many TV serials. She was earlier arrested in 2002 for prostitution but was released for want of evidences.
However, this time police made some elaborate arrangement to bring her into its dragnet. The anti vice squad of Chennai police executed a sting operation on the basis of secret information received.
The squad sent a policeman as decoy in civil cloths to strike a deal with Bhuvaneswari who handed her the agreed amount after doing some bargaining. The decoy was then taken to a house in posh Adayar locality that housed two female models from Mumbai.
The decoy alerted the anti vice squad which swooped on the house and arrested the actress under the sections of Immoral trafficking Act of Tamil Nadu. They confiscated her mobile phone and memory chip having details of her clients.
The anti vice squad presented the confined girls before the magistrate and sent them to the government rehabilitation home in Mylapore locality of the city.
The Tamil daily ‘Dinamalar’ as a follow up to this news published a report saying the arrested actress in police custody has confessed of involvement of several popular Tamil and Telgue actresses engaged in sex service.
The newspaper claimed that Bhuvaneswari had given the detailed list of top Kollywood and Tollywood actresses involved in this business. The newspaper said the police officials were shocked looking at the Bhuvaneswari’s list that had some of the top actors, politicians and even policemen visiting actress of Tamil and Telgue cinema involved in this unlawful act.
According to the newspaper the names of the actresses involved in sex service and running sex shops are; Seetha, Nalini, Anju, Shakeela, Manjula Vijayakumar, SriPriya and Namitha and others. The daily added that even some of the married actresses too were involved in this profession.
According to the newspaper, Bhuvaneswari reportedly told the actresses charged somewhere Rs 10,000 (S$300) and Rs 100,000 for sexual favors and this may even increase this amount on their mood and clients paying capacity.
The arrested actress reportedly claimed having substantial evidence against those she named and added having evidences in support. She also claimed some top police officers were her customers and alleged giving her enough trouble, some even cheated her many times on payments.
Though the newspaper quickly carried a regret note for its October 5 report, it brought an avalanche in the Tamil film industry. Leading stars including South Indian Film Artistes Association President and Secretary met Chennai City Police Commissioner and lodged a FIR against the newspaper.
They also convened a protest meeting in which they made inflammatory speeches against the media and, according to reports, the profession of journalism itself. This led to the arrest of the news editor under Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Women Harassment (Prevention) Act.
The arrest evoked a sharp reaction from various media outfits that held a protest meeting. More than 200 journalists attended a emergency meet where video clippings showing speeches made by some actors at the South Indian Artistes Association meeting were screened.
The journalists staged a road agitation demanding the release of the news editor saying the arrest was totally uncalled for as there was no need for custodial interrogation when the material needed to make out a case was the news report published in the daily.
They said the editor of the newspaper had already expressed regret for the report and invoking the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Harassment of Women Act, instead of the usual defamation law for arrest under a non-billable section, showed that the police had acted under some pressure.
This episode is an eye opener in many sense and few lessons could be drawn form of it. The first and foremost the subject of improving the quality of media professional manning various outlets, more particularly the regional press.
There is little doubt that the publication of the names and photographs of prominent public figures based on confessional statement is not good journalism. The report as it was published clearly offended those associated with the cine world and went against ethics of good journalism.
This issue can be addressed through having good Journalism schools and the message of ethical journalism could be hammered to the working journalists through training and workshops on this issue.
The second aspect is that of infringement on the rights of expression and the muzzling of the freedom of press. The use of criminal law mechanisms to arrest the news editor reminded the dark days of National Emergency of 1975. The arrest was arbitrary and entirely unnecessary. The law enforcing agencies could have mediated in such disputes and pacified both the sides to avoid any confrontation. Their acting in a high handed manner do not auger well for Indian democracy.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He has done a detailed survey profiles the grey world of sex workers in Madras. -http://www.childtrafficking.com/Docs/syed_august_03_south_0808.pdf-
He can be contacted at email@example.com.