By Harsha Raj Gatty

Dec 13: On Sunday, a section of daily news media reported on the in-flight molestation of the famed Bollywood child artiste, which was apparently posted by the victim on her social media handle. However, unlike a few of her senior counterparts like Sonam Kapoor or Kalki Koechlin - who candidly came forward with their own ordeal of sexual harassment, this victim was only 17-years of age.

Media reports by prominent news agencies and outlets ran the story with headlines naming the child actress.

'***** ***** allegedly molested on Del-Mum flight', '****** actress ***** ***** alleges molestation on-board Vistara flight, 'Bollywood Rallies Behind ***** ***** After Molestation Horror on Flight, '****** actress alleges mid-air molestation'.

While the respective media houses were within their rights in building public consensus against the crime and reporting its aftermath, it was quite disturbing to see that the mainstream outlets were naming the minor victim, along with her photos, and thereby identifying her.

This even, as Section 23 of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012 clearly lays down that '...No person shall make any report or present comments on any child in any form of media without complete and authentic information... Not to disclose the identity of the child or any other particulars which may lead to the identification of the child...

Further Section 23 (3) clearly adds that the publisher or owner of the media is also jointly liable for acting in the contravention of the provisions, with imprisonment not less than six months to one year, with fine or with both.

While later during the day, some media outlets like NDTV retracted the name of the victim from their site and updated their webpage with a disclosure read as; 'This story has been updated to remove the actor's name since she is a minor'.

Other outlets continue to carry the story with the name of the actress and have maintained the 'silent' status quo.

A few like ABP while presumably retracting the name, seemed to have justified their earlier position with the following Disclaimer - 'According to the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) act the identity of the victim must not be disclosed. However, the victim has herself shared the video on the social media platforms, her identity is already public.', the statement read.

However terming such explanation as absurd, Karnataka based Advocate and Child Rights Activist Dinesh Hegde Ulepady said that the POCSO law is applicable for the Media outlets and not the minor. "She is a minor, she may be unaware to the laws of the land and posted the content in public domain. But media houses cannot operate by claiming ignorance to the laws that are meant for their regulation. On being aware of such incident the media outlets must have either directed the victim to the respective authority to file a plaint or could have published the incident without revealing the victims identity," Ulepady says.

He further adds that the identification of the victim may also construed as though the respective outlet was profiteering by naming, shaming or sensationalising the victim's ordeal. "Although their intention maybe good, even the parents or the honourable courts, while may allow the publication of certain cases for increasing public awareness, they can never allow the victims to be identified," he adds.

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