The media is an integral source of public knowledge and can wield powerful influence, particularly in the dissemination of political and legislative information. The media is an essential, inescapable facet of modern life, and we often fail to acknowledge how much power the media actually holds over public opinion. I was personally unaware of the extent to which the media influences us until I spent a year conducting a research project analyzing news sources from around the world (but primarily from within India), on how the media’s reaction to rape in India dramatically changed after the New Delhi rape case in December 2012.
For those of you who did not frequent any news station or go online for the first four months of 2013, the New Delhi rape case involved a young woman attending medical school in the city of New Delhi, who, accompanied by a male friend, was riding a city bus back to the area where she lived after seeing the movie The Life of Pi in a “safe” part of the city. Without provocation, the other four men that were riding the bus attacked the woman and her friend. The friend was beat up and thrown from the bus. She was beaten and raped by all of the men multiple times, including the bus driver. The men then proceeded to violate the young woman with an iron rod that was found on the bus. When they were finished with her, she too was thrown from the bus and left in the street to die.
She was found in the street, miraculously still alive, and airlifted to a hospital in Singapore. During treatment there, doctors discovered that her body had been so violated by the iron rod that the uterus had been perforated and her internal organs had been detached from the parietal peritoneum. Despite the doctors’ best efforts, she died from her injuries two weeks later without ever regaining consciousness.
This case sent the media — and as a result, the people of India — into a fury. This case singlehandedly changed how the Indian media reports rape and how rape in India is reported around the world. To make a long story short, the attention that the New Delhi case received from the Indian media as well as on the worldwide stage led to massive protests against governmental inaction against what is seen as India’s rape “epidemic,” some of which still continue on today in India, even over a year later.
The pressure that the media placed on the government led to some of the fastest legislative changes in the history of India’s parliament. For the first time, sexual harassment and stalking are considered a crime, victim advocacy programs are being put in place, and safety precautions are being placed all around cities in India to help ensure the safety of all women. Granted, there is much progress yet to be made, as shown by the recent rape case in India, where two teenage girls were raped and hung from a mango tree, but this case will continue to contribute to the media push that is forcing people to recognize that the government is, in some cases, insufficient, and must work on social programs that India still desperately lacks.
The purpose of my research — and by extent, this article — is to open people’s eyes to the immense power that the media holds over the general public. How much of your opinions are really independent thought? Are your world views sincerely yours? Or are they composed of mere sound bytes snatched from a news station or an online article because that’s what is easily consumable? Have you researched why you prefer capitalism to communism, or is that just what you’ve been told by popular opinion? Have you even bothered to Google it? Do you understand why your opinions and values are what they are, or are they just what you’ve been told they should be?
“Generalized intelligence and mental alertness are the most powerful enemies of dictatorship and at the same time the basic conditions of effective democracy.”