Citizens are stakeholders in the news media too: Ammu Joseph, Journalist & Author

A panel discussion on ‘Sexual Violence and the Media: What Must Change?’ was organised by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of St Joseph’s College (Autonomous) in Bengaluru

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Nov 30, 2018 8:22 AM  | 4 min read
Media Action Against Rape (MAAR) project

The Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of St Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Bengaluru, organised a panel discussion on “Sexual Violence and the Media: What Must Change?” at the Xavier Hall in the college on November 29.

The discussion was moderated by independent journalist and author Ammu Joseph. The panellists included Dr Jagadeesh Narayana Reddy, Medico-legal consultant and Professor of forensic medicine at Vydehi Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre in Bengaluru; Laxmi Murthy, Consulting Editor with Himal Southasian; Ragamalika Karthikeyan, Deputy News Editor at The News Minute;  Sandhya Menon, Journalist; and Uma, a transgender person who founded NGO Jeeva to help people of her community.

At the opening speech Joseph said, “It is high time citizens recognised they are stakeholders in the media in general and the news media in particular.”

“Sexual violence is a major problem that involves and concerns all of us — first as citizens, then as journalists. Many journalists do their best to report and comment on the issue as fairly, accurately and responsibly as possible. But we would be the first to admit that there is need for change in the way the media, as a whole, deals with sexual violence,” she added.

Dr Reddy spoke on how the privacy and confidentiality of victims are “largely” violated, despite laws against it. He gave the example of how the Kathua gangrape victim was identified by name because of the misconception that she could be named because she had died. He also gave the example how an English newspaper in Bengaluru — after a Supreme Court judgment banned the two-finger test on victims and survivors of rape — reported that doctors would now use instruments to administer the test to determine rape.

He also explained that a victim of rape is within her rights if she refuses to submit to tests. He also talked of how women are accused of filing a false case if there is no sign of injury on their body after rape or sexual assault.

Touching on the subject of privacy, and adding the dimension of social class to it, Murthy spoke of how women who have been named by news media in rape cases somehow all belong to the lower strata of society. This was different, she said, from raped women who had chosen to reveal their names, like Suzette Jordan, who was initially known only as the Park Street victim because of the place she was raped in Kolkata.
Karthikeyan said even the news media needs an amount of introspection. She said the attitude needs to change in the workplace for more sensitivity in journalism towards gender-based violence.

She also spoke of accountability within the news media, pointing to the example of former Union minister MJ Akbar being allowed to write a piece in a leading English daily in the country recently despite there being several accusations of sexual harassment against him.

Menon stressed on the importance of continued or sustained reportage on cases of rape and sexual violence, and how women at the top of organisations may be the key to it. She also rooted for a change in the language that is used to report on rapes and sexual violence.

Uma — who was born Umesh but now identifies as a woman — spoke of how transgenders are often ignored when it comes to rape reportage. However, at a later point in the discussion, he also talked about how the police were forced to register a complaint of sexual violence against one from her own community because several media persons had accompanied the complainant to the police station.

The panel discussion was organised as part of the “16 Days” campaign of the Media Action Against Rape (MAAR) project between the Bournemouth University in the UK and the Delhi chapter of UNESCO.

Speaking about the “16 Days” campaign, MAAR Co-founder and Bournemouth University Associate Professor of Journalism & Communication, Dr Einar Thorsen said, “This campaign is an annual occasion organised since 1991 to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world. For far too long, impunity, silence and stigma have allowed violence against women to escalate to pandemic proportions. One in three women in the world experiences gender-based violence. This cannot be allowed to continue. We must work collectively to accelerate change.”

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