A panel discussion in Bengaluru, which addressed the way the media covers violence against girls and women, observed that the 2012 Delhi gangrape case changed the way Indian media reported on gender-based violence. Speaking at the discussion - Après-#MeToo: Setting the media house in order - journalist Anubha Bhonsle noted that the Nirbhaya case, where a Delhi woman was gang-raped on December 16, 2012, was the inflection point for the Indian media and the way it looked at reporting on sexual violence.
“It was after this case that a report on sexual violence made it to the front page. It led to a movement where citizens came forward to talk about sexual violence against women and that helped the media put the spotlight on the case. Besides, the incident happened in Delhi, where media houses have the most number of reporters. Some ground reporting helped to dispell some of the initial speculations and give clarity on the incident,” said Anubha, former executive editor of CNN-IBN.
The speakers at the discussion also included Dakshina Murthy, independent journalist and former editor of AlJazeera.com, and Nupur Basu, a senior journalist and media educator. Moderated by independent journalist Ammu Joseph, the discussion was organised by the British Deputy High Commission, along with the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM).
The discussion revolved around the media's reportage on gender-based violence. “For years, there was no coverage on sexual violence and when the Delhi case happened, media houses realised that reporting on sexual violence, too, sold newspapers,” said Nisha Susan, writer and co-founder of Grist Media and The Ladies Finger.
Dakshina Murthy echoed a similar observation as Anubha. “Media has covered gender-violence but historical events like the Nirbhaya and Me Too movement have brought about some changes. In fact, post the Nirbhaya case, there was a lot of response from the media, students and activists, to the extent where laws were changed, albeit not dramatically. Although in its early stage, reports on Me Too movement have exposed the kind of practices, which were prevalent at a subterranean level, where it would be just gossips. Hence, if people are talking about it and there has been some change, the media has played a positive role,” he observed.
While Ammu agreed to Dakshina Murthy, she also recalled how Indian media engaged in selective news coverage on gender-based violence. Recalling the study on the coverage of women’s issue in the media by her and journalist Kalpana Sharma, she said,
“We realised that the topics we picked were dictated by the issues the media had taken up over a period of 10 years, such as dowry deaths, the 1972 Mathura custodial rape case, the Shah Bano case and Sati cases. In some cases, there were certain ingredients that defined what news was then, especially if the perpetrator is from a lower-strata of society, or if the incident took place in Delhi or Mumbai. Among several forms of gender-based violence, sexual violence was considered news-worthy. Issues such as sex selection or female foeticide did not grab attention as it did not involve any events in the city. Hence, there were episodic coverage of such issues. While we acknowledge that media is doing some coverage, we need to talk about selective coverage of gender-based violence also.”
The panel further discussed the ‘Me Too’ movement that is sweeping across workplaces in the country, which encouraged several women in the news media, film industry and even within the government sector, to call out their sexual harassers. “Going forward, women should not be labelled as troublemakers. There should not come a point when people are discussing whether women will bring about allegations," added Anubha.
Meanwhile, highlighting the coverage on the 'Me Too movement', Nupur Basu said the coverage should extend to the working-class women, including pourakarmikas and garment workers. She also pointed out the recent death of a law intern in Bengaluru just days after she had raised a complaint against a member of her law firm of sexually harassing her.
“The recent story of a law intern, who killed herself, soon after raising a complaint against one of the workers in her firm, was not covered by the media,” she said.
The panel discussion was held after a two-day workshop for media students and reporters in Bengaluru. The workshop held by Rosemary Arackaparambil from Reuters Foundation and Anubha Bhonsle, and focused on tools for sensitive and objective reporting of Violence Against Girls and Women (VAWG).