The coverage provided by media to condemnable cases of abuse and harassment of women and girls proves that media has flourished enough to step up into its role of being a watchdog, ensuring that rights violations are highlighted, duty bearers take notice and perpetrators and duty bearers are held to account. Having credited media for its role in securing rights and highlighting rights violations, the need for regulation and checks especially in terms of ethical considerations in reporting/broadcasting news on sensitive issues emerges prominently. The media is no more amateur and it has reported a fair number of similar cases; abuse, rape, violence, acid attacks, 14-year-old girls being forced to parade naked in villages. Therefore, it only makes sense that media as organizations and individuals comprising them start taking responsibility on what is reported, how and what sensitivities need to be considered.
In the case of a recent child rape incident, various news channels showed the footage of the victim (though blurred by some channels), the family of the victim was shown on national television, the actual name of the victim was used by reporters and anchors, the vicinity and neighborhood of the victim’s residence was openly disclosed and the health facility where the victim was located and treated was disclosed; to name a few instances where ethical considerations should have been taken into account.
We need to understand that all these details, though true, are not necessary. It is not important for a viewer to know all these details. Just knowing the incidence is enough and eliminating these details does not affect the seriousness or gravity of the matter. The culture of intolerance, gender discrimination and gender inequities which we live in puts the victims at high risk when these details are publicly disclosed – with no control over whom these details reach and what X, Y, Z individuals can do as a reaction to such incidents. For instance, the house help hired to support at my place heard the news and wondered aloud as to what the victim’s future will be – and how it was more respectable if she did not survive. It cannot be imagined how the victim and her family will be viewed in circles where honor killings are the norm and ‘respect’ is an associative attribute to having your virginity intact – with no excuse as to how one was ‘disrespected’. Showing the face of the victim and their family, giving out names and neighborhoods can thus have extreme outcomes; both short and long term.
The language used in human rights reporting is also of key importance. i.e. words like ‘poor girl’, ‘helpless’, ‘having no future’, ‘phool ronda gaya’, ‘izzat lut gai’ etc reinforce culturally integrated notions of ‘respect’ and contribute to further victimization of the victim and their families.
Neglect of ethical considerations can be contributed to the ‘race for ratings’ among other factors, which unfortunately our electronic media is prey to. Despite the free media notion being new, journalism is not new in our country. Most electronic media houses senior journalists and reporters who have a wealth of experience, have served print media for decades and have taken ethics into consideration time and again. Electronic media thus, cannot have a free out of jail pass for lapse in ethical considerations when it comes to reporting especially on human right violations.
Small lapses on part of media give way to much bigger problems for the affectees and reinforce societal taboos. A little planning and having systems and policies in place within electronic media can make way for responsible reporting while still securing good ratings.