Journalists debate media stereotyping

BY Dhakal| IN Media Practice | 03/07/2004
Women activists and experts concurred that the portrayal of women is similar across South Asia.

Reprinted from OneWorld on Yahoo


Sanjaya Dhakal  in Kathmandu,  OneWorld South Asia  


At a recent conference on women in the region, delegates asserted that the media in South Asia continues to display a feudal mindset by trivializing crimes against women, insidiously damning sex workers and perpetuating frivolous stereotypes.  

At a meeting of the South Asian Free Media Association and the Sancharika Samuha of Journalists in Nepal`s capital Kathmandu, women activists and experts concurred that the portrayal of women is similar across South Asia 

Declares leading Nepalese television anchor and the president of a  women`s forum in Kathmandu, Bandana Rana, "In everything -- advertising, television programming, newspapers and magazines, films and video games -- women and girls are likely to be shown at home, performing domestic chores, as sex objects who exist primarily to service men, and are the natural recipients of beatings, harassment, sexual assault and murder."  

The participants adopted a declaration at the end of the two-day   conference Sunday, urging all concerned "to refrain from presenting women as inferior to men and exploiting them as sexual objects." It urged authorities across South Asia "to re-orient and re-educate policy makers, editors, reporters, script writers, producers, crews and camerapersons on gender issues in order to perceive, portray and project woman as equal."  

Participants at the conference charged that women occupy a meagre portion of news space, mainly concentrated in the entertainment industry. Adds Indian journalist and the executive director of the South Asian Forum for Human Rights Rita Manchanda, "Globally women constitute barely 18 percent of newsmakers and within that only 10 percent account for political newspeak."  

She says a study in 1994 in India by the Media Advocacy Group had found that a mere seven percent of women figured in the political and economic segment of news and 26 percent in soft news.  She charges, "The day papers reported the convening of the 14th session of the Indian Parliament (in May) - the front page in a leading English daily was hijacked by a massive display of four bikini-clad Miss Universe (news - web sites) finalists."  

The situation is not any better in Nepal. Two years ago, an upcoming actress committed suicide after a vernacular weekly published her nude photograph.

Women activists point out that when 200 Nepalese girls trafficked to India were rescued this year, papers in the country referred to them as "AIDS affected prostitutes" and "Garbage collected from India."  

A report by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, found that less than 12 percent of Nepal`s journalists are women and most of them occupy subordinate roles. Rana reveals that the print media in Nepal devotes a meagre 7 to 10 percent of the total coverage to women, and over half these reports are on sex, prostitution, glamour, entertainment and crime. 

Citing an example of the Nepal media`s reportage on women, journalist Babita Basnet recalls, "When a handful of Nepalese women in the Gulf were sexually exploited, the media implied they should have stayed within the four walls of their homes." She charges that the media ignored the fact that a large number of Nepalese women were working overseas untroubled and contributing to the exchequer through remittances.  

The situation is no different in Sri Lanka, where reports on incest and child rape often covertly blame women for leaving in large numbers to work in foreign destinations, particularly the Middle East. Says the consulting editor of the Sunday Observer in Sri Lanka, Lasanda Kurukulasuriya, "Images of fashion models, beauty queens and film stars are the most common pictures in the media." As she points out, "The overall effect of this is to associate women with social frippery."  

Women activists also express concern at the tendency to trivialize crimes like rape. Several journalists are unaware of the curbs on revealing the names of rape victims in their reports and blatantly flaunt such restrictions.  

Bangladeshi activist Rieta Rahman charges that, "The coverage of women`s issues by the media in Bangladesh does not include aspects that promote and create awareness for gender empowerment among citizens."  

Rights activist Tasneem Ahmar from Pakistan recounts a similar tale in her country, holding that the Pakistani media, especially the regional language press, is highly biased against women and uses blatantly abusive, sexist language.  

She quotes an instance of a newspaper accusing a single mother of dumping the "burden of her sins" in a garbage dump after an abandoned baby was found there.  

While agreeing that gender biased reporting is rampant in South Asia, Nepalese media critic Dhruba Hari Adhikary also castigates development activists, remarking that, "In many cases, continued exploitation is the result of a lack of resistance or counter-measures from women`s groups."  

But the editor of the Samaya weekly Yubaraj Ghimire feels the media does its bit to promote the causes of women. He cites an incident two years ago when the Nepalese media extensively reported on villagers thrashing a woman named Marani Devi on charges of being a witch. The media campaign saw Devi become an icon for a movement against the practice.  

But even Ghimire concedes that such examples are few and far between, and that the participation of women in the media is inadequate.






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