Author Archives: PSW Team

NY Times: How to Break a Sexual Harassment Story

The media is awash with stories on sexual harassment.

The New York Times published a backstory on the work of its own reporters on three important stories this year.

“There are a number of factors that make allegations of sexual harrassment difficult to report. In all three cases, reporters said sources were hesitant to speak out because their allegations were so intimate; because they feared reprisal by powerful men; and in many instances, the women involved had entered into settlements that included nondisclosure agreements.”

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Two newsroom rules for reporting on women’s bodies

Slightly outside our beat but relevant to the topic of gender-sensitive reporting is this article on the Columbia Journalism Review by Kara Alaimo which offers two rules to journalists and news outlets:

  1. Don’t, unless it is news about fashion.
  2. If you are going to write about women’s bodies in all sorts of stories, do the same for men.

Take a look: Kara Alaimo, Newsrooms should follow two simple rules for reporting on women’s bodies, Columbia Journalism Review, March 14, 2017.

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How to report rape, and how not to report it as well

Sameera Khan, journalist, communications teacher and Friend of Prajnya, has written this piece for the TV show ‘Satyameva Jayate’ on how to report rape. We copy and paste it here for wider access, but the original is posted here.  Do visit this infographic for an illustration on how not to report–it’s very good. And you can watch Sameera here.


How to sensitively report rape and sexual assault

What journalists write and broadcast in the media impacts the general public’s understanding of rape and sexual assault. Therefore, it is crucial that the reportage be done in a manner that protects the identity of the survivor, gives out accurate facts, and treats the incident with sensitivity. Here are a few guidelines that we have prepared in consultation with journalist and writer Sameera Khan.

Choose your words carefully

  • The use of ‘survivor of sexual assault’ is favoured over ‘victim’.
  • Don’t make the act seem less grave by using ‘had sex with’ instead of ‘raped’, or ‘fondled’ instead of ‘molested’.
  • Don’t lead the reader towards making assumptions about the survivor by using adjectives like ‘pitiful’ and ‘helpless’.
  • Get the facts of the case right—don’t refer to the ‘accused’ as the ‘convicted’ or vice-versa. This could affect the case adversely.

Choose your writing style carefully

  • Reporting on rape and sexual assault calls for the use of the active voice.
  • Say that ‘XYZ raped her’ or ‘XYZ assaulted her’ instead of saying ‘She was raped’ or ‘She was assaulted’.
  • Shift the focus to the accused instead of the survivor.

Choose your tone carefully

  • Do not speak to the survivor, her family or the general public in a moralizing tone.
  • Do not use lines such as ‘Women should only wear saris, says a city official’ and ‘Women should not go out after 8 pm, says a local politician’ matter-of-factly. Views such as these must be questioned.
  • Journalists should abstain from providing an opinion about the survivor based on where the incident took place (for e.g., a bar), what the survivor was wearing at the time, or what time of the day it was.

Choose the details you need to disclose

  • The survivor’s name, address and details about her family should never be disclosed.
  • No indirect mention should be made that might reveal the identity of the survivor. The colour of her hair, the places she frequents, the area she lives in, the vehicle she rides, the number of siblings she has, whether she has a boyfriend or not—all of these are just a few examples and such details in a report are absolutely irrelevant and unnecessary.
  • No details about the family of the accused should be shared if they are not relevant to the investigation.

Choose and treat your sources with caution and quote them carefully

  • Do not write a story from the perspective of a single source.
  • When looking for quotes, speak only with those experts who are qualified to comment on the subject.
  • Ask the police to substantiate the charges against the accused instead of quoting lines from a conversation with a police officer.
  • Do not assume what your sources feel or would want to say. Do not carry lines such as ‘We can assume the police are in a tight spot’ or ‘It can be said the doctors need some more time to comment on the incident’.

Choose the focus of your story

  • A few days after the incident, focus on the bigger picture with follow-up stories, though with due sensitivity.
  • If an incident happens in the morning or the afternoon, comment on how sexual violence is not limited to a particular time instead of commenting on what the survivor or accused was doing at that time.
  • If an incident happens in a public place, comment on increasing the safety of citizens in public places instead of commenting on what the survivor was doing there.
  • Do not feed public fears and myths. Instead, provide the general public a lens with which it can see the larger picture and the seriousness of the crime.

Understand the need for confidentiality and privacy

  • Disclosing only necessary details helps protect the survivor’s, witnesses’ and their family’s identity.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, harass the survivor, witness or their families with repeated phone calls or visits to their homes without their consent.
  • If a journalist discloses the identity of the survivor in any manner, he or she can be jailed for a period of 2 years and fined.
  • The Press Council of India or News Broadcasters Association can also take action against the journalist.

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NWMI statement on reporting of West Bengal gang-rape, June 14, 2013

(This Network of Women in Media statement analyses the problems with the reporting in detail, and as such offers a lesson in what to do and what not to do. It is therefore, being cross-posted here.)

NWMI condemns insensitive media coverage of gang rape victim in West Bengal, June 14, 2013

The Network of Women in Media, India, an independent forum of media professionals across the country, condemns the recent insensitive media representation of the 20-year-old college student at Barasat, West Bengal, who was recently gang-raped and violently murdered. In papers such as The Telegraph, Protidin and several other newspapers/channels, the victim’s name and her family’s have been freely used. More shockingly, Bangla newspaper Aajkaal  printed not only the victim’s name but also her photo on its front page.

The victim, a 20-year-old college girl, was gangraped and murdered on her way home from college on Friday, June 7, 2013 around 2 pm. Aajkaal printed her photo with related news on June 9.

Publishing her name is a clear violation of the Supreme Court’s order that the identity of a rape victim cannot be disclosed. Such disclosure is prohibited under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, as well as the Norms of Journalistic Conduct issued by the Press Council of India (2010). Under the IPC, revealing the identity of a rape victim is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 228 (A to D) of the Indian Penal Code prohibits the disclosure not only of the victim’s name but also of facts that could lead to the identification of the victim, such as the victim’s place of residence, family or friends, university, or work details. This covers victims who are dead, minors and or have “unstable minds”. Even if the name is to be disclosed for welfare or legal reasons, this must be done in writing, only to the appropriate government authority, which does not include the media.

The reasoning for not disclosing the name of a rape victim is that such disclosure would invade the privacy of the victim and may render her open to further harassment and/or indignity. Revealing the identity of a rape victim could also make her (or her family in case she has not survived) vulnerable to pressure to drop the case.

In a context where the incidence of violence against women in West Bengal (and elsewhere) is rising, it is of grave concern that the media is flouting the law of the land as well as norms of ethics laid down by the PCI.

We demand:

1. Immediate pixellation and removal of all identifiers of the rape victim on online portals and the newspapers’ websites.
2. Issuance of a written apology in the newspapers, including their websites.
3. Institution of mechanisms for ensuring increased gender sensitivity while reporting cases of sexual violence. These measures could include, among others: on-the-job training, workshops, and evolving in-house norms for covering gender-based violence.


Manjira Majumdar, Kolkata
Rajashri Dasgupta, Kolkata
Ranjita Biswas, Kolkata
Anju Munshi, Kolkata
Rina Mukherji, Kolkata
Ammu Joseph, Bangalore
Laxmi Murthy, Bangalore
Gita Aravamudan, Bangalore
Kavin Malar, Chennai
Kavitha Muralidharan, Chennai
Nithila Kanagasabai, Chennai
Jency Samuel, Chennai
R Akhileshwari, Hyderabad
Sandhya Srinivasan, Mumbai
Jyoti Punwani, Mumbai
Geeta Seshu, Mumbai
Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai
Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai
Sandhya Taksale, Pune
Linda Chhakchhuak, Shillong
[On behalf of the Network of Women in Media, India]

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Hello world!

The Blue Pencil is the product of discussion at the Reporters’ Roundtable held November 26, 2009 as part of the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence. Participants identified the need for a media watch initiative, both to keep tabs on the state of reportage as well as to evolve a shared understanding of good and bad practices.

The team at The Blue Pencil volunteers and invites others to do so as well.

Read our About page to learn more.

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