Category Archives: Must-read

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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What do we really need to know?

Dhanya Rajendran of The News Minute posted this online. With her permission, we are cross-posting most of her note, with a link to the original. She raises important questions about how much we need to know in the interests of justice, and where our interest crosses over into idle and hurtful curiosity.

Enough is enough! 

by Dhanya Rajendran

Been reading a lot of posts after the sexual assault and murder of a child in Chennai and the actor’s abduction and case of rape in Kochi…

Questions are being asked about why media splashed the actor’s name and details. I agree. Why could most of these journalists not have asked a simple question to the police: ‘What are the sections? Can we use her name?’. They would have got the answer ‘No’ from the investigators. ( But the cops did give her name away and not the IPC sections. So maybe initially some journos did not know how grave it was). To continue with mentioning her name is highly unethical.

But the same question should be asked to the public too. Over the past few weeks, I have seen many hashtags and people sharing pictures of three minor victims in Tamil Nadu. The Ariyalur gangrape victim, the 7-year-old sexually assaulted and killed by a neighbor in Chennai and now the latest victim, a 3-year old allegedly killed by a woman neighbor.

When I started out as a journalist with Times Now, I remember an air hostess had been killed by her boyfriend and he later committed suicide. My office wanted me to get her parents’ reaction, and I said no.

I was high on ethics and I refused. But soon, work compulsions made me another kind of journalist. I would compulsively dig out details of crimes. Though my intention was always to get the culprit booked, the means to achieve that goal were questionable.

After around 6 years in Times Now, I covered a big case in Bangalore. A man with considerable influence was accused of raping his daughter. Though the police knew where he was, they could not arrest him. Many of us were following the story like crazy. As we dug out detail after detail about the case, there was also an element of competition amongst reporters on who will nail the guy with ‘hard facts’.

Two prominent newspapers then got the child’s medical record, I too did. They splashed it on the front page. TV channels of course would not mention graphic stuff on their tickers, so we were a bit restrained. I called the man’s wife (the complainant) and told her that she can be relieved now as the medical report was out and there was no way her husband could escape.

Her reply is still etched in my brain.

She asked me.”What use is it of, Dhanya? Why should the world know what exactly happened to her? And there is Google.Google will never allow my child to forget that her vagina and anus were injured.”

And then it struck me. In our pursuit to assist in the case, in our pursuit to make sure culprits are caught, we forget the victim, the survivor or their family.

Why should we know the sordid details of a crime? Why should we know who did exactly what?

Does the fact that a 7 year old was sexually assaulted and killed by a neighbour not outrage you? Why should you or I know HOW he assaulted her?

Does the fact that a three-year-old was killed by a neighbour and dumped in a garbage van not outrage you? Do you need to SEE pictures of that hapless child’s dead body to make you feel real outrage?

Does the fact that a young actor whose smiles have made us all happy was taken around in a car and assaulted not outrage you? Why should we be told what EXACTLY was done to her?

Yes, some cases get more highlighted than others. It depends on the place, time and the news cycle, unfortunately.

But let’s not be vultures for details. All of us.

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How not to report on rape

Manisha Pande, Learn How Not To Report On Rape From TOI, newslaundry.com, February 20, 2017.

The original post has an illustration of edits on the story that are a great illustration of how many ways a report can go wrong. This is reinforced by the text which is dissected to point to a series of missteps.

This morning, the Big Four – The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and The Hindu – reported on an alleged case of rape in their Delhi editions.

Notable among these was TOI’s report, because it works as an excellent primer on how not to report on rape. From unwarranted details to victim-shaming, TOI checked all the boxes of callous reporting on violence against women.

 

The only thing that can be worse than an alleged case of rape being committed in Delhi’s most well-frequented, heavily-patrolled areas is the fact that one of India’s oldest newspapers can’t seem to tell the difference between reporting and victim shaming.

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“..treat your sources like humans…” and other tips for reporting sexual violence

Feministing.org carries a post linking to two others that discuss how to report gender violence.

Jessica Valenti, How to Write About Rape: Rules for Journalists, The Nation, October 25, 2013.

“—When an adult is charged with assaulting a minor or someone is someone is accused of assaulting an unconscious person, don’t refer to the crime as “sex with a child” or “sex with an unconscious person.” Call it rape—because that’s what it is . . .

—If you find yourself writing or editing a sentence that describes what a rape victim wore, the kind of makeup she had on or that she acted “older than her age” (I’m looking at you, New York Times)—stop it . . .

—If the victim you are reporting about comes from a marginalized community—if they are queer, trans, poor, disabled, an immigrant, a person of color or a sex worker—take extra care that the pernicious stereotypes that surround that community do not impact your piece . . .

—If you run a story exploring the reasons why rape happens, focus on the perpetrator, not the victim’s behavior. Because despite what Emily Yoffe writes, the common denominator in most rapes is not young women drinking, the common denominator is rapists.”

Annie Clark, “Did Your Blood Splatter or Pour?” and Other Media Mistakes: Interviewing a Survivor of Sexual Assault, Huff Post College, September 26, 2013.

“First piece of advice: If you want to report on human-interest stories, at least can treat your sources like humans…

1. Do your homework…

2. If you get past those initial 30 seconds (congrats!), make your source comfortable by stating that the individual can share as much or as little information the individual wants…

3. Use some old-fashioned common sense…

4. Do not blame the victim. Ever. Period. If you don’t know what victim blaming is, please see #1.

5. With phone interviews, do not call any survivor ten, hell three, times or more in an hour. Ditto with Facebooking, texting, tweeting and emailing. That’s called cyber-stalking.

6. With live or in-person interviews, please be respectful of the fact that your sources are people (and often they are students) first…

7. Be respectful and knowledgeable of the time zone in which your source is located…

8. Pay attention to the story the survivor wants told and take that framing into consideration…  at the end of the day while these are your articles, these are our stories. (emphasis added).

9. Do not over-sensationalize…

10. Do not expect people to cry or to be a “poor victim.””

I’ve posted extracts because I think this information is really important. Please link to and read the original posts if your Internet connection permits.

Post-script: Another useful resource, this time related to video interviews by Witness.org: Conducting Safe, Effective and Ethical Interviews with Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence. This is based on two decades of training on best practices.

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“Foot-in-mouth” rape reportage, Mumbai, August 2013

Kalpana Sharma critiques reportage on the Mumbai gang-rape case, listing several “don’ts” that have been “done”:

“…you only have to look at the coverage of the gang-rape in Mumbai’s English newspapers. On day one, that is August 23, all papers carried front-page stories about the incident. Of the papers this writer surveyed, none gave out the name of the publication for which the journalist worked, but all mentioned “photojournalist” or “photography intern”, thereby narrowing the field. TOI mentioned “lifestyle magazine”, narrowing the field even further. Two newspapers, Afternoon and Dispatch Courier and Free Press Journal, gave out the name of the publication for which the journalist worked. (However, when alerted to this, both editors responded speedily and removed the name of the publication from their web editions)

Why is any of this relevant? Because when covering rape and sexual assault, it is incumbent that the media ensures that no personal details of the survivor are made public unless she chooses to reveal them. Hints such as the name or type of publication in this instance, or the organisation with which a survivor works, or where she lives, or the names of her parents, her siblings, her best friends etc are exactly the kind of details that ought not to be in the public realm.”

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Stalkers and Acid Attacks

Wednesday’s ToI (November 28) has a report on “Techie blinded in acid attack after turning down stalker“. The report is sensitively presented (though perhaps the hospital picture could have been avoided) and details the victim’s side (through her family) of what happened. The last paragraph points out that a complaint had been made against the accused in the past, but that the police let him off with a warning. A box along with the story has a quote from women’s rights groups with some basic statistics of crimes against women. ToI followed up the story the next day (Nov 29), analysing the legal and cultural aspects to stalking and acid attacks (“Stop stalkers in their tracks”, “Portrayal of women in films fuels violence” and “Activists renew demand for harsher law”). Interestingly, it looks beyond the act of an acid attack itself and enlarges the debate to cover the  more pervasive phenomenon of stalking. This goes beyond the limited way of looking at street (and other) harassment prevalent in society.

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In “The News Laundry”: A critique of recent reportage on rape

Lakshmi Krupa Ge writes a scathing critique of reportage surrounding a series of recent rape cases that (fortunately or unfortunately) received media attention. She points to bad, even harmful and misogynistic reporting, across the board. Do read: “Rapes, Reports and Ruthlessness,” The News Laundry, October 20, 2012.

Postscript:

Flagrant Violation of Media Ethics, The Hoot, October 29, 2012.

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Why I haven’t stopped thinking about Jennifer Hopper and Teresa Butz

Since I read Eli Sanders Pultizer-winning feature, ‘The Bravest Woman in Seattle‘, published in The Stranger, I haven’t stopped thinking about Jennifer Hopper and Teresa Butz. I read right through, and I’m not ashamed to say that I had to stop and take deep breaths on occasion. But at the same time, I could not stop reading.

Honestly, I do not have the words to describe why this is one of the most beautifully written pieces I have ever read in my life. But suffice to say that Eli Sanders has not just told the horrific story of what happened to Jennifer Hopper and Teresa Butz on that July night in Seattle, but he has told it with immense respect, upholding every possible standard of high-quality, ethical, long-form journalism.

As a friend whom I emailed the link to just said to me: How can a piece about something so horrific be so beautifully done. But it is.

Please also read the follow-up, in Jennifer Hopper’s own words: I would like you to know my own name.

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