Let us take the Lead: Positive Action via Media
Intro: Media can play a very constructive role in addressing women issues. Besides being the ‘informer’, media performs the amazing role of an ‘opinion maker’. As it can influence public opinion, it has the power to create and destroy the social fabric.
If it wants, media can be an extremely powerful force. A perfect example is the Jessica Lal murder case. According to Jessica’s family, the guilty are behind bars today only because a determined media kept highlighting loopholes of the case, literally forcing the judiciary to take a fresh look. It was as if newspapers and television channels had made it their mission to ensure that a family was not denied justice.
The role of media is crucial to the issue of violence against women, both in terms of how it reports incidents and how it ensures remedial action through either the government or the social sector.
Unfortunately, the need to earn profit has limited the thought process of the media industry today. In majority media houses, when the editorial team sits down to chalk out the day’s plan, its focus is more on what the public ‘wants’ to read and watch. Rarely, if ever, is there a discussion on what the public ‘should’ read and watch. The result is before us – sensationalism. And rudderless sensationalism can be devastating.
When we talk of gender violence and women safety issues, the media’s role cannot be limited to mere reporting. News coverage of violence against women has often been sensational, exploitative, and lacking in serious analysis of the larger issues involved. Many women feel media coverage of rape or other violence, is like a second assault, because of the insensitivity in using pictures, publishing names and other violations of privacy. Exhibiting a great deal of violence can be counter-productive if the morals and ethics of a particular incident are under-emphasised and the acts of violence are over-emphasised. In fact, extensive reporting of violence also sees a spurt in incidents of violence – maybe because criminal minds get more ideas.
We see constant ‘breaking news’ of rape /gangrape and related murders with each and every gory detail and visual. Full newspaper pages are devoted to such cases. Certainly, the media has a duty to report accurately on acts of violence. But it should also project the means to combat such violence. More than gory details, the public needs to know what happened and how such incidents can be prevented in future. The emphasis has to be on correcting the wrongs of the society with active intervention.
Former President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has frequently emphasised the need for a positive and constructive role of the media. He says, the media must acknowledge strengths instead of just showing what is wrong and negative. In a book, he shared an eye-opening experience: “I was in Tel Aviv once and I was reading the Israeli newspaper. It was the day after a lot of attacks and bombardments and deaths had taken place. After the Hamas had struck. But the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman, who in five years had transformed his desert into an orchid and a granary. It was this inspiring picture that everyone woke up to. The details of killings, bombardments, deaths, were inside in the newspaper, buried among other news. In India we only read about death, sickness, terrorism, crime. Why are we so NEGATIVE…?”
Media houses can make a massive and widespread impact if they spearhead campaigns on social issues. Women safety issues can be very effectively addressed if media actively takes up a campaign to educate the public and pressurise the law to ensure timely justice. Debates and discussions on the status of women have a very limited, if any, effect. Simple guidelines for the public, through positive reporting and other programs would go a long way towards creating a positive environment.
-Abha Khanna Gupta (The writer is a senior Journalist and Social worker)