Reporting rape cases; media remains highly insensitive

NAJAM-SETHI-STATEMENT-OVER-GANG-RAPE

The Friday Times has recently joined the ranks of those who are exploiting the plight of a young rape victim. A piece that appeared last Friday in Sach Gup, the gossip session of the paper appeared to throw doubt over the authenticity of the accusations of rape levelled against an influential and connected political figure, associated with the ruling party PLM-N. The piece mentions the fact that the rape victim is a child as an afterthought, after multiple paragraphs seek to bring the victims’ side of story in doubt. The Friday Times is edited by veteran journalism Najam Sethi and managed by his wife Jugnu Mohsin. Both have a reputation of being senior, mature journalists, who are usually seen taking a higher moral ground on their respective TV shows.

To see such a piece appear in a publication led by senior professionals shows the gravity of the problem. Women as news subjects remain extremely vulnerable, more so when they have been the victim of a sexual crime. The day the Friday Times piece was published, another news item showed that the underage victim had attempted suicide allegedly due to the family facing tremendous pressure to drop the name of the main accused from the investigation.

The Friday Times isn’t the only news outlet that has fallen short on ethics during the coverage of this story. Earlier, a number of TV channels were issued a notice by PEMRA, reprimanding them for showing identifying details of the victim without regard to ethics or the safety of the victim. The PEMRA notice warned the TV channels that disclosing such details was against the law and the code of conduct and thus constitutes a criminal activity. What is unfortunate is the fact that the bulk of TV channels had to be specifically notified that revealing identifying details of an underage rape victim on national TV is not okay.

In a country like Pakistan, where victim blaming is the norm and rape victims have to carry the stigma for life, such callous attitude by the media shows that journalists today are willing to sacrifice even the basic ethical considerations and news channels see human tragedies and crime primarily as opportunities to be exploited for ratings.

What is needed here is a culture of sensitivity and empathy that demands journalists and media outlets to remain empathetic and take the responsibility for the consequences of their actions, rather than dehumanising news subjects and treating them as stories to be milked without giving due thought to the plight of those involved. When it comes to issues like the coverage of rape victims, and specifically underage rape victims, news outlets need to follow the codes of conduct very closely and ensure that they do not bring further harm to the victims by indulging in unprofessional and insensitive practices.

Image Courtesy: Express Tribune

Sadaf Khan

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