What is the news?
A study on ‘Sexual Violence and the News Media: Issues, Challenges and Guidelines for Journalists in India’ has recommended that, nationally, a charter for news reporting of rape and sexual violence can be established by news industry leaders, which would ensure accountability and commitment to sensitive reporting of the same.
Basis of the study
Study was based on content analysis of 10 newspapers over six languages, and semi-structured interviews with 257 journalists across 14 languages. Through this, the study provided insights into routines journalists follow and the challenges they face on the field.
Findings of the study
- There was a lack of formal editorial guidelines in use across newsrooms in the country.
- 20% of the respondents, more women than men, said that they experienced distress, and 55% of women journalists said that they had directly experienced or witnessed workplace sexual harassment.
- Journalists rarely undertake in-depth inquiries into the cases they cover. The challenges they face include safety issues while newsgathering, difficulties in accessing key sources, and distress from the requirements of their assignments.
- Women reporters were overall less inclined than men to depend on police sources. Some women journalists also mentioned experiencing gender bias from the police.
- Disproportionate publication of unusual cases: The study also highlighted patterns in daily news about sexual violence and said that news outlets often tended to disproportionately publish unusual cases which led to a misleading picture of how sexual violence manifests in the country. Below 7% of stories focused on solutions.
- Adoption of a charter: A charter nationally suggested that it be based on a public pledge that newsrooms can adopt, which included a commitment to best practices.
- Establishment of peer support networks for journalists experiencing trauma
- Training in law enforcement procedures through a national initiative which covers both rural and urban journalists
- More material on responsible reporting for media and journalism students in their curriculum.
- For news organisations, the use of institutional style guides, which would establish what language is to be used with regard to reporting rape and sexual violence
- Establish a routine for fact checking and verifying FIRs
- Institutional process to ensure the safety of journalists who were reporting
- Regular promotion and reporting on programmes and policies which focus on rape and sexual violence.
- For individual journalists and newsrooms, the study also stated guidelines which can be put into practice on a day-to-day basis for routine news work focusing on interviewing survivors, depiction and news framing, sources, setting a context, and offering solutions.