Sunday September 19, 2021

‘Role of media as watchdog in society has changed’

‘Role of media as watchdog in society has changed’

In Pakistani journalism, violence against women isn’t taken seriously unless a circus is made out of it on our television screens, according to Kamal Siddiqi, director of IBA’s Centre for Excellence in Journalism.

He was addressing a news conference at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday. Titled ‘Violence against women: Justice demands objectivity but media gives us sad music and asks insensitive questions. So, where’s the news?’, the conference was organised by the Uks Research Centre.

The purpose of the conference was to address the very disturbing murder of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam in Islamabad on July 20, and the media’s reporting of it. Being a media monitoring and advocacy organisation, Uks for over two decades has been engaged with the media on how to report on women’s issues in general, and on cases of violence in particular.

Sadly though, said Uks Director Tasneem Ahmer, whenever they are faced with a horrific case of violence, which happens almost every day, their monitoring tells them a very sad story. “Most of the time, there’s more negative than positive content. Every day there’s news or two about children’s and women’s sexual abuse, rape, gang rape, harassment at work and in public places, abduction, kidnapping, trafficking and flesh trade, young girls dropping out of schools — and yet, when women come out to ask for their rights, they’re named and shamed.

“Some of the content in the media that we monitor also focuses on the fact that women should not leave the security of their homes. The fact that domestic violence happens within the four walls of one’s home isn’t taken seriously; it’s rather denied.”

She said that the current media scenario is just an extension of the insensitivity that most of our media has displayed against women; be it print, electronic or social media, the slander and the abuse is what always has been happening for almost two decades on most of the talk shows on private TV news channels, and dramas on TV entertainment channels: the vast majority of both continue to demonstrate an alarming level of anti-women bias, sexism, chauvinism and patriarchy, bordering on misogyny.

She termed social media the newest tool to humiliate women. “It seems there are no boundaries for indecent, vulgar and obscene content that keeps popping up in the form of tweets, trolls, memes and whatnot.

“Today’s news conference is an attempt to bring everyone together and understand that though there’s no denying the fact that there’s this element of ignorance, denial and contradiction in today’s media — not all — there can, and must be, room for improvement.”

She said that if one tries to explain this, it can be said that since misogyny and misandry are two sides of the same coin, which are often rooted in culture, society and values, it’s found in the media as well.

“Any extreme views based on gender, sexuality, origin and such are violations of basic human rights. Be it any gender, any segment of society, every human being has a right to be respected and accepted. We need our media to not only understand this but also remember this in its production of content.”

Speaking on Noor Mukadam, who was slaughtered in a house by a man identified as Zahir Jaffer, she said social media helps take action against a lot of such issues, but at the same time, its role is very horrific.

She said that a few days ago there was a trend for justice for Noor on social media, and today it’s about her murderer. It’s being debated in the hashtags that the woman was in a relationship with Jaffer, she was into drugs and this is what happens to liberals.

“This means that if a woman and a man are together, they’re friends or they take drugs, does this give licence to the man to behead the woman?”

Siddiqi said the media’s role as watchdog in society has changed. “Incidents of violence against women and sensationalism, wrong choice of words and wrong choice of cliches happen, and we hold the ratings system responsible, which is also true. But even in newspapers, reporting of such incidents isn’t up to the mark.”

Writer and director Bee Gul said that there’s a class hatred in this high-profile case that’s somehow acceptable. “Class difference in our society, however, exists,” she said, explaining that the guards of the house in Islamabad where the brutal murder happened could have stopped it from happening. She said that one could say that the guards were poor and they couldn’t.

She then painted a picture of domestic violence in impoverished societies, where the domestic abusers aren’t stopped as well. She asked who knocks on the door when they hear the scream of a woman due to domestic violence in the narrow streets of any less privileged locality. “We’re all equally responsible for this. If there’s any violence against any woman or man, and I’m unable to do anything, I’m guilty as a writer.”