In Dua Mangi’s case, the crime was not reported as crime, rather as a sensational happening involving a young woman
Mass media outlets, especially those involved with the dispensation of news, are in a uniquely powerful position to influence public perceptions, beliefs and social biases. While it is difficult to obfuscate fact, the language, tone and placement used to inform a reality can add a layer of subjectivity, despite the media’s claim to objectivity. This layer is congested with assumptions and socially upheld stereotypes, which distract from, rather than inform on the incident at hand.
Women, who face systematic discrimination at the hands of patriarchal institutions and frameworks, also find their portrayal in the media shrouded in language which reinforces a societal suspicion, distrust and proclivity towards victim blaming and shaming. According to Myths Broken or Sustained: Representation of Women Victims in Pakistani Media, a study conducted in 2015 by Musarat Yasmin, Ayesha Sohail and Riaz Ahmed Mangrio, reporting on female victims is “lethargic and biased”.
Dua Mangi, a 20-year-old law student was abducted at gunpoint from Karachi DHA’s Bukhari Commercial Area, while Haris Soomro also a 20-year-old law student was shot at and sustained serious injuries on November 30.
Mangi was ‘recovered’ on December 7, after her family paid a ransom of Rs2 million, to what Karachi Special Forces and Police call a “gang of militant outfits” suspected of using kidnapping for ransom in order to generate revenue for terrorist activities.
Yet, this was not the story told. A serious crime, taking place in an affluent neighbourhood was not just seen as a chance to rage against the incompetence of Karachi police, for letting two such kidnappings occur in DHA in six months. Rather, as Mangi’s family, friends and peers raised awareness regarding her abduction through social media and protests at Teen Talwar, social and mass media were assessing her character and lifestyle, rather than the crime itself.
On December 6, a leading English newspaper referred to Haris Soomro as Dua Mangi’s “friend”. When liberal Twitter protested against the sexual insinuation, the quotation marks were removed. There was no editorial mention of the change. Since CCTV footage was released of these individuals walking down the street together, anchors and reporters across Urdu and English TV news spent ample on-air minutes, replaying the footage, speculating wildly on the nature of their relationship and probing untiringly into a private matter. The analysis and discourse of Mangi’s kidnapping were confined in the ‘norms of respectability’; irrelevant to rise in crime and abductions of young women in Karachi. The underlying implications was if she was comfortable with Soomro’s proximity, she probably wouldn’t mind four-five strangers forcing her into a car and holding her against her will.
Another prominent English news organisation, published a headline Kidnappers picked Dua after seeing her dressing. The content of the article, explained that the kidnappers had thought — due to Dua’s western clothing, foreign trips and independent lifestyle — that her family could afford a large ransom. Instead of reflecting on the link between class and crime, the sexist headline plays into another universal misrepresentation of female intention – because she dressed a certain way, she asked for it. While such allegations have been levied against rape victims, hinting that a woman signalled kidnappers to hold her against her will, is a new interpretation.
Some TV channels have taken the exploitation of Mangi’s privacy even further. On leading Urdu channels, breaking news flashes her photos. However, these photos cannot be used to identify Mangi, as her face is blurred out. The only purpose these photos appear to serve is to highlight her choice of clothing.
Unconcerned with the repercussions, leading TV outlets seem preoccupied with ratings through sensationalism.
The sensationalism and lack of concern for privacy is not limited to men in the media. On December 2, a leading Urdu presenter on the 7-8pm cycle began her show with Mangi’s case. She stressed the horror, and criticised the Sindh police for failing to unearth a single lead in three days. She then went on to name Mangi’s friends, called for them to be questioned and insisted that it was highly unlikely that the kidnappers did not know Mangi beforehand. While the reporter providing her with updates repeatedly said that the police were open to all suspects, the host narrowed the range of her questions to men in Mangi’s life. From inappropriate speculation regarding Mangi and Soomro, to mentioning a possible lover/fiancé from the US; the desire for an affair to reveal itself was poorly disguised.
Even newer online media platforms, run by younger seemingly gender-sensitive journalists, airing an interview with Laila Mangi, Dua’s sister, had the headline; Dua Mangi ghar se kya bol kar nikli? Highlighting the negative Pakistani stereotype of women who step out of their home, specifically young girls who are suspected of misleading and lying to their parents, in order to go out.
A defence often used by mainstream media against such criticism is that they are simply asking questions, they feel the masses would want answered. However, it seems as though they are taking their cues from some social media users spewing misogynistic hatred and victim blaming.
“Gender bias is systemic in a profession which itself is so male dominated,” says Farah Zia, the director of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
“We need more women in decision making positions and all along not in the sense of a cliche but because only then will the media present an equitable view of society,” she adds.
Twitter or Instagram users do not build their careers upon the veracity and objectivity of their word and tweets, members of the formal media do. In fact, most contracts journalists enter into with media organisations, include a clause providing for termination from service over propagation of hate-speech and biases against any sect, gender, community etc.
The aim of any journalist and media organisation should be to highlight facts and eradicate misconceptions. Ignorant and gender-insensitive approaches towards reporting and commenting on female victims lead to systematic discrimination against women. Instead of reporting on crimes against women, it seems that some of the mainstream media tries first to answer the question of whether the woman deserved it or not? The Mangi family has complained that the crime was not reported as crime, rather as a sensational happening involving a young woman, who frequents Karachi’s most posh areas.
While these media people were busy with inappropriate speculations, the law student was blindfolded, chained and made to listen to loud music for a week till her ransom was paid.
The author is a staff member