First ever UNESCO study on sexual violence and Indian news media released

Representative image. Photo: Shutterstock

UNESCO New Delhi and Bournemouth University, England, has launched “Sexual Violence and the News Media: Issues, challenges and guidelines for journalists in India”, a first of its kind study that does an in-depth analysis of media reporting on sexual violence in the country.

The study includes data from all six regions of India. “With a comprehensive cross-section of vernacular languages, the report provides comparative insights into the routines of journalists as they report on sexual violence,” a statement released by UNESCO said. It documents the challenges they face, and analyses the guidelines and principles they follow when reporting on sexual violence.

"Far too often, violence against women and girls, if at all reported, is relegated to the sidelines or framed in a sensationalist way that does not seize the gravity of the situation. Conceived within the framework of UNESCO’s mandate to promote journalism education and gender equality in media, this publication is not just a reflection on current reporting practices, but it also provides recommendations to help improve ethical coverage of gender-based violence," said Eric Falt, UNESCO New Delhi Director.

The report presents data-based results from a comparative content analysis of 10 newspapers covering six languages, and semi-structured interviews with 257 journalists working across 14 languages and representing print, radio, and online sectors. It further investigates the role of organizational and regional contexts, and the influence of attitudes, identity (gendered or cultural), and the self-perception of journalists on their reportage.

Some key findings of the report are:  Nearly 20% of respondents experienced psychological challenges while reporting on sexual violence; 55% of women journalists said they experienced or witnessed workplace sexual harassment or violence; Journalists typically focused on sexual violence in urban areas (49%), with only 22% incidents being reported from rural areas during the period of analysis. “Journalists faced several challenges, which included safety issues and psychological distress,” the report said.

Chindu Sreedharan, one of the authors of the report, said: "Previous studies have largely focused on the representation of sexual violence in the news media in urban settings. What we wanted to understand also was the dynamics of that representation, the issues and challenges that journalists face while covering sexual violence — the forces that shaped their news content. Our attempt here is to provide an evidential basis that news organizations, journalism associations and networks, media educators, and journalists themselves can use to effect change."

The publication also calls on journalism associations and news industry leaders to take a lead in establishing a national charter for news reporting of sexual violence. Among the various recommendations, it suggests that news organizations should adopt and integrate reporting guidelines into everyday news work, and agree on an institutional approach for the use of language associated with sexual violence.

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