Sexual violence journalism in the English language Indian press

 Before and after the Delhi Rape

‘The Indian press is still at the beginning of a long apprenticeship cycle with respect to the reporting of gender justice and violent crimes against women’, observed Prof. Daniel Drache at the International Communication Association pre-conference workshop on South Asian Communication Scholarship, London, June 16-17, 2013. He was presenting key findings of a study of the hundreds of stories pertaining to sex crimes reporting in the English language Indian press. 

The Indian Medialogue publishes here the executive summary of the report titled “A Report on Sexual Violence Journalism in Four Leading English Language Indian Publications Before and After the Delhi Rape”. Full text of the same  is available here.

On the study and methodology

The Delhi Rape is the most extensively covered rape case in recent Indian history. This report chronicles a media monitoring exercise of rape reporting before the Delhi incident between January 1, 2012 and August 31, 2012. The report also examines the three-month period after the Delhi Rape in an empirical analysis of four leading Indian English language publications with a combined circulation of 2,946,340: The Hindu, India Today, the Indian Express and Tehelka.

sample

Rape reporting increased by roughly 30% after the Delhi Rape, with the Delhi Rape taking between 10-20% of the share of rape stories across varying storylines.

Sex crime reporting is best understood by identifying storylines. Monitoring the Delhi Rape, 5 storylines emerged: personal, public outcry, women’s safety, police handling and legislative. These storylines enabled us to probe the reporting of rape and sexual violence more deeply with respect to the context under which gender justice was addressed.

In the case of crime reporting, the news agenda is highly impacted by the amount of public attention, both locally and globally, an incident receives. The global coverage, which included world newspapers such as the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian and many major television stations, intensified the local press coverage and created a large public space for debate and the venting of anger. In addition to covering the incident itself, news organizations outside of India sought out the experience of Indian women in interviews such as “A Sense of Insecurity”, a video produced by The New York Times, which addressed the impact of new legislation against the daily lives of women.

 Further still, the attention granted by other sources such as newswire, independent journalists, social media and civil society organizations also brings fresh perspective to bear on gender justice. To this end, this report works to understand both how the press covers stories of rape and also asks whether the press provides ample opportunity to discuss gender justice.

global audience

Focus on rape (as a category of sexual violence)

Strictly speaking, the Delhi Rape is more than just a gruesome crime; it needs to be understood as a matter of gender justice. Gender justice situates crimes against women within the larger structure of power. The structure of patriarchal power has worked against the interests of women in the way sexual crimes are reported in India and other societies. We have developed a methodological yardstick to better understand the progress the press has made with respect to crimes of gender violence.

Sexual violence can be broken down into four dominant categories: rape/honor killings/domestic violence/human trafficking. Given the number of news stories to be coded, it became evident that the York University/Jamia Millia Islamia shared project did not have the resources to examine all dimensions of sexual violence. As a result, it was decided to focus on rape, however, it is important to point out that the phenomenon of sexual violence in India today is much larger and more complex than is covered in our report.

Disconnected from a broader context

Sexual crime reporting often considers class and caste when determining what stories become part of the news agenda. In the words of Sameera Khan, the press is attracted to ‘people like us’ stories. Indeed, the large, national English language press in India report crimes concerning middle or upper class urbanites in greater number and detail than stories centered around tribal or lower-caste characters. Through our own study, it became apparent that caste was only mentioned if the victim was a Dalit; otherwise, no mention of caste was made. Such omission only furthers Khan’s observation that stories of low class and caste are underrepresented in the English language Indian press. Amidst these trends in rape reporting, the common denominator remains – these stories are disconnected from a broader framing context or larger meaning. They exist as isolated islands without connecting to larger, more developed storylines.

Incident driven rape reporting

So far, the English language Indian press has made small but important progress with respect to reporting on gender justice. On the one hand, when the press follows a story across diverse storylines, moving beyond the incident and crime cycle, it opens the possibility for gender justice sensitive reporting. On the other hand, when the story focuses simply on the sensational aspects of the crime, the powerful gender justice perspective is not well served. In the case of the Delhi Rape, reporting has indeed broached the subject of gender justice from multiple storylines; however, the reporting also gravitated towards the sensational.

Who a victim reports a crime to?

Who a victim reports a crime to speaks volumes about the confidence a society has in their authority figures. In our media monitoring study, we looked for mention of who sexual crimes had been initially reported, be it the police, family or others, such as neighbors, friends etc. We found news reporting to be deficient, with 71% of news articles not providing any information regarding the role of police, family or others. Without understanding how crimes are reported, we are left without an understanding of how these very personal crimes come to light.

Who does a victim turn to

Based on the hundreds of stories we examined, leading newspapers and periodicals in the English language in India are still at the beginning of a long apprenticeship cycle with respect to the reporting of gender justice and violent crimes against women.

Incident based reporting in the Indian press is superficial

The Delhi Rape can be understood as a trigger event that provoked Indian’s to engage with the issue of gender justice. Our empirical evidence leads us to conclude that incident based reporting is superficial in that it insufficiently examines the causes and prevention of rape from a gender justice perspective. The Indian press needs to take a hard look at its coverage of sexual violence if it intends to have a higher standard of journalism with a modern view of sexual crimes and violence.

Professor Emeritus Daniel Drache (drache@yorku.ca) prepared this report in collaboration with Jennifer Velagic (jvelagic@gmail.com). She spent two months in India as part of the York and Jamia exchange programme where she did extensive research on gender violence in India and the representation of rape in newspapers. Those who provided her research assistance also include Monisha Bhatnagar, a final year postgraduate student of Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

This study is part of a larger project jointly shared between the Communication and Culture program, York and Ryerson Universities, Toronto and the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

This entry was published on June 28, 2013 at 12:17 pm. It’s filed under Media Justice, Media Policy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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