By Najia Ashar
August 22, 2023
Originally published in Daily Times
In a nation where mainstream media often gravitates towards political theatrics, digital news media outlets have emerged as powerful champions of marginalized voices and social justice causes. The heart-rending story of Fatima Fariro, a young maid subjected to unthinkable abuse, torture, and torment in her final moments, raises a compelling question: if digital media had not been there, who would have borne witness to her tragic fate? The impact of this digital movement cannot be overstated. What might have been another tragic statistic became a rallying cry for justice, transcending geographical boundaries and demanding accountability. Digital media’s viral reach gave Fatima a voice that could no longer be stifled, urging society to confront the grim reality of GBV head-on. Fatima’s agonizing final moments, captured in a video that circulated across social media platforms, ignited a nationwide outcry under the banner of #JusticeforFatima.”
Reflecting on these incidents, it becomes evident that Fatima’s experience is far from an isolated occurrence. Remember the distressing case of Rizwana, a 14-year-old who endured a prolonged period of brutal mistreatment by her employer in Islamabad. When her parents were finally reunited with Rizwana, she was found in critical condition, underscoring the gravity of her suffering. Equally unsettling is the infamous instance of Tayyaba, a child rescued from a judge’s residence in Islamabad back in 2016, her frail form bearing the burden of severe injuries – a jarring testament to the deeply rooted prevalence of gender- based violence (GBV). These stories, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. As the list of such incidents continues to grow, so does the urgency to address this crisis head-on. The numbers serve as a chilling reminder of the widespread impact: over the past three years, a staggering 63,000 cases of GBV have been reported in Pakistan as revealed by National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in the new report, though the true figure is likely much higher. Furthermore, a distressing “More than 140 cases of abuse, rape, and murder of child domestic workers were reported in the media during the past 10 years,” as stated in a report published in January 2020 by three notable civil society organizations – the Hari Welfare Association (HWA), The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), and Institute for Social Justice (ISJ).
Given the gravity of the situation, the role of digital news media transcends its mere function of shedding light on gender-based violence (GBV); it serves as a catalyst that applies pressure to the wheels of justice. The exposure of these harrowing cases creates a public uproar, compelling authorities to squarely address the dire necessity for justice and accountability. This collective outcry for action propels the pace of investigations, arrests, and crucial legal reforms. A vivid illustration of the power of digital advocacy is the #JusticeforFatima movement, which vividly demonstrates how such fervent online engagement compels authorities to urgently tackle GBV and its associated injustices. It is undeniable that without the pervasive influence of digital media, the arrest of prime suspect Asad Shah Jeelani, a member of an influential peer group, might have been an improbable feat. The arresting reality is that it was the far-reaching impact of digital media that turned this possibility into a reality, leaving an indelible mark on the fight against GBV.
Digital news media outlets, serving as potent agents of awareness and advocacy, grapple with an array of challenges that can hinder their efficacy. In a society susceptible to the rapid spread of misinformation and sensationalism, maintaining accuracy and integrity becomes a perpetual struggle. The speed at which information courses through digital platforms may provoke a hastened rush to publish, potentially sacrificing the fact-checking and verification processes that underpin responsible journalism.
Take the story of Fatima, for example. It got a lot of attention because it was really shocking. But there’s a tricky line between telling an important story and just trying to get more clicks online. Finding the right balance between making people curious and being honest can be hard for digital news sites. To fortify their influence and ensure responsible reporting, a paramount need emerges for comprehensive training of journalists in the realm of ethical journalism, particularly when covering sensitive issues like GBV. This training equips journalists with the tools to navigate the digital landscape while upholding rigorous standards of accuracy, integrity, and empathy. The transformative potential of these platforms is immense, and by fostering a generation of ethical journalists, their impact can only be further magnified. With a steadfast commitment to ethical journalism and responsible reporting, digital news media will continue to wield their influence as potent catalysts for societal transformation.