By Najia Ashar
September 1, 2023
Originally published in Daily Times
“Can someone make a drama on my life? Why did I not die before reliving this?” Her words carry a heavy weight, a plea for comfort in a world that fails to comprehend her suffering. The ordeal, a haunting second victimization, is a stark reminder of her robbed agency – a cruel reflection of how her control was stolen. “Z” the survivor once marked by unspeakable horror on a fateful day, now found herself victimized anew – a casualty of a media portrayal that sought to capitalize on her trauma for profit. “Hadsa,” a drama inspired by the heart-wrenching events of the “Motorway incident”, has rekindled the chilling memories that still send shivers down her spine. “The wounds of the past are still fresh, and the portrayal of my tragedy for mere cash and TRP has left me traumatized, even driving me to the brink of despair,” she confessed. “Z” now thrust into the harsh glare of entertainment, never gave her consent for her agony to be reduced to a spectacle. The trauma she suffered remains etched in her being, a day she wishes to forget. Yet, our writers and producers, in their pursuit of ratings and gains, made her relive that very nightmare. Her personal story has been taken and twisted for entertainment, leaving her feeling violated. She doesn’t seek attention or fame; all she desires is quiet healing away from prying eyes. But this portrayal, a painful intrusion into her wounds, has brought her even more distress, an agony she never asked for.
The wounds inflicted by this exploitation cannot be easily healed, even if the drama is taken off the air or apologies are issued.
The role of media in safeguarding the identity and sanctity of rape survivors holds immense significance. While our news media is often criticized for its insensitive coverage of social issues, it remains a fact that ethical journalism is frequently overshadowed by the relentless pursuit of TRP ratings and breaking news. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that there are instances where news media rises to the occasion. A notable example is the motorway incident in September 2020, where newsrooms demonstrated the transformative impact of responsible coverage. Amid the distressing circumstances, mainstream news outlets played a crucial role by upholding ethical standards. They shielded the survivor’s identity with utmost sensitivity, refrained from sensationalism, and focused solely on providing accurate information. As “Z” found herself stranded near Lahore’s Gujjarpura after running out of fuel on her way to Gujranwala, media outlets prioritized ethical practices by safeguarding her anonymity. The traumatic experience endured by “Z,” where two men shattered her car window, compelled her to stop by the roadside and subsequently subjected her to rape in a nearby forest, was recounted with a profound respect for her privacy and dignity. This responsible approach set a pivotal precedent, highlighting how media can bolster survivors’ strength without adding to their pain. It underscored the potential of media to contribute to an environment where survivors’ well-being takes precedence.
However, within the domain of Entertainment media, a portion of the content – not all – claims to shed light on socially sensitive issues but often steers towards sensationalism in pursuit of heightened ratings and audience engagement. Regrettably, this inclination extends even to narratives concerning Gender-Based Violence (GBV), which require particularly sensitive treatment. It’s disheartening to observe that the portrayal of such stories tends to exploit the shock value of vulnerable women, slaps across faces, gruesome honour killings, and harrowing instances of rape. These narratives attract greater attention, inadvertently overshadowing stories of independent, successful, and empowered women who equally deserve representation. This divergence underscores the industry’s proclivity to mirror society’s darker aspects rather than inspire a more civilized, peaceful, and resilient future. A recalibration is imperative – a shift from reflecting what is to envisioning what society could become through thoughtful and ethical storytelling.
In the aftermath of “Z’s” deeply harrowing journey and its media portrayal, it becomes crucial to reflect on the responsibility we hold as a society. We must raise our collective voice against the insensitivity that commodifies real traumas for profit. Let us recognize the power media wields in shaping narratives, and let’s strive for a narrative that respects survivors’ stories, cherishes their courage, and promotes healing. Exploiting these painful experiences for financial gain deeply wounds the fabric of our society. It perpetuates the cycle of triggering trauma for countless women, men, children, and transgenders who have endured similar horrors. We must reject the monetization of such crimes, respecting the survivors’ agency and stories. The wounds inflicted by this exploitation cannot be easily healed, even if the drama is taken off the air or apologies are issued. “Z’s” ordeal stands as a powerful testament – a stark reminder that survivors’ stories are not mere tools for entertainment. They represent lives of strength, resilience, and the pursuit of justice, and they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and sensitivity.