By Mujtaba Hussain
November 4, 2023
Originally published in Daily Times

Media, a potent instrument in shaping public perception, should be at the forefront of exposing social issues like Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and advocating for change. However, recent instances reveal a troubling trend of unethical and incomplete media reporting surrounding GBV, perpetuating damaging stereotypes and disinformation.

A sexual assault at Benazir Hospital in Rawalpindi underscored the disconcerting portrayal of such incidents in the media. Shockingly, the report presented by a prominent media outlet potentially insinuated that the survivor bore responsibility for the assault, questioning her marital status, choice of company, and even her post-assault behavior. This victim-blaming not only distorts the narrative but diminishes the gravity of the crime. Guidelines against victim-blaming have been established to ensure responsible reporting of GBV. However, these crucial principles are often overlooked or ignored in much of the media coverage.

Furthermore, media reporting often fails to provide a thorough overview of GBV, neglecting to illuminate its legal consequences and the pressing gravity of this issue, consequently leaving a wide knowledge gap within society. For instance, recent media coverage of rape cases in Gulshan-e-Hadeed (Karachi) and incidents of honor killings in Dera Ghazi Khan notably omitted vital legal details, depriving the public of crucial information surrounding these heinous acts.

In certain instances, traditional news media have faced criticism for inadvertently distorting coverage related to gender-based violence (GBV). However, notable cases where coverage was deliberately sensationalized to boost ratings remain sparse within the purview of traditional news media. The same cannot be said for the realm of entertainment media, where such instances are unfortunately more prevalent. A vivid example lies in a controversial drama “Hadsa”, allegedly inspired by a distressing real-life motorway rape case. This production served as a harrowing reminder of the trauma endured by the survivor and left a lasting impact on many. The initial banning of this deeply troubling drama by PEMRA underscored the urgent need for responsible and sensitive storytelling within the entertainment sector. Eventually, the ban was lifted by the Islamabad High Court on September 19, 2023, contingent upon the removal of scenes deemed contentious, highlighting the intricate balance between artistic expression and ethical narrative construction.

To counter this alarming trend, media outlets must adopt a conscientious approach, unwaveringly adhering to established guidelines that prioritize survivor protection and unbiased reporting. Journalists should be provided with specialized training to sensitize them on ethical principles to report GBV. Lastly, regulatory bodies should enhance their vigilance to ensure quality of content particularly on sensitive issues like GBV, promoting a culture of ethical reporting.

Addressing the ethical concerns surrounding media reporting of GBV is essential to shaping a society that understands, empathizes, and works collectively to eradicate this pervasive issue. The media, as a harbinger of societal change, should not only report the news but also play a pivotal role in molding attitudes, dispelling stereotypes, and fostering a safer, more just world for all.