Journalistic ethics: How the media traumatises rape victims

Published: February 20, 2012
The reporting of rape is far short of proper standards.

The reporting of rape is far short of proper standards.

KARACHI: Sex sells. Sensational stories on sex crimes sell even better. And in the alleged gang-rape case of Uzma Ayub, the Pakistani media seems to have truly set up shop.

The 17-year-old victim has been hounded by journalists from her house to her hospital bed, narrating her experiences of abduction and gang-rape to reporters and millions of viewers across the globe – again and again.

What the family first saw as a means of getting justice, has come back to bite them. “No reporter has ever sought permission to enter our house. It is disgraceful,” said her 18-year-old brother Zafran, who was too disconcerted by journalists to comment any further.

The alleged rape victim from Karak has accused 13 men, including police officers and an army solider, of abduction and gang-rape. After 13 months in custody, the teenage girl returned home pregnant. Her brother Alamzeb, who was an active advocate for his sister’s rights, was shot dead outside a district court in Karak on December 9.

Now Zafran handles the media, juggling consistent calls from reporters between his newfound family responsibilities and studies.

Television channels were most intrusive the day Uzma gave birth to her child. Almost all news channels showed images of the mother and the newborn girl. But what was most atrocious was when hours after the delivery, a reporter from ARY News managed to get inside the hospital room and asked the alleged rape victim how she felt about her child being taken away by an NGO, if Uzma was sure the baby belonged to her and whether she was happy about her birth.

In a frail voice, the 17-year-old mother, lying on a bed with a veil on her face and the newborn next to her, answered all questions live on national television.

Reporter Shazia Nasir sees the January 20 interview as part of the game. “It is completely unethical to ask such questions, but there is too much pressure on reporters to get the story. If I would not have done it, Express News or GEO would have.”

The excessive media coverage has made the victim an object of judgement.  “In the case of Uzma Ayub, the victim has been blamed since the beginning,” said Human Rights Chairperson Zohra Yusuf.

Women’s Rights activist Fouzia Saeed questions why there are different rules for victims and the accused. “If the media names rape victims and shows their pictures, they should do the same for the accused,” she said, adding “Giving intimate details about rape victims only allows people to discuss her further.”

While some feminist thinkers and legal experts believe it is a victim’s discretion to be identified, Tasneem Ahmar, director of Uks, an organisation that oversees the media’s coverage on women, says it is not fair to put people in the limelight without making them understand the consequences of doing so. “People are not really aware of what it means to expose their identity and need to be trained to deal with reporters.  It is not fair to throw a person in front of the media just because it makes a good story.”

“The way Uzma Ayub’s case was reported gave the story a very different twist, starting another blame-game. We have done many trainings for journalists on how to report such cases, but when it comes to the ‘breaking news’ bandwagon, nobody gives two hoots about anything,” she said, adding that all television channels need to sit together and work out a way to control such reporting.

Advocate Javed Burqi, who fought on gang-rape victim Kainat Soomro’s behalf, says it is both unethical and illegal to identify rape victims in the media. “One of the fundamental rights provided by the Constitution is the right to privacy. As the Fourth Estate, the media must respect the Constitution.”

Burqi said that journalists need to understand that it causes “immeasurable psychological trauma” to a victim when she sees her face across television channels and newspapers.

There are also trickle-down effects of irresponsible reporting. “Many rape victims withdraw their cases if they are too pressurised by the media and NGOs,” said Sarah Zaman, director of a non-governmental organisation War Against Rape.  According to the HRCP’s annual report last year, 2,903 women – almost eight a day – were raped in 2010, a figure which is rarely reflected in coverage of rape cases in the media.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Nasir
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:23AM

    Shame on the Pakistani electronic and print media. ARY, Dunya, Geo, Aaj, Samaa and the likes of them. Including English Print media such as, The News, Dawn, Express Tribune.

    Come on people don’t you have some decency? Yellow journalism should be penalized in Pakistan equalent to blasphemy law!!


  • Feb 20, 2012 - 10:54AM

    I loved the way the report had been written. This is called non-bias. Love you ET!


  • Zeta
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:18PM

    Pot calling the kettle black. Well ET you can’t deny the fact which i have observed over the past one year that most of your main political and social stories are exaggerated and sensationalized. You call yourself Liberals yet completely stomp the other side of picture.


  • Shehryar
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:26PM

    I think every editor/senior journalist should be drilling this line into the heads of their team on a daily basis; “Before reporting on any story and before filing it, imagine if the people involved were your mother, sister, wife, daughter and family. Would you use the same language and would your angle be the same?


  • Pinky
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:33PM

    so true!! everyone on media seems to be obsessed about this particular crime…from news to reenactments and dramas!!….if they were out to create “awareness” then they achieved their goal ages ago…but if they were trying to help the victims, Sorry, doesnt seem to be working…


  • siddiqui
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:45PM

    This is the true agenda “keep bad eyes on Irannuclear program” of US behind the resolution introduced in the US house. US must relinquish its double standards. It ignores Israels nuclear program even though undeclared while imposes sanctions against Iran even though the latter has signed the NPT and has the legal international right to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes. Even IAEA has never reported any illegal Iranian act. Then what is wrong with US admin? Its very afraid on the other hand US nation has been always silent on the stance of their government. Current situation is this, due to few peoples wrongful acts it has been resulted to hatred towards the whole US nation. Which should not be? We Pakistani will not allow our soil to US admin for her wrong intention towards Iran.


  • Faraz
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:34PM

    Wow! I find it quite appalling, you write a whole article on the issue of giving this rape victim excessive coverage, highlighting the negative issues, yet you don’t censor her name. Can’t you follow what you write? I wouldn’t have known about this case had not you mentioned the name, you have contributed yourself ET. At least censor her name if you mean to spread awareness and not help give her case excessive coverage yourself!


  • anon
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:01PM

    you talk of ethics and in your story you mentioned the name of the rape victim. what ethics you lecturing on


  • Hashmi
    Feb 20, 2012 - 3:45PM

    all blames to Musharraf for bringing in such a free media with no restrictions.. this is the democracy the media channels chant about daily.. truly sad


  • Truth From Pakistan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:37PM

    Very sad and repulsive attitude. There is a country (not quoting the name deliberately), where one out of four females get raped in their lifetimes yet the media does not disclose identity unless the female agrees to that and she is given urgent medical and psychological care.
    The trauma of this assault is already enough for the victims. Unchecked media coverage makes them like a naked person in public. It is even more important to realise this thing in our society where a rape victim is never treated the same way ever in their lives.
    When will we bring reforms as a nation ??????????


  • FAZ
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:15PM

    Its like chemotherapy!
    Cure your cancer, save your life but live and look like an addict!


  • maleeha
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:47PM

    feel so sorry for this country and people living here. If such a kind of mishap happens with anyone, the victim cannot even fight for her right due to our unethical practices of media and moreover our society which gets a topic for gossips!


  • Wasiq Ali
    Feb 21, 2012 - 11:32AM

    Uzma Ayub case is so old and common that it’s stupid not to name her. How would anyone know which footage is being talked about!?!?!?!? At least the media is finally reporting on itself!!!


  • Megha
    Feb 21, 2012 - 11:24PM

    @ zeta you just don’t get the point! when a vicitim wishes to identify him/herself the media names her. This article is talking about whether that should be done and the problem of media harassment and TOO MUCH COVERAGE!!


  • Mansoor
    Feb 22, 2012 - 9:53AM

    Hats off to the writer


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