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Train editors to consider how careless words cost women their lives

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Jackie Gregory
WVoN co-editor

As WWoN reported on January 24, UK equality groups have been urging the Leveson Inquiry into the UK’s press standards to address inaccurate, prejudicial and demeaning portrayals of women.

It is worth taking a closer look at witness statement made by the umbrella group End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW Coalition) which is posted on the official Leveson Inquiry website.

Contained within it are some headline facts which don’t always make the headlines:

Almost one in three girls in Britain have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school (EVAW Coalition, 2009);

3.7 million women in England and Wales have been sexually assaulted at some point since the age of 16 (Home Office, 2009);

Almost half of teenage girls believe that it is acceptable for a boyfriend to be aggressive towards his partner (NSPCC, 2005);

An estimated 66,000 women in England and Wales in 2001 had been subject to female genital mutilation (FORWARD, 2007);

As they set out in their statement the EVAW Coalition states that violence against women and girls cannot be prevented unless the attitudes that excuse and normalise violence are changed.

Marai Larissa, co-chair of the EVAW Coalition, underpins this again in her article for The Guardian.

“I argued at the inquiry,” she wrote, “that such unbalanced reporting which exoticises violence against women and blames women for the violence committed against them, by focusing on a victim’s behaviour, dress or physicality, sends powerful messages to all who read it.

“It is likely to discourage some women from coming forward and reporting violence when victims are portrayed in such a negative and culpable light.

“It may also encourage a potential perpetrator that they will get away with the crime because people will not consider it a real offence.”

‘Careless words cost lives’ was the wartime slogan, and in this context it is true today.

The inquiry also heard that when stories appear which explicitly or implicitly blame the female victim for some action which brought on the attack, then the Coalition receives a spike in calls from women who are ‘retraumatised’ that what happened to them was somehow their fault.

Charities often have requests from journalists for case studies, but say that the reporter or their editor already has a preconceived idea of who this case study should be about -eg young, not been in trouble with the law, with a good job etc.

One of the recommendations proposed by the EVAW Coalition was for more journalism training on this issue.

It is a good point. Many higher education establishments which offer journalism training do not address this in any great depth.

Perhaps this is an issue which the National Council for the Training of Journalists could address.

And it is not just the new, younger generation of journalists who would benefit from such training.

The training needs to begin at the top with the editors.

These are the people who set the tone and style of their paper, and they have the ultimate say – publishers notwithstanding.

And if there is no recognition of a need for change from the editors then the misogynistic culture which still pervades newsrooms, and spreads from there into publications and then society, will continue to be perpetuated.

As journalist Caitlin Moran said of this evidence via her Twitter feed: “#leveson’s attitude to media sexism accusations seems to be “Blimey – that’s a whole separate job in itself, love.” Well, yes. It’s massive. THAT’S WHY IT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED.”

  1. Maybe I misunderstood, but it seemed to me that the Leveson inquiry brushed off most of the points raised yesterday as something that should be someone else’s problem.

  2. vicki wharton says:

    I got that feeling too – the institutional bigotry against women exhibited by the media seemed to be something Leveson didn’t really seem to feel was part of his brief … he appeared sympathetic but under prepared to deal with discrimination rather than more physically obvious forms of law breaking. Not overly sure he understands human rights legislation at all.

  3. My understanding is that the remit of the inquiry is the legality and ethics of the media, so in my opinion, the issues raised fall comfortably within that remit.

    Caitlin Moran’s tweet quoted above puts it exactly as I heard it. A sort of “Yes dear, I appreciate you have a point, but take it up through the relevant channels, don’t bother this grown-ups investigation with ‘womens issues’.”

    Which would be great, if there were relevant channels that held any sway, but we wouldn’t be in this situation if those channels existed!

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