Savile, Reddit and turning off the lights
As a media graduate, the consumption of news – whether it be TV or newsprint – was something that I always felt obliged to undertake.
During my studies and for several years afterwards I had newspapers delivered, watched Newsnight, listened to the Today programme: in short I was plugged into mainstream news media.
However, when I started to write for Women’s Views on News in 2010, I began to access my news and opinion online, mainly through blogs, and more recently Twitter – until today I consider myself unplugged from mainstream news media.
And in this, I don’t think I am alone.
According to a forthcoming book, only 18% of people in the UK read a local daily newspaper and TV news audiences, although steady, are heavily skewered to an older demographic. Ofcom Media reports that only 6% of the average TV news audience is aged 25-34.
“The long term and still to be answered question is whether the current young heavy-users of digital media – and rejecters of TV news will, like the generations before them, learn to love catching up on the day’s events in front of the TV or will they become life-long rejecters of TV news.” Stewart Purvis, Ofcom Partner for Content and Standards
I beg to differ – the long-term and still to be answered question is not why the younger generation are turning away on-mass from mainstream news, but why news content is overwhelmingly decided upon, written about and presented by men – witness the the lack of female political bloggers, the lack of female representation at the BBC (both in presenters and interviewees), and the nauseating sexual stereotypes peddled by the newspapers.
With such an over-representation of one gender deciding what news we watch, hear and read, we, as the public, are subjected to a breathtaking denial of the cultural landscape that we live within. This cultural landscape consistently objectifies women, but the mainstream media refuse to address this every time another sexual abuse case emerges.
If we look at two recent cases that hit the news, firstly the ‘Jimmy Savile as abuser’ story. Quite rightly those who joined in or turned a blind eye to Savile’s abusive practices are about to face the consequences via a recently launched police investigation. Secondly, the outing of a US Reddit moderator who hosted and contributed to numerous forums which posted pictures of women and girls – without their consent – as masturbatory material for its audience.
It is notable that the mainstream coverage of both cases has consistently refused to acknowledge that these incidences took place within a framework of rape culture.
In this instance I am defining rape culture as a culture within with women are not safe from sexual harassment and attack from men, a culture where 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, and where the reality of how the constant threat of sexual assault affects women’s daily movements is not publicly acknowledged.
So instead of a discussion of the cultural landscape within which these abusers grew up and were shaped by, they are being portrayed as ‘other’ – one-offs that need to be dealt with. The implication is that once we have dealt with them, the problem – men preying on women and girls – will go away.
Nowhere has the reporting emphasised how the culture within with we live enabled these men to practice their victimisation.
These are just two examples of news reporting that refuses to address the systemic violence against women and girls and this is are underpinned by the appalling figures on successful rape prosecutions, the dismissal of both the Rochdale and Savile women (‘just the women‘, anyone?) as being ‘unreliable’, and on a more practical level, the decision to switch off of half a million street lights after midnight by local authorities in England and Wales.
The common denominator in all the instances outlined above is that men were/are in charge. They were in charge of the institutions that Savile targeted, they were (and are) in charge at the BBC (which turned a blind eye to his accusers), they are in charge as moderators at Reddit, they are in charge in local authorities all over the country which have decided that turning off streetlights after midnight – despite the very real possibility that women – already unsafe on our streets – will now be even more at risk.
It is unsurprising that the discussion is avoided by the male-dominated news outlets because to acknowledge rape culture would make men uncomfortable – whether they be producers or consumers of news. Because to acknowledge it would also demand that they acknowledge their part in the perpetuation of rape culture by refusing to address it.
This male-centric view of the world – a view where women are not only not listened to, but erased from the conversation – is why I am unplugged from the mainstream media. And why I am staying unplugged.
Meanwhile here is a more nuanced view of the Savile case.