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Leveson backs women in inquiry report

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Leveson backs campaigns to end discrimination against women in the press.

Following a 17-month long inquiry into the phone hacking scandal that dominated headlines last year, Lord Justice Leveson finally revealed his findings last week.

Compiled within a lengthy 2,000 page report, Leveson detailed the ‘cultures, practices and ethics of the press’ with some critical remarks and propsed changes that should be made.

In an interesting side note to his response, Leveson also criticised the media for their frequent  degrading portrayal of women.

In the report he said: “Page 3 tabloid press often failed to show consistent respect for the dignity and equality of women generally, and that there was a tendency to sexualise and demean women.”

In particular, he accused The Sun, The Star and The Sport for being guilty of grossly objectifying women, and commenting on the potential this had to escalate beyond basic news-telling.

“Of greater potential concern to the inquiry is the degree to which the images may reflect a wider cultural failure to treat women with dignity and respect and/or a practice which, intentionally or not, has the effect of demeaning and degrading women.”

And he noted that most women, if not all, were ‘reduced to the sum of their body parts’.

He also said that independent women’s organisations should be brought in by the government to help regulate the way women were depicted in all press and media outlets.

Leveson went on to say that women and people of ethnic minorities were at the most risk of being objectified in a demeaning or negative manner – and of the minorities, Muslims and asylum seekers were abused the most.

“The evidence of discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers, is concerning,” Lord Leveson said.

“The evidence demonstrates that sections of the press betray a tendency, which is far from being universal or even preponderant, to portray Muslims in a negative light,” he added.

Lord Leveson claimed that discrimination and prejudice towards people of a certain gender, sexual or racial type was highly unacceptable for a democracy where freedom of expression was celebrated.

Women’s organisations welcomed Leveson’s comments, and produced a report entitled “Just the Women“.

Following the evidence they provided to Leveson during the inquiry, Eaves, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Equality Now, and OBJECT went on to produce this joint report, focusing on certain news stories in the press that seemed to share a negative portrayal of women over a two week period.

One of the report’s key findings was that issues of domestic violence or other types of abuse were ‘frequently reported inaccurately and without context, with a tendency to minimise the perpetrator’s actions and to blame the victim’.

In addition, women being depicted as sexual objects was normalised and celebrated to the extent that the ‘line between advertising and editorial is extremely blurred’.

Their report also acknowledged that women of black or ethnic backgrounds were largely ignored and that those who were mentioned in the press were ‘subject to ridicule’.

Heather Harvey of Eaves said: “We are very pleased that Leveson has acknowledged the demeaning and sexist treatment of women.

“The portrayal of women in the press goes to the core of public interest and directly impacts on women’s access to justice, women’s aspirations and society’s expectations of women.

“We are particularly pleased with the recognition of a need for an independent mechanism and one which can accept complaints from women’s groups – we look forward now to the government’s response and hope it is as honest about the real state of media sexism.”

Anna Van Heeswijk of Object agreed and said the time has come for changes in the way women are viewed in the press.

“Lord Leveson has given the green light today to setting up a new press regulatory body equipped to challenge the persistent sexism in our daily press,” she said.

“We hope the government looks carefully at his report and ours, and then ensures that any new regulation enables civil society to challenge the press, and to bring about an end to upskirt photography, Page 3 sexism, and the real harms to women which result.”

  1. vicki wharton says:

    Judge Leveson is bang on the money here … I spoke to Chuka Umunna at the Feminist lobby of Parliament and made the point that Labour and Conservatives talk about all in this together or One Nation – tick catchphrase you prefer – but you cannot have a united nation where one half of it calls the other half bitches and whores. We cannot be one nation where the media depicts half the nation as sub human and demeans us with sexist names and portrays us as on heat animals with nothing in our heads but bras and blowjobs.

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