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(I was invited to write this piece by the International Federation of Journalists (Asia Pacific) who along with the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN)launched a special capsule report Media's #MeToo Moment which shines the spotlight on sexual harassment at media workplaces in South Asia. This capsule report was launched ahead of the release of the 16th edition of the annual press freedom report: Clampdowns and Courage: Press Freedom in South Asia 2017-18 launched May 3rd to mark the World Press Freedom Day. IFJ and SAMSN urged the media managements, journalist unions and associations to proactively make media workplaces safer for woman journalists in the wake of the global conversation around sexual harassment at work. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is the world's largest organisation of journalists, read more about them here)
In October 2017, feminism and social media was set aflame with a single hashtag - #MeToo. Most if not all adult women have experience harassment, assault, or abuse in some form. We know this. Didn’t we? Doesn’t the media constantly report cases of gang rape from Jaffna to Tissamaharama? Wasn’t it the media who made us aware the UNFPA found that 90% of women who traveled on public transport in Sri Lanka said they had been sexually harassed? Isn’t it the media who makes sure that we ae aware?
This happens in the media too – both to women (and others) who work in media, female journalists have shared their own Me Too stories. Earlier this year I posted a status on my Twitter feed asking women to share their stories of workplace sexual harassment, and several came from women working in the media. The media as a space is not exempt, and we know this.
What we do need to talk about in the light of Me Too is not just about media as a space, but how media is used as a tool to create the ecosystem in which abuse and harassment thrives. We need to start talking about how the media as a platform and space wields the power to shape our views of women, of their lives, their choices, and the normalization of such violence. The media need to understand this power comes with great responsibility, and no longer can they avoid this fact.
In March the leading English daily print newspaper published an article about a fundamental rights petition using ‘nag’, ‘nitpick’ and ‘lamenting’ to describe the women who filed the petition. This is the same newspaper that regularly accompanies its pieces with salacious cartoons of women, and published piece that ridiculed a woman who accessed services in an STI clinic. Articles on rape suffered by young women on ‘gossip’ sites reinforcing victim blaming. The list goes on.
To start is simple, we need to closely examine the stories we chose to give attention and space to, and if we find we are unable to frame them in a way that doesn’t reinforce negative stereotypes or find the reason the general public would benefit from the story, then perhaps we should question why we need to publish it at all. The media plays a crucial role in ensuring that people are viewed as human beings with dignity and rights. They are important allies in helping us combat issues, and show the world that women are people who deserve to be treated and portrayed as such – not as grotesque caricatures in gossip pieces who’s aim seems to be to provide cheap entertainment and not much more.
It is now time for every journalist, sub-editor, editor, director, and person working in media and creating content to step up and do better. To be better. Media now needs to be the reason Me Too becomes the catalyst for change, and not the reason it will continue to exist.