Media accused of `class bias'

NEW DELHI OCT. 26. The media has been accused of harbouring a "class bias'' when it comes to reporting incidents like rape. Also, when such incidents involve influential people in society, it overemphasises them and exploits their "shock value''. Rape as a routine phenomenon in slums and other disadvantaged sections of society is hardly reported in the media.

This is the conclusion of a public survey conducted by the Viewer's Forum of the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) among men and women belonging to different sections of society in the second and third week of October after four members of the Presidential bodyguard unit raped a 17-year-old girl in the Buddha Jayanti Park. And while the study was being compiled, the rape of a Swiss diplomat during the international film festival was hyped in the media.

"Our audience feedback study focussed on three objectives -- To begin with we tried to elicit the viewer's opinion on the quality of coverage. Secondly, we asked viewers what in their opinion were examples of useful, inclusive and gratuitous coverage by the media. Thirdly, we addressed the key issue of whether or not, viewers thought media could play a more pro-active role in bringing into focus issues like violence against women,'' says Minal Hazrika of the Viewer's Forum.

The survey was conducted among a group of 56 respondents representing a cross-section of men and women ranging from students, professionals, housewives, retired people and people from less privileged backgrounds. Most viewers questioned tend to surf through almost all news channels like Star News, NDTV India, Aaj Tak, NDTV 24x7 and Sahara. However, most students prefer NDTV 24x7 and the less privileged are usually comfortable watching Aaj Tak because it is in Hindi.

A small portion of viewers thought the media was adequately playing the role of a watchdog. They also believe that the coverage of media on the issue of rape was useful in creating awareness about the occurrence of such incidents amongst different sections of the society. However, the viewers resent the media's attitude of not awarding equal coverage to all sections of society. Accusing it of a class bias, they argue that it overemphasized the recent incidents of rape because they involved influential people and hence, facilitated the media in exploiting their shock value. People residing in the slums say that rape is a routine phenomenon in their area but the media does not report it. Almost all those surveyed felt that media has failed to do justice to the cause of Indian women by stereotyping them as a vulnerable section of civil society. Respondents from the middle class accused the media of stressing the weaker side of women by making them the object of news items only when they are victimized. The more horrifying the situation, the greater is the feeling amongst people that the media has done its bit to sensationalize it. The media has also been accused of adopting an opinionated style of reporting, which deprives the story of its objectivity. The job of the media, they feel, is to give information, not interpretation.

Talking about television soaps, most women felt that many of the perpetrators of violence against women get ideas from these serials. When it comes to cinema, viewers strongly believe that the media should stop glamorizing nudity of women as it encourages the rapists to indulge in such ghastly acts. Media gives the impression that Indian women are keen on a vulgar sense of dressing by exposing their bodies. "They should stop the portrayal of women as sex subjects clad in vulgar dress,''said one respondent.

As part of the survey, viewers were asked whether or not they felt the media could pro-actively engage in enhancing their notion of security. This question invited diverse responses. Some felt the media should aim at creating awareness amongst people about the various tools of self-defence which are available to them. The media, especially electronic, should make concerted attempts to spread awareness amongst people about coping mechanisms and institutional support.

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