Leveson Inquiry Must Address Sexist Media Stereotypes, Say Women’s Groups
Speaking at the Leveson inquiry on Tuesday, a representative of the group accused some media outlets of feeding into myths about rape, which they argued could prevent some women coming forward to report the crime.
“The media creates, reflects and enforces attitudes in society. Those who work in the media should be conscious of this and should actively seek not to reproduced attitudes which condone violence against women or girls,” said Marai Larasi from End Violence Against Women, a coalition of 40 women’s organisations.
Representatives of the women’s groups Equality Now, Eaves, Object and End Violence Against Women called on Lord Justice Leveson to ban highly sexualised images in newspapers, which they argued would not be broadcast pre-watershed on television.
Newspapers including the Sun, the Daily Star and the Sunday Sport were criticised for “relentlessly” objectifying women, portraying them “as a sum of sexualised body parts”, said Anna van Heeswijk, from anti-objectification of women organisation Object.
“We have to ask ourselves what kind of story does it tell to young people when men in newspapers wear suits, or sports gear, are shown as active participants, while women are sexualised objects who are essentially naked or nearly naked,” she said.
The groups are calling for any new regulation of the press to ban pictures of naked or semi-naked women in newspapers, arguing that the images would not be allowed in the workplace and should not be sold in an “unrestrained” manner at “children’s eye-level”.
Van Heeswijk accused tabloids that carry photographs of semi-naked women on page 3 of “creating a culture of fear which silences … anybody speaking out against the portrayal of women as sex objects”. She cited the example of former MP Clare Short who was branded a “fat” and “jealous” “killjoy” by the Sun when she spoke out against Page 3.
Several newspapers were singled out for criticism during the evidence given by the women’s groups. The Daily Telegraph was criticised for a report which they said suggested a man had murdered his wife after she changed her Facebook status to “single”, and said too often media reports of violence against women focused on the behaviour of the victim.
A Daily Mail report about six footballers being jailed after gang raping 12-year-old girls in a “midnight park orgy” was criticised for the use of the word “orgy” and for referring to the victims as “Lolitas”. Larasi told the inquiry: “Put the word ‘orgy’ in something and what you immediately do is grab the attention, it’s becoming titillating. The focus stays on the woman and what she did or didn’t do.”
When asked previously about this article a spokesman for Associated Newspapers said it appeared on Mail Online, not in the Daily Mail, and was based on a court report from a reputable news agency that contained the words “orgy” and “Lolitas”.
The groups also called on Leveson, charged with investigating the regulation of the media following the phone-hacking scandal, to replace the Press Complaints Commission with an independent body “with teeth” that women and women’s groups could complain to directly. The reporting of violence against women and girls needs to be more balanced and more context needs to be provided about its frequency, they added.
Journalists should also receive training on the “myths and realities” about violence against women and girls, and there should be a code of practice for the way “case studies” are dealt with, the groups said.
Jacqui Hunt from Equality Now said the groups did not want to curtail the freedom of the press but wanted more responsibility. “Freedom of the press, yes it’s really important, it’s key but we have to find a way of making sure that women are not sidelined [and] objectified,” she said.