KARACHI: The projection of women in the media has garnered much criticism due to its ability to mutate into stereotypes beyond recognition. To understand this phenomenon, independent organisations have dedicated years to painstakingly research and document all the follies committed in these many projections, and one such organisation is Uks.

Journalists, media house owners, reporters from the print and electronic media, civil society members, writers, dramatists, and concerned citizens came together for a round-table discussion held on Friday to show support for the adoption of a gender-sensitive code of ethics, as recommended by Uks.

For almost two decades, Uks has advocated women as being an equal entity in society and have aimed to create awareness about gender equality and women development. The director of Uks reiterated the importance of monitoring the media with regards to the content aired and tone used, raising objections where necessary and in the long run making it more gender sensitive. This is of utmost importance, especially when reporting on issues such as rape, honour killings and domestic violence.

According to the Uks director, nuance in the vocabulary used for women, be it in print or on television, can be at times “stereotyping, dehumanising and commodifying”.

Moderator Javed Jabbar handled the discussion with the necessary sensitivity it deserved and gave speakers ample time to share their opinions, reinforcing a point or adding on to an argument where necessary.

Head of Geo News Azhar Abbas reiterated the stance by Uks for the setting up of a Women’s Media Complaint Cell. He suggested timely checks on what is being aired and written, and that complaints made to the cell should be promptly dealt with so that media houses are more aware of what not to air.

However, one of the questions that arose at the discussion was whether self-imposed filters are a better form of regulation, or formal legislation.

Also, though representatives of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and Pakistan Broadcasting Association (PBA) had been sent invites to be part of the discussion, their absence was an indication of the differences in opinion between and within media regulatory bodies.

An interesting trajectory of the discussion headed time and again to the Ayyan Ali case which showed glaring lapses in media coverage. Many at the discussion believed that her trial was hardly discussed, and instead everything from her sense of style to what she wore was the main focus, which was far from appropriate.

Space was also given to the portrayal of women on entertainment channels, specifically in morning shows and TV dramas. Opinion was divided on this topic as some felt that these shows have played a negative role by undermining and restricting the role of women to mere household activities. On the flip side, an argument was also put forth that such shows have certainly done good by generating awareness about sensitive gender issues not previously discussed in the media.

Poet and feminist writer Attiya Dawood shared instances of how the impact of Pakistani dramas tends to be very direct and potent.

Sharing her experience as a dramatist, she lamented that “the role of the writer is sidelined in favour for what sells. So, a hapless female protagonist is much in demand rather than a ‘NGO-type’ figure and this requirement is communicated to the writer,” she said.

Editor of Sindhi-language newspaper Awami Awaz and secretary general of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors Dr Jabbar Khattak was of the opinion that there tends to be less incidences of gender bias in Sindhi media. He recounted efforts made by editorial teams to ensure that when reporting on issues such as rape and karo kari, the language employed was appropriate and not inflammatory.

“Media consumers should pressurise media houses to research, survey and audit content,” he added.

Columnist Wusatullah Khan’s comments were directed towards the lesser number of female activists and bloggers in social media. He also highlighted how experts on television are usually men and female voices are seldom heard.

Khan was of the opinion that “society’s attitude towards religious and ethnic minorities, as well as underprivileged classes, is very much connected to attitudes towards women”.

The rating wars, agreed all panellists, has allowed content in advertisements to also be skewed towards depicting women as inferior. To counter this, a parallel system of auditing content was suggested.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2015

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