KARACHI: To address the lack of gender responsiveness in the media, a consultative session organised by Uks Research Centre, a resource-based publication centre dedicated to the cause of gender equality and women’s development, was held on Saturday.

Apart from discussing the several offences against women in their representation in the media, a booklet “Women, media and ethics: Bridging the gap” was also launched.

With the coverage being given to women and women issues becoming extremely polarised and derogatory, need was highlighted to tackle head-on this menace. According to the director of Uks, “we aim to create awareness on, and promote Uks’ gender-sensitive code of ethics for the media to follow guidelines on how to be more gender-sensitive about content.”

With the continued negative portrayal of women in the media in both news and entertainment, the booklet, which is published with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy, reinforces that women’s rights issues are actually human rights issues too.

Tackling the print and electronic media, including radio coverage, the trajectory of the media and its representation of women over decades are presented in the report with the aid of quantitative and qualitative data.

The report also highlights how issues related to women are not treated with the necessary tact and sensitivity they require. At one place in the report, it lambastes the electronic media for not developing nuance with regards to its content. “The electronic media in particular lags well behind in the quality and content of its programming which do not reflect important socially relevant subjects (including and especially women’s rights issues) in a mature and principled manner. Instead, they resort to sensationalism, an ultra-conservative ethos, stereotyping and other ills of journalism.”

Different surveys that have been conducted by Uks have also been included in the report. One such survey was conducted to assess how viewers define obscenity and vulgarity in the content aired on television.

Another survey took into consideration the recent release of a Bollywood movie, Ki and Ka, in which gender roles within a marriage are reversed. The purpose of this survey was to “debate whether patriarchal/misogynist mindsets can change if themes and topics are brought up openly for public debate.” The responses of this survey were collected through phone calls and social media, and the results and findings have been shared in detail in the report.

Apart from the launch of the booklet, a discussion session was also held that invited attendees to suggest ways to encourage balanced and inclusive coverage of men and women in the media.

Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who also works in advertising, raised the need for viewers to reclaim the space by registering their complaints at the Women’s Media Complaint Cell (WMCC) that was launched by Uks in 2014. WMCC is an independent body that hears the concerns or complaints of the public against the print and electronic news media.

“Pemra receives emails and phone calls to shut down different shows. Why is our response not on similar lines?” She shared the banning of contraceptive advertisements on television as one such example.

“In my opinion this move was connected to women’s rights as is also against national interest,” she said.

Another suggestion forwarded was to increase the online presence of Uks and its various campaigns to reinforce in the minds of the audience the necessity to register and protest against any sort of representation of women that is offensive and insensitive.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2016

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