KARACHI: Do the latest exploits of Veena Malik and Mathira and designer bags of foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar justify as newsworthy items to be given time and space in the Pakistani media?
This was discussed by a group of female journalists on Friday on the first day of a two-day training workshop titled ‘Powerful Women, Powerful Nation’.
After a heated discussion all the women agreed that Veena and Mathira — often described as the liberal face of Pakistan — did not represent them.
The event was organised by an NGO called Uks, which specialises in research on gender equality and women development. The event was aimed at highlighting the misrepresentation of women in reporting.
The journalists agreed that almost all the news websites and channels followed the mantra ‘More vampish the women, greater the hits’.
A case in point was the Gayari incident which was initially overshadowed by a wardrobe malfunction suffered by Mathira during a catwalk.
“The social media went berserk and this madness spilled over to television as well,” recalled a journalist. “It took a long time for the fact to sink in that the nation faced a big tragedy with over a 100 men dead in Siachen.”
While the lack of good role models on television was bemoaned, particularly on the entertainment side, the lack of reporting on ‘everyday female heroes’ in print was discussed in detail as well.
The women were hardly represented in the media and if they were, it was not a true depiction of an average Pakistani woman, said the director of Uks, Tasneem Ahmar.
“The media tends to place stories of women on the back burner. They are either shown as glamorous vixens or victims.”
Ms Ahmar recalled the time of strict censorship in the 80s when even words like HIV/Aids were banned on state television and radio. “However, worse than this was how cases of violence against women were represented in newspapers,” she said. Giving the example of Nina Aziz, a young woman who was decapitated by her servant, Ms Ahmar highlighted how minute details from Ms Aziz’s life were twisted out of context. “The bias was similarly reflected in the case of Mukhtaran Mai,” she said. “Many people still believe that she was never raped.”
Journalists also noted though social media was good at disseminating information it was also a tool for spreading vile rumours against Pakistani women. The blogs and entertainment sections of English news websites were also criticised for putting up content that demeaned women for getting more hits by generating controversies.
Print media journalist Lubna Jarar Naqvi said that discussions like these were needed to get an insight into the problems faced by women, the situations which hampered reporting on women and the issues women reporters dealt with.
Seema, who works at an Urdu-language daily, agreed with Ms Naqvi. “We are not exposed to these tools at work. Usually people in the print media are hesitant to use technology,” she said. “However, social media is a double-edged sword and anything you say can backfire.”