Thursday, January 26, 2012

Media inquiry must back ban on sexualised images in media, UK women's groups say

When Lord Justice Leveson launched his inquiry into the ethics of the press, he may not have expected to be confronted with an enlarged photograph of near-naked bottoms. Or to be presented with evidence deemed so explicit it was censored before being circulated to other witnesses.
But a coalition of women's groups argued that such highly sexualised images – presented as part of their submission to the inquiry – were ubiquitous in the UK media, and called on the judge to tackle "relentless" sexism in some areas of the press.
Four groups – Eaves, End Violence Against Women, Object and Equality Now – called on Leveson to back a ban on sexualised images in newspapers, arguing they would not be broadcast on television before the 9pm watershed.
The groups also accused some media outlets of perpetuating myths about rape, which they argued could prevent victims reporting the crime, and called for a tougher regulatory body. "The media creates, reflects and enforces attitudes in society," said Marai Larasi from End Violence Against Women, a coalition of 40 women's organisations. "Those who work in the media should be conscious of this and should actively seek not to reproduce attitudes which condone violence against women or girls."
Papers including the Sun, Daily Star and Sunday Sport "persistently" objectified women, portraying them "as a sum of sexualised body parts", said Anna van Heeswijk, from Object, a lobby group against the objectification of women. "We have to ask ourselves what kind of story does it tell young people when men in newspapers wear suits, or sports gear, are shown as active participants, and women are sexualised objects who are essentially naked or nearly naked," she said.
The groups are want legislation banning pictures of naked or semi-naked women in newspapers, arguing the images would not be allowed in the workplace because of equality legislation, and should not be sold in an "unrestrained" manner at "children's eye-level". Leveson said his powers were limited and such a change would require "rock-solid legislation".
Van Heeswijk highlighted the inquiry's decision to censor some of the images in Object's submission. "They were censored for adults within this inquiry, when in fact they are freely available in mainstream newspapers, which are not age-restricted," she said. She also accused tabloids carrying photographs of semi-naked women of "creating a culture of fear which silences … anybody speaking out against the portrayal of women as sex objects". She cited former MP Clare Short, who was branded a "fat" and "jealous" "killjoy" by the Sun when she spoke out against Page 3.
The reporting of violence against women too often focused on the actions of the victim, rather than the attacker, and perpetuated myths about what constituted a "real rape", said Heather Harvey of Eaves. Women often blamed themselves if they had been drinking, or wearing certain clothes, or if they knew their attacker, she added. "What they have read in the papers [is] in some way responsible for that."
Men were also too often portrayed as "monsters", she said. "[T]hese cases get treated as a one-off […] there's nothing you could do to prevent it. Whereas the position we're coming from, [is] it's not inevitable, it's a cause and a consequence of inequality."..
Asked by Leveson what the difference was between expressly pornographic publications such as Penthouse and the tabloids in question, Van Heeswijk said: "I think you'll find that there isn't a marked difference between the content […] so the difference is how they are regulated."
The groups also called on Leveson to recommend the replacement of 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, of Equality Now, said the groups did not want to curtail press freedom but wanted the media to behave more responsibly. "The way the media covers women at the moment […] curtails and limits women's freedom of expression and ability to engage in that public debate," she said.

Source: Alexandra Topping,, 25 January 2012

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