Reporting of Violence against Women in Indian Newspapers

The media shapes public understanding of violence against women and girls, but until now there has been no systematic review of reporting on violence against women and girls in Indian media. This paper presents the results of analysis of over 1,500 articles from four mainstream Indian newspapers—two English and two Hindi—and measures these articles against several sets of guidelines for reporting on violence against women and girls. This analysis revealed that mainstream newspapers’ reporting on violence against women and girls is overwhelmingly incident-based, presenting this violence as a series of isolated events rather than a systemic social issue. Thematic reporting that explicitly challenges common myths about violence against women and girls, describes the difficulties survivors face in seeking justice, and provides information about support and resources for survivors, is very rare.

There is good evidence that the media shapes public understanding of violence against women and girls (VAWG) (Carlyle et al 2014; Palazzolo and Roberto 2011; Anastasio and Costa 2004). Research from several different countries has identified weaknesses of media coverage of VAWG, including individualising incidents of VAWG and failing to provide social context, sensationalism, perpetuating rape myths, and victim-blaming (Morgan and Politoff 2012; Sutherland et al 2015; Marhia 2008; Clark 1992; Mason and Monckton-Smith 2008; Bullock and Cubert 2002; Consalvo 1998). This has led to several sets of guidelines for journalists on how to report on violence against women (see Sutherland et al 2015: 28–30 for a summary). Although VAWG has been a high-profile issue in India for many years, and India’s media coverage of VAWG has been critiqued by several commentators (for example, Feminism in India 2016), very little scholarly research exists on this media coverage. Indeed, there has been more scholarly attention to the Orientalising narratives of inter­national media reporting on the Delhi gang rape of December 2012 (Durham 2015; Patil and Purkayastha 2015; Roychowdhury 2013) than there has been to reports on this incident in Indian media (Nagar 2016; Rao 2014). This paper presents the results from the first syste­matic review of newspaper reporting on VAWG in India and asks to what extent this coverage complies with guidelines for such reporting.

The research involved gathering all articles on violence against women in four newspapers, the two most widely read English newspapers—Times of India (ToI) and Hindustan Times—and the two most widely read Hindi language newspapers—Dainik Jagran and Hindustan—over two months in mid-2017. A total of 725 English articles and 804 Hindi articles were collected and analysed. We found that many common problems in reporting on VAWG in the media were not highly prevalent in our study—victim-blaming, suggesting that victims lie, and exonerating the perpetrator, for example. The most striking issues in the reporting related to a very high proportion of incident-based reporting and almost no reporting on VAWG as a systemic social problem. Some interesting observations on the reports on domestic violence are: a lack of reporting, a failure to name domestic violence when it was reported, and a tendency to provide explanations for the violence that could perpe­tuate “she asked for it” stereotypes. Differences were also evident between Hindi and English newspapers, with Hindi papers tending to use more emotive language that was at times sensationalist. In the pages that follow, we provide a little more detail about our methods before outlining the results.

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Updated On : 10th May, 2019

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