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Leveson and women – holding the media to account

January 24, 2012

Just thought I’d highlight a blogpost I wrote in my day job on the women’s organisations who testified before the Leveson inquiry today:

While it seems much of mainstream news has been preoccupied with the media big guns appearing at the Leveson inquiry into media ethics, today was the chance for women’s organisations to testify about the often sensationalised coverage of issues such as violence against women, rape, so-called ‘honour killings’ and stalking.
Marai Larasi from the End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW), Jacqui Hunt from Equality Now, Anna Van Heeswijk from OBJECT and Heather Harvey from Eaves Charity all took part in today’s testimony, providing excellent, compelling testimony which was followed avidly in real time on social media by many women’s organisations and individual women (and – eventually by the mainstream press, see BBC and Telegraph stories).
Those testifying pointed out how many cases involving the murder of women and their families by men often spoke of what ‘drove’ the man to it via the women’s behaviour – a fact that given a recent court decision permitting sexual infidelity to be a factor in sentencing murderers must give us all pause. The issue of treatment of women commentators online was also addressed, with Heather Harvey observing that misogynist insults to women online effectively stamped on women’s access to free speech. “People should be able to equally comment on society but online misogyny curtails and limits women’s freedom of expression, she said.
The tabloids came in for a particular drubbing from those testifying, with Anna from OBJECT noting a particularly repulsive article on a 15-year old Charlotte Church’s breasts in one newspaper, while others on the panel noted that coverage of rape cases was often sensationalist, using language more titillating than sobering.
Leveson himself acknowledged at one point that it could work if women’s organisationss had the right to raise such issues over coverage with relevant authority and adjudicated upon, and Marai Larasi from the End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW) called for better training of journalists in covering violence against women issues and censure for journalists who breached guidelines.
It is encouraging to see the Leveson enquiry broaden its remit to include testimony on such vital issues as the sexualisation and objectification of women in media coverage, however as Anna from OBJECT observed, the questions directed to them should be directed at the media and politicians themselves, too. After all, they are the ones with the power to change for the better how women are seen, but too often not properly heard, in our media.
You can read a transcript of the women’s organisation’s appearance before Leveson on our website’s blog.
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