The Journalism of Rape: an inquiry into how sexual violence is reported in the Indian media

Authors: Sreedharan, C., Thorsen, E. and Gouthi, A.

Conference: Revisiting, Reviewing, and Restructuring Spaces for Urban Women, Gender Conference

Dates: 1-3 March 2019


At least 125 rapes are reported to police every 24 hours in India, with sexual violence either ignored or sensationalised by the news media. Despite this, there has been only limited attempts to understand the issues involved in the news reporting of sexual violence. Fadnis’s (2017) research on the 2012 Delhi gang rape case identified a highly patriarchal newsroom environment, repressive working conditions for female crime reporters, and male reporters who lacked the mindset to pursue diverse story angles. This is echoed by Kanagasabai (2016) and Pain (2016), who looked at urban newsrooms of mainly English publications. Taking a broader view to account for the diversity of India’s newsrooms and the culturally specific challenges facing journalists regionally, we present an overview of the Media Action Against Rape (, the largest multi-language study on the representation of sexual violence in India. We also share preliminary findings from a content analysis from its first phase.

A 20-month research and capacity building project that began in June 2018, MAAR explores solutions to improve the quality of the ‘journalism on rape’ in India. Towards this, we first profiled the nature of sexual violence reportage in the news media through a comparative content analysis, covering 10 newspapers across six languages in India for a three-month period (June to August 2018). In the second (ongoing) phase, we map the specific challenges experienced by journalists when they report on rape and sexual violence. For this, we draw on more than 180 semi-structured interviews across 13 languages, covering newspapers, television, radio and online journalists.

In addition, to engender public discussions about the role of the news media in combating sexual violence, we launched two publications: NewsTracker (, a periodic web site that publishes ‘journalism on the journalism of rape’; and Note This, a free database and an affiliated weekly newsletter that curate news of sexual violence from a range of national and regional news sources.

In the content analysis, we compare how victims and accused are described, the location and type of rape crime, and which sources are mentioned or afforded a voice in relation to rape and sexual violence. We uncover distinct variations in news reporting in different regions and languages, which reflect the complex media landscape and cultural differences across India. These differences highlight the need for a more nuanced approach to media representation and sexual violence, and provide evidence for the need for targeted interventions.

Source: Manual