'How do you talk to a rape survivor, in a society like ours?': challenges for the news media in India

Authors: Thorsen, E. and Sreedharan, C.

Conference: Rethink Impact: 9th European Communication Conference, Gender and news representation

Dates: 19-22 October 2022


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 and challenges involved in the news reporting of sexual violence in the country. Fadnis’s (2017) research that focussed 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 cultural and regional diversities that span India’s 28 states and 8 union territories, we present findings from one of the largest multi-language, national studies on the representation of sexual violence. First, we draw on a content analysis of 10 newspapers covering six languages to provide comparative insights into how news outlets tend to disproportionately publish unusual cases, such as those involving extreme brutality or attack by strangers; focus on rape in urban areas; and rely heavily on police sources. We provide insights into the gender-sensitivity of journalists, and the problematic linguistic choices they resort to in their stories on rape and sexual assault.

Thereafter, utilising a thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with 257 journalists working across 14 languages, we consider the routines journalists follow and the key challenges they face in their newswork: among others, safety issues in the field, lack of editorial direction, and difficulties in accessing key sources. We find that, overall, nearly 20% of our respondents experienced psychological challenges due to the requirements of their assignments. Our research also uncovers a significant gender imbalance in newsrooms, with 55% respondents describing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Based on our findings, we present several recommendations and guidelines that news outlets and individual journalists can adapt to suit their news routines.

Source: Manual