Don’t become the story

10 Jun, 2014

Female journalists all over the world are vulnerable to all kinds of threats like harassment – psychological, physical and sexual harm. The most shocking incident was probably the gang-rape of American war correspondent Lara Logan by a mob in Egypt’s Tahrir Square in 2011, which was followed by a similar incident in 2013 when a female Dutch journalist was gang-raped in the same place by a mob.

Lara Logan suffered rape in the worst form; her only crime was that she was too eager to do her work well and get the best story. If local women hadn’t saved her from the clutches of the mob, she probably would not have been alive to tell the tale. Lara Logan – a survivor and a fighter – broke her silence about this incident and spoke about her ordeal.

Lara’s story has shown that female journalists face many problems as professionals but these issues are never addressed mainly because no one speaks about them.

These incidents reveal the vulnerability of a journalist in the field, while reporting from a dangerous location. Journalists tend to take risks in the line of duty all the time basically because everyone wants to get an ‘exclusive’ story. Sometimes this leads to journalists crossing limits and actually putting themselves in danger.

During the two-day training workshop on safety and monitoring for journalists, held in Karachi recently, Deputy Director at International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia-Pacific Jane Worthington said, “Female journalists are more vulnerable to danger as we have seen in the Tahrir Square cases. Journalists have to remember that apart from being journalists, they are also citizens of their country and therefore have many rights that the government has to provide.”

Lara Logan was brave enough to speak up even after such a tough experience. But there are many female journalists who keep quiet and keep on bearing other forms of harassment.

According to Jane Worthington, “Female journalists are not only exposed to general threats faced by all journalists but they are also prone to physical and sexual harm even at their work places from their colleagues. Most of the time female journalists are not aware that they are being harassed at work. Or they don’t know how to tackle harassment or who to turn to, to get help for this.”

A number of female journalists from all over Pakistan who participated in IFJ’s two-day workshop had their own stories to tell. One anchor person said that female journalists are not given the same kind of salary package and promotions as their male colleagues, despite the similar nature of work.

One female journalist, who works at a dangerous location said, “Women are generally given ‘soft’ beats like women issues, fashion, entertainment, health and education. I literally had to fight to get a serious beat. My male colleagues are still not comfortable when I am out there reporting.

“I even had to prove myself by going that extra mile and putting myself in danger. Actually, while covering an incident, I was being threatened by the locals who were off camera. They were telling me not to report and show some respect – being a woman – to the victims. But I was on duty and had to get the job done. I could not tell my producers that the situation on the ground was too dangerous to get this ‘exclusive.’ But I knew at the back of my mind that if I do that it would affect my profession. My boss would not send me to report a ‘serious story’ again.”

Regarding this issue Worthington said, “This pressure on a female reporter to prove herself constitutes harassment. It is the right of the journalist to tell her boss that she will not put her life in danger and draw the line.”

Another female reporter, *Kehkashan, from Karachi who covers the crime beat – probably the only female on this beat – also agreed. “When I joined this field, I was allotted ‘soft’ beats that I refused. I worked extra hard to make my position among the male-dominated crime reporting field.”

“When I was hurt while reporting a bomb blast in Karachi, my boss gave me an option to change my beat. I refused and said I wanted to go back into the field,” shared Kehkashan. “While I gained the respect of my male colleagues, I have faced more problems from my female colleagues. Some criticized me for ‘overreacting’ after being injured in the bomb blast and making a ‘scene’. Fortunately, I don’t let these remarks worry me and within months I was back in the field.”

“The truth is that female journalists do face a lot of problems, but they don’t know how to tackle them. They should be able to express themselves and share their problems with other colleagues, if not with the administration,” she added.

Another senior anchor person was of the same view as Kehkashan. “We have to fight for our rights, for salary and promotion; and more times than not we are overlooked. Also, most of the times female anchors may not necessarily be appointed because of their ‘brains’ or their knowledge, but they are hired for their looks.”

Many female journalists bear sexual harassment quietly. They either lack the courage to speak up or don’t want to be considered a ‘trouble maker’, especially if she sees other female colleagues taking the same treatment quietly.

However, it is imperative that these women know that it is not right to take harassment quietly; they should stand up for their rights and lodge a complaint against the perpetrator.

A young journalist/anchor Sania said that she had to face many ‘invites’ from her seniors when she joined. On her refusal she was put through a rough routine which seemed harmless but was quite harrowing for her. She was made to stay late at the office on one pretext or another even when there was no work and had to bear the silent wrath of her seniors.

“I saw how the ‘privileged’ ones had a smoother career with more ‘perks’ on and off the job than I did. I wasn’t going to let that bother me. I worked extra hard to prove myself but no matter what I did I was always wrong,” informed Sania.

“Although my female colleagues told me to calm down and not create a scene, because of the consequences I would have to face, I spoke to the administration and I was promised an investigation into this. To my surprise my female colleagues were right, nothing happened. Even when I followed up the case, I was told that I had been mistaken.”

Journalism is evolving not only in Pakistan but all over the world. However, the issues faced by journalists, especially female journalists are not addressed.

According to Jane Worthington, if you want to get your right, the first step is awareness. If one is not aware of the rights they have, how will they ask for it? “A journalist – as a citizen – has numerous rights according to their own country’s laws, as well as international laws.”

Pakistan is a dangerous country, especially for journalists. Therefore, it is imperative that laws be enforced to give protection to the citizens including journalists in the field. No journalist should be forced or allowed to put their lives on line to get an exclusive. And the government must order all organizations to form an in-house body where harassment complaints are lodged and cases are dealt with.


This article was originally published in You! Magazine.

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