They take up just 13 of the Leveson report’s 1957 pages but the judge’s comments on newspaper treatment of women (“reduced to the sum of their body parts”) and minorities (“concerning”) could have far-reaching implications.The 16-month inquiry provided an opportunity, for the very first time, for campaigning organisations to complain about discriminatory reporting by British newspapers. What’s more, the learned judge found that many newspapers, particularly the popular tabloids, had a case to answer.
Discrimination against women and minorities (including immigrants and asylum seekers but also Muslims) “merit further consideration by any new regulator”, he added. (Under the current press complaints system, a group complaint is not ordinarily admissible, but clause 12 outlaws discrimination of this sort.)
Many of the objections made by campaign groups including End Violence against Women coalition, Object, Turn Your Back on Page 3 and Eaves, have been dismissed as an assault on the commercially successful Page 3 and its “harmless” diet of topless women. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it is the oft-given response.
But the evidence presented to Leveson by campaign groups, and outlined in my colleague Kira Cochrane’s article suggests that the treatment of women in several papers is much wider than just one page.
Leveson reserves his greatest criticism for the Sun, the Star and also the Sport, which he more or less dismisses as a top-shelf title rather than newspaper. Rather than focusing on pornographic images, however, he wrote: “Of greater potential concern to the inquiry is the degree to which the images may reflect a wider cultural failure to treat women with dignity and respect and/or a practice which, intentionally or not, has the effect of demeaning and degrading women.”
So all women and not just the young, largely white and pretty ones on Page 3 are affected. He found images and language that “apply a demeaning and sexualising lens beyond those who choose to appear in their pages with breasts exposed: even the most accomplished and professional women are reduced to the sum of their body parts.”
Among the evidence was an article commenting on the genitalia of a female newsreader. Criticism against other newspapers — such as the “awkward co-existence of the Daily Mail’s support for ‘traditional values’ with the Mail Online’s ‘sidebar of shame'” — was merely mentioned.
As for the press’s treatment of minorities from muslims to asylum seekers: “The evidence of discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers, is concerning.”
Although papers had the right to an opinion about such people, they also had a duty to community cohesion and telling the truth, he said.
“The evidence demonstrates that sections of the press betray a tendency, which is far from being universal or even preponderant, to portray Muslims in a negative light.”
In answering the criticism, the Star had provided a dossier of its pro-Muslim coverage. Leveson said that that “missed the point”. “It is not as if the ‘pro’ articles somehow cancel out or fall to be weighed in the balance against the ‘anti’: the real point is whether articles unfairly representing Muslims in a negative light are appropriate in a mature democracy which respects both freedom of expression and the right of individuals not to face discrimination.”
As a final check to how seriously newspaper groups treat discrimination, take a look at how many report on these findings. Just saying.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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