As individuals and collectives concerned about non-discrimination and dignity of fellow lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, intersex and otherwise queer individuals, we struggle daily against sensationalist, stereotyped and downright offensive coverage of us and our issues in the mainstream media.
Many of us aim to remedy this by generating our own reportage of LGBTQI issues, and maintain or contribute to individual and community blogs, groups and magazines on the internet, including social networks. In this era of social media, we are also all journalists, sharing information and opinions in the public domain. Though our intent is to present our issues in our own voices, furthering authentic representation driven by empathy, rather than by the imperatives of maximising circulation or advertising revenues, it is still necessary to adhere to journalistic and community ethics to protect identities and safety of people we may be writing/sharing about.
Here are some suggested* guidelines for community media and social network behavior:
DO NO HARM: the dignity, privacy and safety of individuals must override larger community interests of visibility or the need for ‘cases’ for media or evidence for legal advocacy. Media sites and professionals should also maintain the distinction between reporting and manufacturing news. For e.g. by pressuring people to report crimes, which is violative of their rights.
Remember that ‘outness’ is often a matter of degree. People are out about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to some and not others, and may have in their ‘friend’s lists’ on FB, Google, etc. a mixture of friends, colleagues and family, to whom they may not be uniformly out. The same is true of issues such as HIV status. Also, it’s up to the individual alone to decide when, where, how and whom to come out to. Given that everyone faces their unique challenges and situations, we cannot place expectations on people to come out in any context, especially in the media, whether community-run or not. Suggesting that people do so can be violative of their rights.
If photographs of individuals are taken in community events such as private workshops, parties, discussion forums, and support groups, take consent of individuals separately to (i) have their photo taken, (ii) have the photograph shared by email or on the web (iii) have the photograph shared in the print media. If a group photo is needed for documentation, consider taking the photo from the back of the room so people’s faces are not visible, ask those who don’t want to be photographed to step out, or offer to scramble faces digitally.
If reporting on episodes such as sexual violence, harassment or assault, make sure you have the individual’s consent before mentioning their name, and before mentioning any detail that is likely to give their identity away. If the individual is likely to be traumatised by an incident of violence, remember they may not have thought through the consequences of revealing the details. Do guide them on the specific procedural challenges of reporting cases of rape/ sexual assault in India. Give them information on how to access community counselling and support services should they want to access these.
Familiarize yourself with The Press Council of India Journalistic Conduct Norms for reporting on rape** and sexual assault cases, and follow these for community-generated content as well, regardless of the real or presumed gender or sexual orientation of the individuals.
Additional Social media tips: Learn the difference between public, closed and secret groups on Facebook. Do not add individuals to closed groups on FB without their consent, as the fact of their membership will be public to their FB friends, and could compromise their privacy if they are not out to everyone. Similarly, do not add individuals to public event pages if you are not sure how out they are. If needed, make the invite list invisible. If in doubt over disclosing individual’s particulars, do not disclose.
* Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Please send us a message.
** Thanks to Lesley Esteves and Mario d’Penha for content and review, and Minal Hajratwala for sharing the PCI guidelines