Jakarta. The media is a powerful force in forming public opinion, but all too often, that power is used in a way that reinforces the exploitation of women for profit, analysts, activists and professionals working in the industry say.
Women working both in front of the camera and behind it are often judged based on standards of physical beauty.
In visual media, Indonesian female journalists are almost always conventionally attractive, with light skin, trim figures and long hair.
Experts say this ideal of feminine perfection represents a skewed image of reality.
“In our daily life, when was the last time you saw a woman of great physical beauty walk elegantly to a busway stop, as what some audio-visual advertisements show?” says Mariana Amiruddin, editor in chief of Jurnal Perempuan, a women’s rights magazine.
“A few years ago, there was so much critical writing about beauty advertising in media. But unfortunately, nowadays it seems that the beauty myth in advertising has instead spread out and influenced the journalism world.”
And some female journalists back her claim, saying that physical beauty, not talent, is the essential element for a successful onscreen career.
Luviana, a news producer with private broadcaster Metro TV, says many female journalists are not allowed to present their own news reports because they do not have a “camera face.”
“There are many television companies which will only hire female news anchors who have won a beauty contest or used to be models,” she says.
“The reason why television companies hire female anchors is based on the myth of beauty. They believe it helps them earn more profits. Other than that, many male sources, from the police or at the parliament for example, would much rather be interviewed by a good-looking female journalist,” Luviana adds.
Chantal Della Concetta, a former news anchor for RCTI, is diplomatic about the industry’s preference for beauty.
“It doesn’t mean that physical beauty is the only requirement for a news anchor. Keep in mind that inner beauty is a must for a news anchor. We have to be smart to ask questions and analyze the current issues,” Chantal says.
Many viewers, however, look past a pretty face in their search for substantive news.
“I do not like to watch a news anchor who appears too arrogant when interviewing their source, either ordinary people, actresses or actors or a member of the House,” says Faozan Latief, a television viewer in Jakarta.
“Yes, they might be pretty. But what do we need after all if we are watching a news program? To watch the anchor or get the news?” he says.
Iswandi Syahputra, a media analyst and member of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), explains that in the broadcast and television sector, many women working as news anchors, actresses or advertising models welcome the chance to be judged on the basis of their looks, believing that any resulting popularity is a path to economic success.
But beyond those working in the media sector, experts say women are often exploited for the sake of producing sensational — and popular — news stories.
Neng Dara Afifah, a senior member of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), says there are many blatant cases of unethical newspapers and TV programs churning out stories about sexually abused women.
“When it comes to sexual abuse, women as the victims are always exposed, but what about the perpetrators?” Neng says.
She says media companies, which sensationalize what should be private cases, are actually guilty of “sexual violence” against the victims.
Since January, Komnas Perempuan has recorded 151 news reports of sexual violence against women.
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and Komnas Perempuan are urging journalists to apply the Indonesian journalists’ code of ethics, in particular articles 4,5 and 8.
“Those three articles focus on gender perspective, requiring journalists to show sympathy to the victims of sexual abuse in their reporting,” says Rach Alida Bahaweres, coordinator of the women’s division at AJI.