Women's rights groups before Leveson

Women's groups condem the use of the 'page three girls'

Women's rights groups have called for more balanced reporting of violence against women and "consistent regulation" of the print media,

Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry representatives of the groups also highlighted the use of "sexualised and degrading" imagery in the press.

Representatives of Equality Now, End Violence against Women, Object and Eaves Housing for Women appeared before the inquiry today, calling for issues relating to the portrayal of women as sexual objects as well as the language used to report violence against women to be addressed.

Examples such as the "page three girl" were used by the witnesses to demonstrate the "sexualisation" of women in the press. Anna Van Heeswijk of Object told the inquiry the page three feature works to present women as "existing for the sole purpose for being sex objects essentially".

But she added that "what's particularly harmful is these images exist within mainstream news organisations openly displayed at a child's eye level."

She called for the regulation of print media to be made "consistent with other forms of media", so that any content "that would not pass the test" for television watersheds "should not be allowed to be printed within unrestricted newspapers".

She also added that "any form of regulation of printed material should be guided by equality legislation that already exists" and that "any messages or images not considered suitable for the workplace should not be printed and readily accessible within unrestricted newspapers".

Along with others appearing before Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into the press today, Heesqijk also called for the ability of groups to make complaints about content to a regulator.

"We're not proposing any form of radical overhaul of media regulation, just calling for consistency of how other areas of the media are regulated and for print media to be brought in line with that."

She added: "We do have to ask ourselves what kind of story this tells, especially to young children, when they see in mainstream newspapers men in suits, men in sports attire, men as active participants and women as sexualised objects."

Marai Larasi of End Violence against Women added that there needs to be more balanced and responsible reporting, which puts reports of violence in particular into greater context.

This could be achieved by "seeking out expertise" and a wider look at the current situation for young women and their particular vulnerabilities, she said.

"We want people to provide a broad perspective", she added, such as by using a range of expert sources in reports rather than a single person.

She added that context is also necessary on the "other side", in reference to when violent men "are excessively demonised" in the press.

"Actually the men who commit violence are the men around us ... when you demonise those men what you do is take it out of the context of normal society."

If reports are sensationalised readers are "disconnected from it", she added.

Heather Harvey from Eaves Housing for Women added that the issue of context is also important in relation to the potential impact on the reporting of violence to the police in the first place.

She told the inquiry "the way it's portrayed all too often" can give the "impression there's justification" behind the violence.

In her evidence to the inquiry Harvey also said women can also face problems when joining in debate online on topics relating to public policy, where she said they can face "very sexist and gendered abuse".

"Women and men recognised that was about resenting women's right to comment on public matters. If she's talking about cupcakes and children that might be okay."

As a result "women's voices and issues are being silenced", she added.

"The way the media covers women at the moment ... it actually curtails and limits women's freedom of expression and women's ability to actually engage in that public debate.

"The press can be a crucial and helpful partner in challenging those norms and enabling freedom of expression with just a bit of tweaking here and there."

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