by Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik.
This is my interview with the journalist Tara Lighten Msiska, a law graduate and freelance journalist. The day she graduated from the University of Edinburgh, she realised the world was more a challenging playground than it was a courtroom, and also one that would satisfy her writing addiction. She now writes for Cliterati and Career Addict and blogs here. Other publications she has written for include Guerilla Policy, the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association, Fearless Press, The F Word and The Quail Pipe.
Milena Rampoldi: What does feminist journalism mean to you and what distinguishes feminist journalism?
Tara Lighten Msiska: I’ve never considered what I write to be feminist journalism, in the sense that I don’t have an agenda. I’m just interested in reporting the facts. That said, I’d consider feminist journalism to be journalism which exposes the truth about issues which disproportionately affect women (e.g. domestic violence) and which offers alternative theories to counter dominant views which promote sexism or denigrate women. For example, media explanations of women engaging in activities as diverse as casual sex and terrorism have a tendency to ascribe infantilising or pathologising narratives on the female, but not male, participants (‘promiscuous’ men enjoy sex; ‘promiscuous’ women are troubled, at risk or using sex to feel wanted; male terrorists are politically motivated while female terrorists are exploited or mentally ill). Young mothers, lone mothers and sex workers also tend to be portrayed negatively or at best one-dimensionally. Feminist journalism would – without sugarcoating or glamourising- go beyond tired stereotypes of the high class happy hooker and the abused young drug addict. Hopefully, feminist journalism would also question why the media capitalises on, and indeed creates, disapproval of sex workers and of mothers of a certain age or relationship status.
MR: Tell us about your work on austerity, and why it is so essential to write about unemployed and disabled people.
Tara Lighten Msiska: It’s essential because otherwise the experiences and oppression of members of our society who happen to be currently unemployed or disabled would be ignored. Most of all by our current government. Journalism has the potential to make a huge difference- though I don’t feel that the media is living up to that potential. The media can galvanise the public and civil society to put pressure on governments, but inn Britain it’s almost as if the dynamic is reversed, with most of the mainstream media taking the Tory stance and building on it. The suicides and deaths caused by dangerous welfare reforms were not widely reported, nor were the 590 additional suicides discovered by independent University researchers. Demonstrations over austerity were also played down or reported in biased ways. Hopefully, balanced journalism can help shed a little light on the truth- though it’ll be a long road.
It’s also important to counter harmful narratives of ‘scroungers’ in certain tabloids and the ever-growing voyeuristic ‘poverty porn’ on our TVs. 1994’s BBC Panorama programme ‘Babies on Benefits’, which stigmatised lone (female, working class) parents was controversial at the time. But now the situation is much worse with all benefits claimants seen as fair game. Worst of all, as demonisation of benefits claimants- unlike prejudice against people due to their race, gender or religion- isn’t subject to the watershed, children are consuming this material.
MR: For me personally, journalism must be a journalism about human rights, otherwise it would be an empty journalism. What do you think about it?
Tara Lighten Msiska: I definitely agree with that!
MR: What is your personal opinion about Brexit? What will change?
Tara Lighten Msiska: I think Brexit is damaging to the UK’s economy, security and global influence. (I’m not saying it necessarily leads to good results for the UK or anyone else when we exercise diplomatic influence, but strategically it is stupid to give up one’s influence).
The EU’s European Social Fund pays for public services and also for services which benefit vulnerable, rural and disadvantaged communities. As the government is committed to its policy of demolishing welfare and healthcare provision, this gap will not be filled. So it’s likely that financial. educational and health divisions between the priveleged and less priveleged will increase. Basically, the Tory agenda has just been given a speed boost.
The UK recieves intelligence from the EU’s intelligence agencies, including INTCEN, SitCen, the EU Directorate of Military Intelligence Staff, Europol and the Counter Terrorism Group. With this intelligence sharing gone, it is likely that we will be more vulnerable to Daesh/ISIS.
We also won’t be protected by the European Court of Justice’s case law on human rights, which previously stopped families from being torn apart and helped people who were discriminated against and unfairly refused welfare or residency. The ECJ recently granted us the ‘right to be forgotten’. This protection is unique to EU residents. It means that Google can’t keep displaying irrelevant ‘hits’ about you which are embarrassing or harmful to your reputation. Though revenge porn (nude photos nonconsensually published online, usually by an ex-partner) is now a crime, other harmful Google hits are difficult or impossible to remove- even if, unlike straightforward revenge porn, they’re libelous or affect your employment.
So, the upshot of it is that we’ll have less human rights protection, be spending more on public services, have less welfare-oriented services, and less global diplomatic influence. Britain will rely ever more on the US and possibly NATO to fill the EU’s void. We will also spend a lot of time and money courting multiple different countries in regards to trade agreements. We may be forced to cooperate even more with US demands than we do already. And we’ll be more vulnerable to terrorists.
MR: Why did you decide to write your great article about the rape in Qatar? Which are the main objectives you had in mind when you wrote it?
Tara Lighten Msiska: In my opinion a lot of western media coverage of events which happen outside the western world is produced (perhaps unsurprisingly) from a western perspective. While this may be appropriate in some ways for its audience, it sometimes fails to capture the main issues. In the case of how Gulf States deal with rape, obviously a western audience will find a focus on tourists’ experiences more interesting and helpful. But this obscures the reality that local sexual assault victims are treated worse than tourists, and that most victims of Qatar’s legal system are local women. This is the reality faced by Gulf States’ populations every day, but it only appears on western news when a foreigner is affected. And even then, the Gulf peoples’ struggles are all but ignored. The focus is shifted to the potential dangers posed to (Western) tourists – even though they’re actually the least likely to be affected, both through probability and the protection of foreign citizenship. This is not to minimise sexual attacks on tourists, but to make the point that ignoring the issue of rape victims being jailed across the Middle East until a tourist is affected, is not adequate or balanced reporting.
My objective with the article was to make the point that women in Gulf States are going through this every day, their problems unrecognised and unreported. And without an embassy to speak for them, they are likely to be given much harsher sentences of whipping or jail time instead of being allowed to walk free by a pardon or deportation. I didn’t want the local women to be forgotten in the fear of ‘Will that happen to me if I travel to the Middle East?’. Western fear and fascination of Qatar’s legal system and culture do nothing to bring awareness of the experience of those who live there.
MR: How do you think that networking of alternative media can help to create a better and more tolerant society?
Tara Lighten Msiska: I’ve no idea, but if someone could figure that out and implement it, that would be great. Statistics show that people are increasingly aware of the mainstream media’s bias and under-reporting of some issues, both local and global. As a result, they’re turning to alternative media. So there’s never been a better time!