LONDON - Britain's inquiry into media ethics shifted its focus away from phone hacking Tuesday to look into how women are portrayed in UK newspapers.
Women's rights campaigners told the inquiry that newspapers treat women as sex objects and mis-report cases of rape and domestic violence.
Anna Van Heeswijk of women's campaigns group Object said that sexualized images of topless or skimpily clad women in British tabloid newspapers damage the way young women think of their appearances and lifestyles.
She said anyone who complained about the newspapers use of these images in turn was vilified, and pointed to how The Sun newspaper called lawmaker Clare Short "fat, jealous" when she tried to stop the tabloid from printing a daily photograph of a topless woman on page three.
"Clearly the effect has been to close down free speech in relation to groups and individuals making a critique against these newspapers," Van Heeswijk said.
Marai Larasi of campaign group End Violence Against Women said newspaper stories about attacks on women often focused on their actions, implying that somehow they had provoked their attackers. She said newspaper reports about a woman murdered by her husband after she announced a separation on social networking site Facebook focused on her actions and not her husband's violence.
"The fact that it became known as a Facebook murder is symbolic," she said. "It was the murder of a real woman by her partner."
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry into media ethics after revelations that Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper had illegally listened to mobile phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians and crime victims in its quest for scoops.
The inquiry, led by judge Brian Leveson, is looking at all areas of media ethics and hearing suggestions for new forms of press regulation.
The inquiry has already heard from a number of celebrities and crime victims who testified about gross press intrusion into their private lives.
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