In the race for greater readership, the essence of gender-based violence cases is completely ignored, and the victim’s voice is hurled into the background.
Gender-based violence, as a phenomenon, is increasingly finding its place in the public narrative, which is primarily due to its increased presence in the daily news reports, which is probably the result of an increase in cases being reported to the relevant institutions and/or becoming visible.
Despite the increasing and frequent debate about gender-based violence cases, but also about femicide as its most extreme form, that is, killing of a woman because she is a woman, and despite the series of training for media workers on gender-sensitive reporting, it seems that our media space is still significantly lagging behind in identifying the problem and naming it appropriately.
If you just glimpse the posts about cases of gender-based violence, you will be immediately confronted with sensationalist phrases such as family drama, gruesome crime, tragic love, and bizarre event, which have the sole purpose of instigating the curiosity of the audience and thus gaining higher readership or clicks. However, in the race for greater readership, the essence of the case is completely ignored, the victim’s voice is completely hurled in the background, and she is often subject to re-victimization.
The sensationalism in media reports on cases of gender-based violence tends to target the readership by romanticizing the violence and thus minimizing the gravity of the case, as well as supporting and reinforcing the inferior gender role of women in society.
Instead of referring to violence as a negative consequence of exposure to a life-threatening behavior by a partner, it is very often shown in a context of an intimate relationship between a man and a woman in a love relationship, sometimes giving the impression that you are reading a romance novel rather than a crime section.
In addition, the media continuously show a lack of sensitivity to the situation of the victims and, by insisting on taking their direct statements, the media’s attitude is not much different from double victimization done by the institutions.
The role of the media outlets
In societies like the Macedonian one, where we have a prominent patriarchal structure in which traditional gender roles and gender stereotypes are still largely nurtured, the role of the media outlets is of particular importance, both in terms of promoting gender equality and in terms of prevention of gender-based violence.
The role of the media outlets is also considered by the Istanbul Convention, which was ratified by the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018. Taking into account the role of the media outlets in eradicating gender stereotypes, the Convention encourages the media outlets to take measures to promote changes in social and cultural patterns of behavior of both women and men, with the aim of eradicating prejudices and all other practices based on the idea of women's inferiority or on stereotypical gender roles.
These obligations are also included in the Law on Prevention and Protection From Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, which indicates the preventive function of the media outlets, by implementing promotional measures to raise awareness of all forms of gender-based violence, promotion of gender equality, and elimination of gender stereotypes.
The role of the media outlets is of particular importance, both in terms of their reporting on cases and actualization of the problem of gender-based violence, but also in terms of the way they are presented in media reports. In addition, media outlets have a significant role in the process of collecting data on cases of gender-based violence, especially on femicides.
Considering that in North Macedonia, there are still no official statistics on the number of femicides, media reports are very often the first clue to cases of violence.
The only unofficial data on femicides in the country is the data collected by civil society organizations active in this area, which often receive the first information about the case exactly via media reports.
Femicide in the media
One of the analyzes of femicides done by the National Network Against Violence Over Women and Domestic Violence indicates that the media outlets use factual, sensationalistic, and gender-insensitive language in their reports, without providing a deeper analysis of the cases and without realizing the need to raise awareness about the problem of gender-based violence against women and the killing of women as one aspect of this kind of violence.
A recent survey by the National Council for Gender Equality found that, by sensationalizing femicides and by not using appropriate terminology for this type of murder, the media outlets demonstrate insensitivity to the victims and only further strengthen the gender stereotypes.
At the same time, in a large part of the media reports, there is no reference to the murder as a form of gender-based violence and its complexity as a social problem, as well as information on the actions of the institutions. In this regard, the analysis of Femicide in the Macedonian media carried out by the Institute for Communication Studies pointed to the worryingly low capacity of the media outlets to identify femicide as the most severe form of gender-based violence. The purpose of this analysis was to identify how media coverage of femicide cases, as the most severe form of gender-based violence, affects the perpetuation of gender stereotypes.
By analyzing almost 300 journalistic reports on femicides in the past 6 months, it was established that the media outlets completely fail to identify the gender dimension of the murders, nor do they take into account the phenomenology of the femicides, especially the fact that most of these murders are committed by male partners or relatives, in the home where the victim lives.
The data from the analysis confirm the use of sensationalistic language, especially when creating the headlines, in order to attract a larger number of readers, very often by using clickbait headlines, which are insensitive to the substance of the case and they minimize the actual violence.
The use of inappropriate terminology by only one medium outlet carries the spillover risk into other media reports that very often just copy and paste the reports and the same reach a wider audience.
In addition, the media reports do not establish a correlation between femicides and the institutional aspect, that is, they do not take into account the role of the institutions in prevention and protection against violence, especially if we know that the lack of trust in the institutions is one of the most significant factors for the situation of lack of sufficient prevention of these cases from happening.
It is particularly relevant that the journalistic reports on femicide cases have been found to be in violation of several principles of ethical reporting, such as failure to identify the source of information, plagiarism, disregard for the privacy of the person, as well as the presence of sensationalism when reporting on accidents and family tragedies.
The analyzes of gender-based violence carried out so far in Macedonia point out insufficient awareness of the media outlets about their role and the power they have to prevent cases of violence, as well as to create a more gender-equal society.
Perhaps the question of why the media outlets are still lagging behind in this area should be subject to further analysis, which does not mean that they have a justification for the way in which they do their work. There are principles for ethical reporting, which the media outlets apparently, fail to comply with when it comes to reporting cases of gender-based violence, especially femicides.
For starters, we can refer to things by their true names. You do not call it "family drama". It is femicide.
The article is prepared with the support of the Reporting Diversity Network 2.0, funded by the European Union.
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