Serbian media on violence against women in 2019 - Sensationalist reporting lacking social context

Analysis of Media Reports on VaW - half of the media reports on VaW in 2019 reveal the identity of the survivors, victims and members of their families

Belgrade, 6th August 2020 – In half of the media reports on violence against women published in 2019, the identity of the survivors, victims and members of their families, was revealed. As many as 40 per cent of them used sensationalist or stereotyped turns of phrase pertaining to violence, the victim or the perpetrator of violence, as evidenced by Analysis of Media Reports on the Issue of Violence against Women, conducted by the Journalists against Violence against Women group, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

During the course of the last year, the issue of violence against women was most often covered by portals (60% of the reports), printed media (34% of the reports), whereas TV and radio stations dedicated considerably less attention to this topic (6% of the reports).

The analysis encompassed over 11,000 articles published in electronic and printed media from January to December 2019, using the principles of professional reporting on this topic as indicators.

In as many as 45% of reports, some of these indicators contained violations in the very title, which is particularly problematic, in view of the fact that it is precisely the headlines that draw most attention and are the most widely read part of the text in question.

As it turned out, the actual cause for presenting a given report was most often an individual incident of violence (78% of the reports), whereas the media dealt rather less frequently with the phenomenon of violence against women from an educational perspective, through an analysis of the social context of violence, ways of preventing it, protection and support, as well as pointing out the unequal power relations between men and women as a cause of violence (22% of the reports).

Apart from revealing the identity of the survivor, that is, the victim and members of her family, as well as using sensationalist and stereotyped turns of phrase such as “horrible”, “horror”, “the hapless/unfortunate/ miserable woman”, “maniac”, more than one-third of the media reports contain specific details pertaining to the given case of violence or murder, as well statements that are not relevant to the actual act of violence.

It is also noticeable that media often use photographs and video covers which present violence in an inadequate and stereotyped manner, such as those wherein the woman in question is in tears or visibly shaken, with visible physical signs of having suffered violence (28% of the reports).

Among the bad examples of reporting to be found in the media are statements which justify the actual act(s) of violence by referring to the personal traits of the perpetrator or the external circumstances of it such as alcoholism, poverty, unemployment (20% of the reports), as well as expressions such as “the tragic end of a love story” and “marital conflicts”, which, in effect, minimise the effects of violence and directly manifest lack of confidence in the survivor or victim (15% of the reports), and also result in shifting the responsibility of the act(s) of violence committed from the perpetrator onto the survivor or victim (10% of the reports).

As a consequence of inadequate reporting, violence is normalised in eye of the public, while female victims of violence suffer additional damage due to the fact that their safety and privacy are endangered, and also due to additional victimisation. Responsible reporting may provide support to women who have suffered violence, and in society at large such reporting promotes absolute unacceptability of violent behaviour.

The Journalists against Violence against Women group has prepared Guidelines for Media Reporting on Violence against Women in order to contribute to improving the quality of reporting on this issue, resolving the dilemmas with which journalists are often faced, and also to avoid or at least minimise the degree of the traumatisation of women who have suffered violence, which occurs as a result of public exposure.

The full text of the Guidelines can be downloaded from here, while those parts of it that are in video format are available in Serbian here

Analysis of Media Reports on the Issue of Violence against Women is available through this link

UN entities involved in this initiative
UNDP
United Nations Development Programme