5 Ways the Media Can Accurately and Sensitively Report on Gender-Based Violence
South Africa’s Media Development and Diversity Agency held a masterclass for community journalists.
Towards the end of November, South Africa’s Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) hosted a virtual masterclass on effective media reporting on gender-based violence (GBV), in the lead up to this year’s international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
The event was hosted in partnership with Global Citizen, the Government Communication and Information System, Wits Radio Academy, the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), and UN Women, and was open to all local community journalists, producers, and media creators to attend.
The masterclass was an open learning space where community media had the opportunity to hear from specialists on the impact that gender-based violence has on the country’s economy, health care systems, and society as a whole; and how accurate reporting of GBV can make a difference.
The class kicked off with a word from MDDA CEO Zukiswa Potye, who spoke briefly about the importance of the event.
Global Citizen’s Regional Director for Southern and East Africa, Chebet Chikumbu, then spoke about the Global Citizen South Africa division’s strong focus on gender equality this year. She also put the impact of GBV into a global perspective, highlighting that action needs to be taken in order for the phenomenon to be better recognised as a serious violation of human rights.
Finally, GIZ and UN Women’s Technical Advisor, Luxolo Matomela, led the reporting segment of the masterclass, where she discussed the importance of accurately approaching GBV in the media, and the difference it can make in how the public understands and deals with GBV.
Here are some of the key learnings from the masterclass.
1. Be accurate and use the right language
Matomela explained that not every assault is rape, and that it is important to call the assault what it is so that the public has a better understanding. GBV can include the definitions of economic suppression, psychological abuse, cyberbullying, forced marriage, and femicide. Using this language properly informs the public that different forms of violence exist.
She also stressed that the media should try to avoid sensationalising or skirting around the word rape. She advised that words like “forced sex” or “non-consensual sex” should be avoided and accurately phrased as rape. She also explained that using the phrase “sex scandal” makes it seem as if the survivor had a choice in the matter, and should also be avoided.
2. Give the survivor a voice and don’t victim blame
Telling the survivor’s story is crucial for accurate reporting, and avoiding their account entirely happens too often in the media. Matomela explained that it is illegal to use a survivor’s name, especially without consent, but that shouldn’t mean that their story should be left out.
She said that it is important to find creative ways to tell the story of the survivor without naming them, using a fake name with their consent is one way to go about it, or avoid reaching for a name entirely.
She went on to stress the importance of empowering the survivor by avoiding victim blaming and not making them vulnerable to discrimination by the public.
3. Talk to the experts
Experts are able to put the situation into an untainted and understandable perspective. Hearing what an expert has to say about gender-based violence goes a long way in not only informing the public, but building the journalist’s knowledge on the issue.
Matomela also said that there is no excuse not to find an expert, and if there is no expert available in the community, then it is the journalist’s job to find one outside of the community who can provide their expertise.
4. Educate the public
By using the research and knowledge the reporter has gained on the matter, Matomela said that it is important to share this information with the public and let them know what their rights are under the constitution.
5. Include information on where survivors can get assistance
Matomela went through the research on how GBV is currently being reported in the country, and revealed that only 16% of TV news stories based on GBV included information on where to get assistance.
Using the community platform to convey this information could help more survivors, especially unreported survivors, seek the help that they need rather than allowing them to endure alone.
South African girls and women deserve to live without fear of gender-based violence. For 16 Days of Activism and Global Citizen’s gender equality campaign, join us in the call for an end to this crisis by taking action here to help ensure the safety of women and children.
If you or someone you know has experienced gender-based or sexual violence, you can find resources for support here or you can call the SA National GBV helpline on 0800 150 150.