A few days ago, one of my favourite Sunday night shows Our Perfect Wedding aired on Mzansi Magic sunk to a new low when a groom declared that he used to have sex with under age girls in school.
Twitter and Facebook went abuzz with outrage on such proclamations. Questions arose on how the gatekeepers had approved the airing of such statements during a prime time show, worse still during the Sixteen Days of Activism.
The discussions and comments on this issue show how the culture of rape has become normalised. The channel's apology offered cold comfort as the damage had been done.
Is the media aware of how it enforces and reinforces GBV stereotypes? Is the messaging around GBV in media texts appropriate and holistic? This is surely not just an uncomfortable social issue: this is about young vulnerable girls preyed upon by older me.
The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) 2015 conducted by World Association of Christian Communicators (WACC) in South Africa, found that women are dominantly portrayed as "victims" of domestic violence, rape and murder. The proportion of women represented as survivors is only 6%.
The media report more on GBV during Sixteen Days of Activism, Women's day; Women's Month; and Day of the Girl Child.
Media prioritise who to speak to, what to speak about when and how much. Some stories get more newspaper space or airtime than others.
An elderly woman brutally raped and murdered in the dusty streets of my hometown will be lucky if her story on this criminal incident makes it to the hidden inside pages of the newspapers or top story on the local TV channel. We can compare this to the Oscar Pistorius killing of Reeva Steenkamp that will be plastered on many newspaper front pages the next morning. In the age of the Internet, this story will be international at the click of a button.
Many would know Reeva Steenkamp and Annie Dewani. Maybe a bit on Anene Booysen. How about Dolly Tshabalala? Jayde Panayiotou? The latter are women some will never know. These are just a few of the thousands of women who faced their tragic deaths due to GBV. While some headlines screamed about Steenkamp and Dewani stories the death of ordinary women just do not make it to the news or receive limited coverage.
The Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) conducted by Gender Links, the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network and the Media Institute of Southern Africa in 2009/2010 showed that:
- Gender based violence stories and stories that mention gender based violence get more coverage other gender issues: These constituted 4% of all coverage compared to gender equality which made up just 1% of all topics covered by media.
- Domestic violence is the most covered type of gender violence: domestic violence constituted 13% of stories followed by legislative and political response. Sexual harassment received minimal coverage (2%).
- Women make up 27% of sources in the reported stories. This is despite their being the majority of victims and survivors of GBV. Stories are told from a male perspective.
- There is an over reliance on official sources in GBV stories: The voices of the police, judiciary and experts dominate coverage: each accounted for 23% of sources in the SADC region. Victims/survivors made up only 19% of sources.
- Men constitute 65% of GBV reporters. While it is encouraging that more men cover topics that are traditionally viewed as "women's issues", it is also disturbing that women are under-represented even on topics that affect them the most.
- Reporting often perpetrates the myth that perpetrators of sexual assault and rape are outsiders: Most perpetrators of these criminal offenses are usually known to the victims and in some cases family members.
- Women are to often blamed, and their experiences trivialised: for example through questions around appropriate dress and behavior.
- GBV stories often portray survivors of GBV as helpless victims with no agency at all. Their stories are often loaded with pity and language that does not celebrate their resilience and ability to take control of their lives even after abuse. Their voices are not heard.
- Coverage is often insensitive coupled with the use of images and naming victims without their permission resulting in secondary victimisation.
- The language used in GBV stories often exonerates perpetrators and justifies the actions taken, for example, "he loved her so much that he killed her."
- Most gender based violence stories are based on court reports and police records. This is despite the fact that only one in nine incidences of GBV is reported to the police.
Many intertwining factors are at play. Like HIV stories, GBV stories suffer from media fatigue. In a presentation on gender and media a few weeks ago, Rebecca Davis, a renowned journalist who covered the Oscar Pistorius case, pointed out that it is sometimes difficult for journalists to make a story compelling if you cannot name the perpetrator or the victim. She notes that it is very difficult to make such a story news worthy enough to make it to the front page and to humanise the story.
Many stories have slowly faded from our minds whether it is the abduction of the Chibok girls or reported mass rape of women and girls in South Sudan or the forced marriages of young girls in Malawi barely before becoming women.
Survivors of GBV need to be allowed a voice and share accounts of their lives and not delegate their right to speak to relatives and other around them.
As we move into a new development framework post-2015 an opportunity arises for the media to be part of the solution. The media can devise new approaches to journalistic rigour.
- Tarisai Nyamweda is senior media programme officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism