18 December 2015

Africa: LGBTI Activists Call for Responsive Media Coverage

press release

We, members of the LGBTI community from across Africa, note with great concern that the media, which remains the most powerful facilitator of information and education, largely sensationalises and presents an unfair reflection of our diverse community. By highlighting our sexuality in stories where it is not relevant, the media creates the impression that there is something deviant or wrong about us, which further entrenches and perpetuates stigma and discrimination.

As the world commemorates the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, LGBTI rights and gender activists from East, West and Southern Africa gathered at a Gender Links roundtable in Johannesburg, South Africa, to engage on strategies that could advance effective communication on LGBTI issues.

We the participants at the roundtable, acknowledge that, in recent years, there has been progress in the advancement of LGBTI rights in some parts of Africa. However, a recent Gender Links media monitoring study, which assessed print media from East, West, and Southern Africa, found that of 50000 articles reviewed, only 36 reported on LGBTI issues.

Instead of being reactive and perpetuating simplistic, stereotypical representations of LGBTI Africans, we urge you to be proactive, and find stories that portray our humanity and diversity. As citizens who have the same fundamental human rights as all others, our realities deserve to be covered with accuracy, balance and integrity, by journalists who have an understanding of the socio-cultural influences shaping our lives.

The majority of stories (81%), while not explicitly biased or discriminatory, failed to educate readers on LGBT issues or address stereotypes. In many cases these stories have few words and lack a diversity of sources. They also do not provide history, context or the voices of people in the LGBT community.

In addition, many stories use only secondary sources - or no sources - and feature discriminatory or stereotypical language. The sample also presents a reliance on international news about this topic; only a handful of articles presented insightful background or analysis of this complex topic area as it pertains to the African context. So many Africans continue to live in fear of stigma and discrimination or even death, because there still is so much prejudice against a group of people who are ordinary, productive citizens. We have lost heroes like David Kato of Uganda because the media promoted hatred instead of understanding and tolerance.

The media must uphold its mandate as an informer, educator, watchdog and agenda setter. We thus call upon you to play your part in the creation of African societies that are inclusive, equal and free of homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of discrimination.

We further call upon LGBTI Africans, LGBTI-led organisations and allies to use social media platforms to engage with others on issues affecting us. Expanding public awareness, and owning our narrative is critical if we want an Africa within which all can live without fear. The LGBTI activists made the call at a Gender Links organised workshop which concluded with the development of a checklist for media, as well as an advocacy strategy to engage media on responsive coverage.

Participants also took part in a march through Orange Farm, an informal settlement outside Johannesburg, to deliver a memorandum to police in that community calling on them to scale up efforts to address gender-based violence, including violence toward people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Organisations represented

Young Queer Alliance Mauritius, Out Right Namibia, Queer Alliance Nigeria, Love 167, Triangle Project-South Africa, Wits University Transformation and EE, Tears Foundation, South Africa, SWEAT, AIDS Foundation of South Africa, Community Media Trust, TUEP, Witsie LGBTI. Gender Links

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