7 May 2018

South Africa: Media Is Important in Highlighting Gender Based Violence

The 3rd of May marked another year of world press day where it celebrated the significance of freedom of press and freedom of expression which is enshrined in Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What is important for reflection on this particular day is that in light of the many socio-political adversities many are subjected to live in across the world these stories do not seem to be making as much headlines as they should be.

According to the 2017 Global Peace index, South Africa has the highest rate of violence in the world, and similarly one of the highest ranking rape statistics as well. Although in 2017 statistics released by the South African Police Service recorded a total of thirty-nine thousand eight hundred and twenty-eight rapes (39,828) in the year 2016 to 2017, down from forty-one thousand five hundred and three rapes (41,503) in the year 2015 to 2016, this statistic only highlights the number of reported rape crimes in the country, with many that go untold. With that statistic in mind, an average of 109.1 rapes were recorded each day in the year 2016 to 2017.

But these statistics and recordings of sexual offenses in the country hardly make the news and rarely debated on by both government officials and those in media. Men largely occupy the top and powerful positions in media outlets and as a result is also preventative and influential to the type stories journalists are able to report on or not. This sees many peoples lived experiences including of violence against women and children in many parts of the 'free' global world being side lined and this affects the activism against the violation of human's rights.

The Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, in Johannesburg, also hosted a seminar reflecting on the theme Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law, on the 3rd of May. Panellist and board chairperson of the MDDA (Media Development and Diversity Agency) Musa Sishange and Amina Frense of SANEF (SA National Editors Board Member) both touched on the importance of honouring journalist and media outlets that risk a lot including their lives in the pursuit of reporting on an vital stories, where the voices of people who suffer are being heard. The audience took a moment of silence to also remember the journalists that have died in the fields of objective, factual and accountable news journalism.

Other than serving as a source of entertainment, the reality of media when it comes to serving its role, is to produce a factual representation on the lived experiences of citizens in a country. In a society plagued by violence, it is even more so important that what is shown in various platforms of information access is not harmful to the affected people or particular community. This had me thinking about the policies in media houses that direct the ethics of journalism and information production. Are the people's actions guided by objective and accountable policies? Are the policies implemented in favour for political objectivity? Or do the policies play a hand in political propaganda largely consumed in this capitalist global society?

The Gender and Media Progress Study conducted in 2015 by Gender Links showed that Women's views and voices account for a mere 20% of news sources in the Southern Africa media, lower than the global average of 24%. Nadia Bulbulia from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Musa Sishange pointed out that commercialisation is an issue in mainstream media, with the goal of being in business to make money, which completely overlooks the activism part of this line of work that is also there to challenge the status quo.

The importance of the work Gender Links does in researching and observing the role media plays when covering issues concerning women's views highlights a failure in equal representation of gendered societal issues. This includes the importance media plays in spreading information that is educational, and promotes the voices of the marginalised in an objective, factual and accountable manner. After all news media has the ability to serve and change society for the better.

A lot of factors that see many stories not being massive public knowledge include patriarchy and misogyny, social media, entertainment and politics which have shaped the type of content we consume as citizens of the world. Heterosexual based news, often through the gaze of a man and powerful members of society have influenced what we buy, read and what we are concerned about in society.

As part of a social contract which is based on people's beliefs, principles, attitudes and behaviours, information that is shared to be consumed on a mass scale has the ability to shift the order in society on a socio-political and cultural way. That is why as we reflect on Media, Justice and the Rule of Law we need to bear in mind, the type of society we are creating, what ethics we are breaking and what we are contributing to as mass scale information outlets and individuals, also known as media.

- Yolanda Dyantyi is the Young Women's Alliance Intern at Gender Links. The article is part of the GL News and Blogs service.

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