The Center for Women’s Global Leadership consulted with over 100 women journalists and media experts from 38 countries before developing the format and content of this handbook. The initial global meeting was followed by six regional workshops held over a period of two years (2018 – 2019).1
In spite of the remarkable diversity of backgrounds and experiences, the challenges and gaps identified and prioritized by those media professionals were strikingly similar, and also consistent with the findings of gender and media experts analyzing trends in the coverage of gender-based violence.2
6.6.1.Selected key findings from CWGL journalists consultations
Biases and stereotypes in gender-based violence reporting
Media coverage can unintentionally perpetuate biases and stereotypes, thereby leading to a mischaracterization of the reasons why gender-based violence occurs, why many women don’t report it, and why innumerable perpetrators are emboldened by impunity. As a result, acts of violence are at times sensationalized and women are further objectified.
“Instead of decreasing, sexism and misogyny in media have increased dramatically during the last decades,” wrote Aimée Vega Montiel, Chair of the Global Alliance on Media and Gender. “Findings [from current feminist research] have demonstrated how media content reproduces sexist stereotypes that associate male identity with violence, domination, independence, aggression, and power, while women are linked to emotions, vulnerability, dependency, and sensitivity. In particular, news reports of violence against women tend to represent women as responsible for the violence of which they are victims.”3
Gender-based violence incidents are often reported as disconnected from root causes (especially structural discrimination), contributing factors, and the realities of local communities. “Until recently,” a 2016 Australian study on GBV media coverage found, “violence against women has been largely reported in the media by focusing on seemingly isolated events, rather than reporting [it] as a social problem.”4 Gender-based violence reporting, whether focusing on the family or conflict situations, rarely addresses the whole cycle of violence, from prevention to prosecution.
Missing human rights approach
Gender-based violence is a serious human rights violation, as outlined in the first chapter of this handbook. But it is infrequently reported as such, in part due to a lack of understanding of its conceptualization in international law.
Research by the Global Media Monitoring Project, however, found that, “while the gender dimensions in the quality of reporting are more or less similar between women and men journalists, there is one exception: the stories by women journalists are more likely to be anchored in a human rights or gender equality policy framework.”5
Episodic narratives (refer to Chapter 6.3.1 for an explanation of Episodic and Thematic framing) can prevent the public from understanding how gender-based violence limits women’s ability to exercise their rights and obfuscate patterns of discrimination and abuse. Relatively few stories – only 10% of those analyzed by the Global Media Monitoring Project in 2010 – referred to enforceable human rights standards.6
Much news reporting on gender-based violence suffers from the lack of representation of women as subjects and sources, as well as within the leadership of media institutions.
The voices of gender-based violence survivors are often ignored or “distorted” and drowned by prejudiced, or even victim-blaming comments by law enforcement, male witnesses, relatives or acquaintances and, of course, perpetrators. Countless survivors’ stories are also dismissed for not meeting standards of verification.
The low percentage of women quoted as experts or spokespersons, and the under-representation of women as journalists and editors, can result in the erasure of gender-sensitive news judgment essential to conveying GBV root causes, manifestations and impact.
Terminology matters, regardless of the cultural or linguistic context, and especially when journalists report on sexual violence, at home or in conflict situations. Language is never neutral. It can perpetuate assumptions, biases and stereotypes. It can obscure – or reveal – the most significant dimensions of GBV. Shaming or blaming terminology leads to stigma and silence.
Deploring “tragic events” for instance, is very different from writing about them as “human rights violations” or as “crimes.” Instead of conveying a sense of randomness and inevitability, the latter specifically refers to key issues of justice and accountability.
Precision and accuracy, especially in headlines and photo captions, should not suffer in the quest to draw website traffic or newsstand sales.
Many forms and targets of gender-based violence still go underreported or unreported altogether. Such gaps sometimes result from the risks of reporting on gender-based violence, especially when it is state-sanctioned. More commonly, the incidents don’t rise to newsworthiness due to the “normalization” and acceptance of violence, in particular against women and girls from marginalized minorities and communities.
Gender-based violence coverage is frequently characterized by a fragmentation of issues. Often unmentioned are the multiplicity of intersecting factors that, in any single instance, can lead to discrimination-based abuses.
Multiple studies across the globe are raising the awareness of technology-facilitated gender-based violence, but the media focus on its increasing pervasiveness is lagging. In particular, more reporting is needed on the impact of threats and their potential to translate into real life acts of violence.
Paucity of positive stories
Survivors of domestic violence and sexual harassment are often portrayed through narratives that focus on their attempts to avoid the escalation of abuse or the circumstances leading to it. Victimhood accounts abound, as lower-hanging fruit, instead of stories addressing prevention, advocacy, justice systems, and community solutions. Many survivors are claiming the right to be heard as agents of change whose experiences and perspectives should contribute to the eradication of violence.
Impact of violence against women journalists
“An important dimension of the gender-based violence and media relationship”, Global Alliance on Media and Gender scholar Aimée Vega Montiel wrote, “is the increase in violence against women journalists.”7
Many participants in our consultations voiced great concerns about the harassment and violence that target them globally because of their gender and their professional activities, including their coverage of gender-based violence.
The accumulation of threats and other forms of intimidation, especially online and through various technological devices, may lead to self-censorship, silencing, or decisions to leave the profession. These new forms of abuse may also result in acts of violence and related trauma symptoms that impair women journalists’ ability to function professionally and exercise their basic human rights out in the field, as well as in their workplace.
Lack of standards, guidelines, and training
Despite increases in recent years in the number of media institutions, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations offering professional guidelines and trainings for gender-based violence reporting, these too often remain inaccessible, difficult to identify and, in some cases, simply ignored by editors and news media managers. Media houses need to address the harmful lack of knowledge- and evidence-based reporting, as well as specialized skills required for gender-based violence coverage. More broadly, they need to recognize the newsworthiness of the topic and professionalize its approach.
Journalists also commented that guidelines and trainings, to be effective, must be available in tandem, and supplemented with networking, mentoring, “practicing” opportunities, and access to expert sources.
They especially mentioned the need for ongoing guidance dealing with situations that may unintentionally harm actual or potential victims. These risks include retraumatization of survivors, copycat crimes, the raising of false expectations of help, revenge acts from family or community members, and “jigsaw identification.”8
Endnotes for Chapter VI.I
- The consultations were held in Sri Lanka, Jordan, Australia, Mexico, the United States, and Kenya.
- Six of the experts participated in CWGL consultations: Tasneem Ahmar (Pakistan), Yasmin Jiwani (Canada), Sarah Macharia (Kenya), Tarisai Nyamweda (South Africa), Margaret Simons (Australia), and Aimée Vega Montiel (Mexico).
- Vega Montiel, A. (2018). Violence against women in media and digital content. In A. Vega Montiel & S. Macharia (Eds.), Setting the gender agenda for communication policy: New proposals from the Global Alliance on Media and Gender (p. 73). Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved on March 15, 2021, from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000368962.locale=en
- Simons, M. and Morgan, J. (2018). Changing media coverage of violence against women: Changing sourcing practices? Journalism Studies (Volume 19 – Issue 8, pp. 1202-1217). Retrieved on March 15, 2021, from https://research.monash.edu/en/publications/changing-media-coverage-of-violence-against-women-changing-sourci
- Statement given by Sarah Macharia, Global Media Monitoring Project coordinator, at a panel discussion hosted by CWGL at the invitation of UNFPA during the ICPD25 Summit in Nairobi (Nov. 12, 2019). Retrieved on March 15, 2021, from https://waccglobal.org/ensure-safety-of-women-journalists-who-cover-gender-based-violence/
- Global Media Monitoring Project (2010). Report Highlights. Retrieved on March 15, 2021, from https://whomakesthenews.org/wp-content/uploads/who-makes-the-news/Imported/reports_2010/highlights/highlights_en.pdf
- Vega Montiel, A. (2015). Violence against women and media. In A. Vega Montiel (ed.). Media and Gender: A scholarly agenda for the Global Alliance on Media and Gender (p.17). Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved on March 15, 2021, from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/resources/publications-and-communication-materials/publications/full-list/media-and-gender-a-scholarly-agenda-for-the-global-alliance-on-media-and-gender/
- “Jigsaw identification” refers to media stories that allow the unintentional identification of an unnamed person through the inclusion of details that can be pieced together.
6.6.2.The impact of harassment and violence against women journalists
Harassment of journalists is nothing new. But over the past decade especially, reports of harassment and violence targeting women journalists have been increasing significantly around the world. As more and more media, human rights organizations and UN entities document this trend, it is essential to also focus on its impact on journalists, including their coverage of gender-based violence.
18.104.22.168.Key trends and challenges
Most of the over a hundred women journalists who participated in Center for Women’s Global Leadership’s regional consultations in 2018-191 emphasized the numerous gender-based challenges they face in the workplace, in the field, and online, as well as their direct and indirect effects. Wanting to ensure that the issue was recognized and addressed at the highest level, partnered with the UN Office of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and with UNFPA to convene a global Expert Group Meeting on violence against women journalists. The virtual meeting, co-hosted by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, took place on March 13, 2020.
In June 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, presented her report on “Combating violence against women journalists”2 to the UN Human Rights Council. The report, in addition to using testimonies provided by media professionals during the March Expert Group Meeting, drew from submissions received from 16 governments, UNESCO, and civil society organizations.3
Expert Group Meeting (EGM) Key Takeaways
- Harassment and violence occur around the world at an increasing rate
- Women journalists are targeted both for their work and their gender
- Women journalists experience gender-specific threats and attacks
- Increasingly, online harassment is identified as the biggest concern (across regions and types of media)
- Women are under-represented in statistics and accounts of violence against journalists
- The impact of harassment and violent attacks is often misunderstood or dismissed and underreported by the media
- A culture of sexism, misogyny and impunity exacerbates the frequency and impact of threats and attacks
During the expert group meeting, Liz Ford, from The Guardian, discussed the findings of a 2016 study commissioned by her newspaper. It analyzed the 70 million readers’ comments recorded on its website during the previous 10 years. This research, according to The Guardian, “provided the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.” However, The Guardian “also found that some subjects attracted more abusive or disruptive comments than others. Articles about feminism attracted very high levels of blocked comments. And so did rape.”
Media expert Marija Šajkaš, a consultant with Reporters Without Borders, referred to the findings of the organization’s 2018 report “Women’s rights: Forbidden subject.”6 She mentioned the issue of women journalists who get threatened or punished both for speaking out as women, and for covering “women’s issues.” The title of the report’s opening chapter is: “Covering women’s rights can kill.”
Covering women’s rights can kill
Addressing working conditions in the newsroom, Šajkaš said that journalism is perceived in many parts of the world as a “provocative” occupation for women, and considered incompatible with marriage and family values. This can result in workplace harassment or sexual violence at home.
Journalist Chi Yvonne Leina shared her own stories about the discrimination and abuse she faced working in a Cameroonian newsroom. The objectification of women journalists, she explained, is widespread in a culture where they are perceived as rebels and often prevented to report on harmful practices, such as breast ironing and female genital mutilation.
Similarly, when BBC World Radio journalist Violet Gonda7 returned to Zimbabwe after being banned from her country for 16 years, she was called a rebel, accused of sleeping with opposition leaders and spreading “fake” news. She was briefly detained and also became a victim of cyberbullying.
Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson8, a Samoan independent journalist, outlined the additional risks faced by women journalists working in small countries, such as the Pacific Island States, where the community has easy access to them. Their reporting on local issues can result in threats of retaliation, which have discouraged many women from taking up the profession. A 2019 national assessment by the Journalists Association of Samoa found that 74% of women journalists had been threatened, including through social media, telephone calls to their workplace, and harassment in person.
Those testimonies were consistent with the trends identified through several global and regional studies and surveys (see Resources at the end of this section) conducted during the past 10 years. When the Committee to Protect Journalists published its report on “The silencing crime: Sexual violence and journalists,”9 in 2011, its introduction stated that “few cases of sexual assault against journalists have ever been documented.” The report stressed all the barriers that prevent journalists from talking about their traumatic experiences and noted that “most of the individuals interviewed by the Committee to Protect Journalists had not previously disclosed” them.
Since then, many reports on the issue of violence against women journalists have focused on three trends:
- Increase of online harassment
- Impact of workplace harassment
- Impunity10 (both within media institutions and in the context of either threats and attacks by community members, or state-sanctioned violence)
“Online trolling remains one of the most critical tools that has been weaponized against women in the media,” Kiran Nazish, founding director of the Coalition for Women in Journalism, said. “We have noticed that these threats have often also leaked from the virtual into the physical world.”11 This newer trend is based on cases of violence against women journalists that Coalition documented in 2020.
Threats have often also leaked from the virtual into the physical world
22.214.171.124.The impact of violence against women journalists
A global survey, conducted in 2018 by the International Women’s Media Foundation and TrollBusters (U.S.)23, looked at both the short and long-term impact of attacks, threats, and online abuse on women journalists and their reporting. Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents said that they avoided covering certain topics, while 29 percent considered leaving the profession. Others mentioned problems with sources and interviewees. The study also mentioned that “freelancers felt particularly vulnerable after online attacks.”
Gender-based violence is one of the topics that can put women journalists at risk. CWGL, at the invitation of UNFPA, addressed this issue at the November 2019 Nairobi Summit which marked the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development. One of the CWGL panelists, Sarah Macharia, coordinator of the Global Media Monitoring Project, said:
“Women journalists who ethically cover stories about gender-based violence are human rights defenders in their own rights, and they often face challenges, including misogynistic attacks online and offline . . . and fighting for the freedom of expression of their sources, when they themselves are being silenced.”24
A Lab on Online Harassment of Women Journalists took place May 3, 2019, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (May 3), through a partnership of UNESCO and the World Wide Web Foundation, among others. Women representing African media organizations discussed “how they are subject to misogynistic abuse online when covering a range of political issues, especially related to women’s rights and gender-based violence.”25
In her 2021 report on violence against women journalists, UN Rapporteur Dubravka Šimonović addressed its potential repercussions:26
“Media reporting on such issues is an important game changer, as it can demonstrate how widespread gender-based violence really is. The media has the power to change public opinion and in doing so can put pressure on Governments to introduce changes to law and practice to combat it.”27
This power is denied when women journalists are silenced, when they self-censor and when they need to leave jobs or change assignments. It is also diminished when violence is compounded by lingering gender gaps in the workplace, as well as news judgment used to select subjects and sources. The 2020 report of the Global Media Monitoring Project shows that the percentage of female subjects and sources in monitored print, radio and television news stories not only ranged between 14 and 35 percent (depending on the world region), but also reflected “a consistent 5-7 [percentage] point gap between women and men reporters.”28
While it is essential to bring attention to the underreported impact of the intimidation and silencing of many women journalists, it is equally important to amplify the voice, in the media, of those whose resilience and ability to resist keep women’s rights in the limelight.
THREATS ARE A FAMILIAR THING FOR ME, IT’S BACKGROUND NOISE
The Case of Svetlana Anokhina
Svetlana Anokhina is a journalist and women’s human rights defender from the Republic of Dagestan, in Russia’s North Caucasus. She is the chief editor of Daptar, the only media platform in the region that focuses on women’s issues, such as domestic violence, selective abortions, early marriages, and female genital mutilation.
In 2016, she published the first article in Russia on female genital mutilation, ”a practice still carried out on young Muslim girls living in the highlands and resettlement areas of Dagestan.”29 The story triggered a lot of hateful reactions and insults because, Anokhina said in a 2021 interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists,30 “I challenged three ‘sacred’ things: Religion. Tradition. And the myth that the women in the Caucasus are the most unoppressed of all unoppressed.”
In July 2020, Anokhina received death threats over the phone seemingly resulting from a just published article which she said was “critical of authorities failing to properly investigate domestic violence cases and femicides.”31 Although she identified the caller, she was unable to convince the police to initiate proceedings against him. She subsequently fled Russia but continued to work for Daptar from exile and returned to Dagestan months later. In an interview with Meduza,32 a Latvia-based online newspaper, however, Anokhina concluded after the traumatic July episode: “Threats are a familiar thing for me, it’s background noise.”
In June 2021, Anokhina was arrested in a domestic violence shelter, as she tried to stop a police raid. She was subsequently released.
Interviewed by the Committee to Protect Journalists about the challenges she faces when reporting on gender-based violence, Anokhina explained: “There is an ideological platform that unites many of my critics. They see my work as opposing Islam because I am talking about equal rights ... . There is a strong pushback against the feminist movement. Feminism has become a very triggering topic ... and is seen as almost demonic.”33
Feminism has become a very triggering topic . . . and is seen as almost demonic.
The physical risks of field reporting and the increasing scope and severity of online violence seem to have somewhat overshadowed the impact of abuses in the workplace. Women journalists who are ignored, intimidated, or retaliated against when they report them endure mental and emotional repercussions that deeply affect their work and may even cause them to leave the profession.
- A report on “Sexual Harassment in the Media” showed that 47% of the women who participated in the 2020 survey conducted by Women in News34 in Africa, had been sexually harassed at work.
- A 2017 survey of primarily U. S. media by the Columbia Journalism Review found that 41% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment in a newsroom. Staff Writer Alexandria Neason noted: “We heard back from not a single one of the 149 newsrooms we contacted to participate.”35
- Results from a 2019 French survey revealed that 49 % of female respondents (representing 270 newsrooms) experienced verbal sexual abuse.36
Often underreported are overlapping risks of violence at work and at home. One such case was the November 2019 murder of Pakistani woman journalist Arooj Iqbal. In August 2020, Reporters Without Borders conducted its own investigation37 and concluded:
“Arooj Iqbal will go down in Pakistan’s history as the first woman journalist to be murdered because of her work.” She was murdered “a few hours before the publication of the first issue of Choice, the local newspaper she had just founded.”
Iqbal’s family claimed that her ex-husband “killed her or had her killed.” Just a few days before her murder, she had filed a domestic violence complaint with the police. One motive for the crime was allegedly that she might “become a direct competitor of her ex-husband by launching her own newspaper.” A journalist himself, he was also her former editor. Weeks later, Iqbal’s brother was “forced to accept” a financial compensation agreement in exchange for the family forgiving the alleged murderer. And so ended the case, with an “honour crime” settlement. In a country where it is estimated that only 4% of all journalists are women, such impunity can only have a chilling effect, especially when media organizations and unions (as in Punjab) traditionally do not protect women journalists.
For independent journalists, the issue of protection is even more crucial. Kashmiri freelance photojournalist Masrat Zahra was taken into custody in April 2020 under India’s Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, for “uploading anti national posts.” In a July interview for the Women’s Media Center, Zahra speculated that she was most likely targeted “to send a message to other journalists: ‘If we booked a woman under terrorism charges, we can do this to all of you.’ Or maybe it’s because I am the only woman photojournalist to cover the conflict, and my work brings forward a female perspective.”38 Later, speaking from Germany where she is currently residing, Zahra confirmed: “I am being targeted because of my identity as a woman and also because of my work, which focuses on the brutalities faced by women and children in Kashmir.”39
I am being targeted because of my identity as a woman and also because of my work
A. GENERAL RESOURCES (organization names in alphabetical order)
Coalition for Women in Journalism
International NGO documenting threats and attacks faced by women journalists around the world. Publishes monthly status reports:
The Silencing Crime: Sexual Violence and Journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists (June 2011)
The Threats Follow Us Home
Committee to Protect Journalists (September 2019)
A survey of women journalists’ safety in Canada and the United States
Journalist Sector Focus
Center for Women’s Global Leadership (November 2019)
A resource guide for the Global 16 Days Campaign on gender-based violence in the world of work.
Women Journalists and Freedom of Expression
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (October 2018)
Available in English and Spanish, 77 pages
Report on discrimination and gender-based violence faced by women journalists within the countries of the Organization of American States
International Association of Women in Radio and Television (2017) https://www.iawrt.org/projects/2017/velvet-revolution
Nupur Basu (India) is the Project Director and Executive Producer of this documentary which focuses on the challenges faced by women journalists from seven different countries covering conflict for different media.
IFJ Survey: One in Two Women Journalists Suffer Gender-Based Violence at Work
International Federation of Journalists (November 2017)
The Safety of Women Journalists: Breaking the Cycle of Silence and Violence
International Media Support (October 2019)
Available in English and Somali, 31 pages
Features nine countries, including Somalia.
Violence and Harassment Against Women in the News Media: A Global Picture
International Women’s Media Foundation (June 2018) 38 pages
Published in collaboration with the International News Safety Institute (London)
Attacks and Harassment: The Impact on Female Journalists and Their Reporting
International Women’s Media Foundation (September 2018), 51 pages
Co-authored with TrollBusters (USA)
Journalists in Distress Network
Includes 18 international organizations that provide direct assistance to journalists
Sexism’s Toll on Journalism
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) (March 2021)
Available in Arabic, English, French, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish, 37 pages
Three Young Women TV Workers Gunned Down in Jalalabad (Afghanistan)
Reporters Without Borders (March 2021)
RSF’s 2020 Round-up: 35% Rise in Number of Women Journalists Held Arbitrarily
Reporters Without Borders (December 2020)
Brazilian Website for Women Targeted After Report on Abortion
Reporters Without Borders (September 2019)
Report on threats and attacks against the female-run online newspaper AzMina
UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists
Searchable database (by country, date, and gender, among others)
Combating Violence Against Women Journalists
Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences to the UN Human Rights Council (May 2020)
Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish
The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity
Report of the UN Secretary-General to the UN General Assembly (August 2017)
Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish
Includes “Strengthening the safety of women journalists” (Section V)
B. ONLINE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN JOURNALISTS
Online Violence Response Hub
Coalition Against Online Violence
This is a project of coalition partners International Women’s Media Foundation and the International Center for Journalists. The Response Hub went live in July 2021 and provides resources and research on online violence.
Global Survey on Online Violence Against Women Journalists
International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and UNESCO (December 2020), 17 pages
Authors: Dr. Julie Posetti, Nermine Aboulez, Kalina Bontcheva, Jackie Harrison, and Silvio Waisbord
Available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish
The Chilling: Global Trends in Online Violence Against Women Journalists
ICFJ and UNESCO (April 2021) 93 pages
Authors: Dr. Julie Posetti, Nabeelah Shabbir, Diana Maynard, Kalina Bontcheva, and Nermine Aboulez.
Global Survey on Online Abuse of Women Journalists
International Federation of Journalists (November 2018)
Byte Back: A Journalist’s Guide to Combat Cyber Harassment in South Asia
International Federation of Journalists (March 2017)
Women Journalists and the Double Bind: The Self-Censorship Effect of Online Harassment in Pakistan
Media Matters for Democracy (January 2021)
New Challenges to Freedom of Expression: Countering Online Abuse of Female Journalists
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media (2016) 60 pages
Availble in English and Russian
Editor: Becky Gardiner
Safety of Female Journalists Online
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (Vienna, Austria)
Resources on online harassment of women journalists
This website provides resources for targets of online abuse (founded by Dr. Michelle Ferrier, USA).
Endnotes Chapter VI.II
- The first convening took place in July 2018 in Sri Lanka. Three of the participating journalists were interviewed for a Himal Southasian podcast on the topic of violence against women journalists in the region. http://himalmag.com/the-southasian-conversation-women-in-media/
- United Nations, General Assembly, Combating violence against women journalists: Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, A/HRC/44/52 (6 May 2020). Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://undocs.org/A/HRC/44/52
- Three civil society organizations (Article 19, Global Alliance on Media and Gender, and the International Media Support) submitted detailed reports in March 2020. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/VAWJournalists.aspx
- Gardiner, B., Mansfield, M., Anderson, I., Holder, J., Louter D., & Ulmanu, M. (2016, April 12). The dark side of Guardian comments. The Guardian. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/12/the-dark-side-of-guardian-comments
- Reporters Without Borders (2018). Women’s rights: Forbidden subject. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/womens_rights-forbidden_subject.pdf
- Violet Gonda is the President of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.
- Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson, representing the Samoa Media Council, at the time was the Chief Editor of CWGL’s Journalism Initiative on Gender-Based Violence, and the Editor of the March 2020 EGM report.
- Wolfe, L. (2011). The silencing crime: Sexual violence and journalists. Committee to Protect Journalists. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://cpj.org/reports/2011/06/silencing-crime-sexual-violence-journalists/
- United Nations, General Assembly, The safety of journalists and the issue of impunity: report of the Secretary-General, A/72/290 (4 August 2017). See section V on “Strengthening the safety of women journalists.” Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://undocs.org/en/A/72/290 See also the statement by the Global Alliance for Media and Gender (GAMAG): GAMAG (2019, November 2). End impunity on crimes against women journalists. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://gamag.net/2019/11/08/end-impunity-on-crimes-against-women-journalists/
- Nazish, K. (2021, February 25). We must address the war on women journalists, online and offline. Digital Content Next. Retrieved on Aug. 15, from https://digitalcontentnext.org/blog/2021/02/25/we-must-address-the-war-on-women-journalists-online-and-offline/
- Posetti, J., Aboulez, N., Bontcheva, K. Harrison, J. & Waisbord, S. (2020). Online violence against women journalists: A global snapshot of incidence and impacts. UNESCO. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000375136/PDF/375136eng.pdf.multi
- Posetti, J., Shabbir, N., Maynard, D., Bontcheva, K., & Aboulez, N. (2021). The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists. UNESCO. Discussion Paper available in Open Access under the Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 IGO (CC-BY—SA3.0 IGO). Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://en.unesco.org/publications/thechilling
- This data included: 173 long-form interviews conducted with 173 international journalists, editors and other experts; the survey data; 15 country case studies and two big data case studies that analyzed 2.5 million social media posts directed at prominent women journalists in the UK and the Philippines.
- Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Lebanon, Tunisia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Poland, Serbia, Sweden, UK, Brazil, Mexico and the U.S.
- Reporter for the Sunday World, Northern Ireland. Her case was mentioned in “The Chilling” report (p.33). The Facebook message, as quoted in an Irish News article dated May 11, 2021, said: “Your baby will suffer very soon from rape.” Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2021/05/11/news/amnesty-international-says-latest-threat-to-child-of-journalist-patricia-devlin-totally-abhorrent--2317406/
- Posetti, J., Maynard, D., & Bontcheva, K. (March 2021). Maria Ressa: Fighting an onslaught of online violence. International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.icfj.org/our-work/maria-ressa-big-data-analysis
- The interview was conducted on May 14, 2021.
- Price, J. (2020, November 27). Why I stopped writing about family violence. The Canberra Times. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 20201 from https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7029728/why-i-stopped-writing-about-family-violence/
- Campion-Smith, B. (2021, May 1). Toronto Star. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.thestar.com/opinion/public_editor/2021/05/14/online-abuse-of-women-journalists-is-a-crisis-we-can-no-longer-ignore.html
- The Guardian Editorial (2021, May 9). Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/may/09/the-guardian-view-on-online-abuse-of-female-journalists-a-problem-for-all
- Campion-Smith, B. (2020, December 11). Online abuse is a harmful reality for women journalists. Toronto Star. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.thestar.com/opinion/public_editor/2020/12/11/online-abuse-is-a-harmful-reality-for-women-journalists.html
- Ferrier, M. (Author) and Lees Munoz, E. (Ed.). (2018). Attacks and Harassment: The impact on female journalists and their reporting. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.iwmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Attacks-and-Harassment.pdf
- World Association of Christian Communication (2019, November 12). States must ensure safety for women journalists who cover gender-based violence. Retrieved on Aug, 15, 2021, from https://waccglobal.org/ensure-safety-of-women-journalists-who-cover-gender-based-violence/
- Brudvig, I. (2019, May 28). The great threat to women’s rights online: Reflections from World Press Freedom Day. World Wide Web Foundation. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://webfoundation.org/2019/05/the-great-threat-to-womens-rights-online-reflections-from-world-press-freedom-day/
- See next handbook section on “The role and impact of journalists reporting on GBV”
- United Nations, General Assembly, Combating violence against women journalists: Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, A/HRC/44/52 (6 May 2020). Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://undocs.org/A/HRC/44/52
- Macharia, S. (Ed.). (July 2021). 6th Global Media Monitoring Project (Licensed under creative commons). Who Makes the News? Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://whomakesthenews.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/GMMP2020.ENG_.FINAL20210713.pdf
- Efimova, A. (2021, March 18). Svetlana Anokhina – ‘The shame of Daghestan.’ Open Caucasus Media. Retrieved on Aug. 15,
2021, from https://oc-media.org/features/ svetlana-anokhina-the-shame-of-daghestan/
- Rodina, E. (2021, March 4). Women ‘have finally started talking’: Three female journalists on covering sexual violence in Russia. Committee to Protect Journalists. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://cpj.org/2021/03/women-talking-female-journalists-covering-sexu-al-violence-violence-russia/
- The Coalition for Women in Journalism (2020, July 28). Dagestan: Journalist Svetlana Anokhina threatened with murder by anti-feminist activist. Retrieved on
Aug. 15, 2021, from https://womeninjournalism. org/cfwij-press-statements/dagestan-journalist-svetlana-anokhina-threatened-with-murder-by-anti-feminist-activist-authorities-under- take-a-thorough-investigation-and-ensure-the- journalists-safety
- Sivtsova, A. (2020, July 28). ‘Threats are a familiar thing for me’: Dagestani journalist Svetlana Anokhina on covering women’s issues in Russia’s North Caucasus. Meduza. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://meduza.io/en/feature/2020/ 07/28/threats-are-a-familiar-thing-for-me
- Rodina, E. (2021, March 4). Women ‘have finally started talking’: Three female journalists on covering sexual violence in Russia. Committee to Protect Journalists. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://cpj.org/2021/03/women-tal- king-female-journalists-covering-sexual- violence-violence-russia/
- Women in News (July 2021). Sexual harassment in the media (Africa Report). World Association of News Publishers. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://womeninnews.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/20210712-Low-Res-Sexual-Harassment-Report.pdf
- Neason, A. (2017, December 1). What we found when we asked newsrooms about sexual harassment. Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://www.cjr.org/analysis/sexual-harassment-newsrooms-misconduct.php
- Campion, J. and Duguet, M. (2019, March 7). L’Enquête #EntenduALaRédac révèle l’ampleur du sexism et des violences sexuelles dans le milieu du journalisme. Francetvinfo. Retrieved on Aug, 15, 2021, from https://www.francetvinfo.fr/societe/harcelement/ligue-du-lol/ta-jupe-te-fait-un-beau-cul-l-enquete-entendualaredac-revele-lampleur-du-sexisme-et-des-violences-sexuelles-dans-les-redactions_3219179.html
- Reporters Without Borders (2020, August 12). Investigation: Violence and impunity in Pakistan – no justice for slain woman journalist. Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://rsf.org/en/news/investigation-violence-and-impunity-pakistan-no-justice-slain-woman-journalist
- Khawaja, M. (2020, July 10). When a photojournalist becomes a terrorist: An interview with Masrat Zahra. Women Under Siege (an independent initiative of the Women’s Media Center). Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://womensmediacenter.com/women-under-siege/when-a-photojournalist-becomes-a-terrorist-an-interview-with-masrat-zahra
- Ali, J. (2021, July 29). Kashmiri journalist Masrat Zahra claims police assaulted her father. The Wire (India). Retrieved on Aug. 15, 2021, from https://thewire.in/rights/kashmiri-journalist-masrat-zahra-police-assault-father#:~:text=Kashmiri%20Journalist%20Masrat%20Zahra%20Claims%20Police%20Assaulted%20Her%20Father,-rights&text=After%20the%20police%20denied%20the,attempt%20to%20muzzle%20her%20voice.&text=In%20the%20picture%2C%20Amin%20can,bruised%20arm%20to%20the%20camera.
6.6.3.Role and impact of journalists reporting on gender-based violence
Generally speaking, journalists’ views of their role vary a great deal and range from strictly informing readers, listeners, and viewers to influencing public opinion, holding those in power accountable and contributing to change. How they perceive their role is often expressed – intentionally or not – through the framing of their news stories, which directly impacts the public’s reactions and understanding of events and issues.
Framing is a part of news judgment that affects the selection of topics, incidents, facts, and perspectives. It is reflected in the choice of headlines, terminology, sources and interview questions, among others.
Media practitioners and critics often contrast what is being termed as episodic framing and thematic framing. The distinction is especially useful when applied to gender-based violence reporting.
Episodic framing, which is commonly used in gender-based violence news reporting, refers to a tendency to represent events and incidents as isolated or disconnected, and centered on individual circumstances, behaviors and motivations. An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on “Reframing sexual violence,”1 said about a 2010 study conducted by the FrameWorks Institute (USA):
“When researchers asked people to explain why sexual violence occurs, they talked about individuals’ internal motivations. They described sexual violence as the result of a perpetrator’s moral or psychological failing, and a ‘victim’s’ inability to ensure her safety.”
Since 2017, this type of framing has been reflected quite clearly in the media coverage of #MeToo. The Review article pointed out that “its focus on individuals, and celebrities in particular, does not necessarily help people understand the problem’s systemic nature.”
Thematic framing, on the other hand, is characterized by a contextual, big picture approach that highlights links, patterns and trends. Moving beyond the private sphere, it seeks to address issues at the structural or institutional level and connects individual stories to contextual factors.
In the area of gender-based violence, thematic framing is used by journalists who see their role as helping the public understand the complex drivers, manifestations and impact of the problem at the community level. Through this framing, the narrative is no longer about a random occurrence of personal tragedies, but about patterns of abuse, issues of accountability, and the quest for remedies and solutions.
As outlined in the third chapter of this handbook, a human rights perspective helps to put gender-based violence in context and can be a foundation for its thematic framing. A rights-based approach to journalism has been promoted in different ways by several media organizations and experts. According to Canadian journalist and scholar Thomas Rose, a human rights-based approach to journalism “seeks to amend the standard role of journalism in a democracy to include the principle that advancing human rights should not be an ad hoc endeavor but a fundamental function of a journalist’s everyday obligations.”2 Reinforcing this notion, the 2015 Global Media Monitoring Project report states about the coverage of violence against women:
“A rights-based approach to journalism underlines media’s role in society. . . [It] means linking issues reported to human rights standards, identifying the right bearers and duty holders, giving particular attention to vulnerable and marginalized groups and creating space for the marginalized to be heard.”3
Advancing human rights should not be an ad hoc endeavor but a fundamental function of a journalist’s everyday obligations
A Freedom House 2019 study of Moldovan media coverage, which perpetuates stereotypes and prejudices against women and marginalized groups, concluded that “a human rights-based approach to media reporting is a paradigm-shifting framework capable of substantially improving the quality and impact of media work.”4
More broadly, from this perspective, the media has a role to play in educating the public about its rights, but also to monitor their protection and hold those in power accountable.
126.96.36.199.Advancing public discourse
Providing accurate information that can educate and empower readers, listeners, and viewers involves the awareness-raising responsibility to counter and mitigate stereotypes and prejudices. It is about challenging assumptions, misperceptions, and attitudes that can foster gender-based violence or lead to its acceptance and normalization. For editors, managers, and media house owners, it is also about ensuring that the women’s experiences and concerns are deemed newsworthy and not trivialized or deprioritized as “women’s business.”
Journalists and news managers also need to exercise good judgment around the influence that narratives, terminology and tone may have on the public’s perceptions and responses. Bangladeshi journalist Raisa Chowdhury, in an article on “The need to revise how gender-based violence is reported,” showed how sexual assault stories, for instance, often focus on the victim’s life instead of the violence of the perpetrator. As a result, Chowdhury added, “public reaction inclines towards sympathy rather than anger. But right now, we need rage more than sympathy.” She also noted that this kind of coverage reflects “a clear distinction between the ways in which violence against women is reported in contrast to other crimes.”
In a piece for The Washington Post on “The loaded language of sexual assault,” writer and former criminal defense attorney Michele Sharpe reached a similar conclusion when she commented on the use of the term “accuser” for victims of sexual violence:
“Victims of the crimes of rape have had an entire lexicon of specialness foisted upon them. That vocabulary sets sexual assault victims apart from victims of other crimes and supports the long history of patriarchal insistence on control of women. It insinuates that the person who was assaulted is unreliable.”6
The relevance of framing and terminology in shifting public dialogue in the U.S. was perfectly illustrated in the aftermath of mass shootings that took place in several spa businesses in Atlanta in March 2021, resulting in the death of eight people, six of them identified as Asian women (of Korean and Chinese descent). Initially, the media coverage was criticized for amplifying racial and gender-based biases, and focusing on the suspect’s dismissive motivations as relayed by the police.
Several journalists, however, were able to take advantage of this opportunity to educate their peers and the public about the role of the media in countering traditional narratives, including stereotypes and assumptions. The Asian American Journalists Association, for instance, “urged newsrooms to take caution with language that could further fuel the hypersexualization of Asian women, which has been linked to violence and discrimination.”7 Meanwhile, MSNBC Columnist Hayes Brown was one of the rare voices to raise the question: “Were the Atlanta shootings a case of femicide?”8 His informative and nuanced opinion piece suggesting that “when sex and gender play a large part in the motivation of a woman’s murder, we should have a common way to refer to it,” was a welcome invitation to further public debate on the issue.
Adding context to this type of crime need not interfere with the time-honored journalistic duty of refraining from convicting the accused in the media.
188.8.131.52.Amplifying and diversifying voices
Most of the journalists that Center for Women’s Global Leadership worked with stressed the importance of amplifying survivors’ voices while diversifying perspectives and sources by giving voice to community experts and service providers, as well as representatives of marginalized communities that are especially affected by gender-based violence.
In an interview about her 2020 UNESCO Press Freedom Prize, Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima declared: “What I believe is that we journalists cannot lose track of to whom we have responsibility... . Being able to give someone a voice, I think, is the best reward for reporting.”9
Being able to give someone a voice, I think, is the best reward for reporting
The following account shows how journalists have joined forces to conduct an award-winning investigation based on the testimonies of sexual abuse survivors from university campuses all across Indonesia.
HOW JOURNALISTS COLLABORATED TO AMPLIFY THE VOICES OF SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVORS
Handbook contributor Evi Mariani is a former Managing Editor of the Jakarta Post, an English-language national media outlet in Indonesia. She is now an independent journalist.
BY EVI MARIANI, SEPTEMBER 2020
I have been honored to be part of a small team of journalists in Indonesia that focus on revealing the hidden crimes of sexual abuse on university campuses. We formed the collaboration to help Indonesia end such crimes by amplifying the voice of the victims.
Our work has won two prestigious awards, the Tasrif Award at the national level, and the regional Award for Excellence in Public Service Journalism from the Society of Publishers in Asia.
In Indonesia, journalists who focus on sexual abuse issues and have a perspective to help victims to be heard are a rare breed. Most journalists would write about sexual violence using the police perspective, which too often blames the victims.
Our team, consisting of journalists from The Jakarta Post, Tirto.id and VICE Indonesia, was indeed small. Initially, BBC Indonesia was part of our collaborative project and, even then, the core team numbered not more than 15 people.
We named the collaboration #NamaBaikKampus, loosely translated into English as “campus reputation.” We chose this name because university and government officials often used those
three words — nama baik kampus — to muffle the voice of sexual abuse victims.
“Don’t tell anyone about the sexual abuse because you would tarnish our campus reputation,” the officials would say to victims.
We wanted to turn around the meaning of that phrase and tell the policymakers that the reputation of your institution would be even better if you listen to victims and set up a protocol and a system in which they would have a safe space to speak and get justice.
The idea to form this collaboration came in late 2018, when an incident at a campus in Yogyakarta, coincidentally my alma mater, made national headlines for months. A Tirto.id team, led by Editor Fahri Salam, initiated the collaboration. All of us shared the same perspective about how to approach the stories: Victims’ welfare must come first.
When we found that one victim withdrew her consent to be interviewed, none of us said that we had to push her. We simply decided to move on to find another brave victim. It was upsetting that we could easily find other victims, since there were plenty and the sexual abuse happens everywhere, as our collaboration uncovered. But it was also encouraging to find that many of them were brave enough to speak to journalists.
[In February and March 2019] we used Google Forms to collect more data about these hidden crimes. In the end, we received 174 testimonies, mostly from female students, in 79 universities in 29 cities across Indonesia. Most of the perpetrators were students, closely followed in second place by university lecturers, who were almost all male. Some victims seemed to point to the same man as the perpetrator, meaning that at least one lecturer had been getting away with abusing students for years.
We believe there were many, many more.
We keep reminding ourselves why we are doing this: We want journalism to help end sexual violence everywhere regardless of the background. We are doing this so that victims can be heard – and so there will be no more victims in the future. And we believe, as journalists, that we can take part in this.
184.108.40.206.Keeping the spotlight on Gender-based Violence
In the next chapters of this handbook, several examples of reporting best practices are part of follow-up stories that allow journalists to keep the spotlight on specific topics or situations, and to better address the scope and complexity of the problem. Liz Ford, for instance, reflecting on The Guardian coverage of women in El Salvador who were being charged with aggravated homicide following obstetric emergencies, wrote:
“I did not think our coverage would lead to instant policy change in El Salvador. I do, however, believe we have raised greater awareness of what some women experience. I continue to live in hope that things will improve. But until then, I plan to do what I can to keep the spotlight on this issue.”10
If time allows, journalists can delve deeper into the complexity of issues and to address some key questions, such as:
- What are the trends or patterns that emerged over time?
- How did the violence impact survivors and the community long term?
- Who was held accountable? How did the justice system respond?
- What, if any, solutions to the problem have been proposed and implemented?
- Are there any challenges to a corrupt justice system?
In the context of conflict-related sexual violence, not keeping the spotlight on a given situation or crisis (either post-conflict or as a result of “media fatigue”) can be especially detrimental. Writing about the media’s role in covering mass atrocities, in reference to the 2017 persecution of the Rohingya population by the Myanmar security forces, Canadian investigative journalist Annie Hylton wrote:
“Before long, the cameras will inevitably go home, and the media will focus on another breaking story. The consequences of this business model, according to media and human rights experts, cannot be overstated.”11
In the case of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, several media outlets have kept the spotlight on rape survivors, and the plight of their children born from those rapes. Israeli photojournalist Jonathan Torgovnik wrote a follow-up story about them for the New York Times 25 years after the genocide. The opening paragraph poses the key questions that journalists, among others, have the responsibility to address:
“What are the effects of being born of rape in the name of genocide? How are mothers who survived this brutal violence in Rwanda dealing with the trauma and complexities of their lives and the long-lasting, multigenerational impact of what was done to them?”12
Twenty-two years after the genocide, BuzzFeed’s global women’s rights reporter Jina Moore wrote a different type of follow-up article, focusing on three rape survivors who had testified at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1997). “[Their] stories helped convict a man for rape as a crime against humanity for the first time in history,” Moore noted. Her role was to let her readers know about the ramifications for survivors of such a landmark conviction. One of them told her: “I think for all the women who’ve been through that, we’re all dead women standing.”13
In his foreword to the 2007 edition of Crimes of War, South African Judge Richard Goldstone, former prosecutor of the Rwanda International Criminal Tribunal, commented:
“Reporters and other observers at the frontline of conflict often voice frustration that their reports and efforts hardly dent the public consciousness and do little to change an intolerable situation; but the fact is that accurate, timely, and thoughtful coverage of war crimes can have an impact far beyond any immediate calculation.”14
Accurate, timely, and thoughtful coverage of war crimes can have an impact far beyond any immediate calculation
220.127.116.11.Leveraging the power of journalism to prevent and eradicate gender-based violence
Several intergovernmental agreements have emphasized the role of the media in preventing and eradicating gender-based violence:
- The Southern Africa Development Community, in its 2008 Protocol on Gender and Development: “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to encourage the media to play a constructive role in the eradication of gender-based violence by adopting guidelines which ensure gender sensitive coverage.” (Article 30.3)15
- The Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention, in its 2008 Declaration on Femicide: “The media should play a role in the ethical education of the citizenry, promote gender equity and equality and contribute to the eradication of violence against women.”16
- The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (known as the 2011 Istanbul Convention): “[State] Parties shall encourage . . . the media, with due respect for freedom of expression and their independence, to participate in the elaboration and implementation of policies and to set guidelines and self-regulatory standards to prevent violence against women and to enhance respect for their dignity.” (Article 17.1)17
In 2016, the Council of Europe published a special document on the implementation of Article 17,18 focusing on two main topics:
- The link between the media’s portrayal of women and men, their reproduction of gender stereotypes and violence against women
- Promotion of a positive role for the media in preventing violence against women
Many of the journalists that we worked with during its regional consultations spoke of seeking to raise awareness and change attitudes, practices, laws and policies to contribute to the prevention and eradication of gender-based violence. Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini was especially eloquent in addressing this role.
RANA HUSSEINI: “SHATTERING THE CULTURE OF SHAME AND FEAR”
Rana Husseini participated in the Amman workshop, which was co-hosted by UNFPA Arab States Regional Humanitarian Response Hub. She won the Arab Woman of the Year Award 2019 for Social Impact “for her role in inspiring women to stand against violence and injustice.”19
Husseini was featured in UNFPA’s journalism handbook on “Reporting on gender-based violence in humanitarian settings” (March 2020),20 excerpted here with permission of UNFPA:
“When you are attempting to shatter the culture of shame and fear surrounding gender-based violence, you need to expect some resistance at first,” explains Rana Husseini, an award-winning Jordanian journalist, author, and human rights activist who has been influential in bringing so-called “honour” crimes against women to public attention and encouraging changes in the law in Jordan to bring stronger penalties for these types of crimes.
If you are considering actively covering gender-based violence, there is definitely a learning curve involved, but the value of the work is unquestionable,” adds Husseini. “It took some time for me to build my network – to cultivate a growing number of sources and to build sufficient trust so that my reporting not only became impactful but also began changing long-standing perceptions about women, girls and violence within the community.
Husseini began reporting in 1993, back when issues surrounding women’s rights, social norms, and gender-based violence were seldom openly discussed in the public sphere. As a staunch activist for equality, Husseini began leveraging the power of journalism to raise awareness on the issues impacting women and girls. By adopting a straightforward and fact-based approach, her reporting quickly began having an impact.
I wanted to investigate the stories I heard on a daily basis from family members, neighbours, and colleagues, all of which showed a growing pattern of abuse,” recalls Husseini. “Later, my investigations took me to a variety of other sources, including forensic experts, lawyers, former judges, and social workers, all in an attempt to illustrate as accurately a picture as possible for my readers.”
This gave Husseini more insight into the phenomenon of so-called “honour” crimes, in which women and girls were being murdered in the name of preserving or “cleansing’ the family name. She reported on the subject frequently to ensure that it remained a part of public discourse, making sure that criminal proceedings were also covered extensively.
From there, women’s rights and issues became her area of expertise, launching a career that inspired countless other reporters to break through the walls of silence on gender-based violence.
The impact of journalists reporting on gender-based violence, and especially on sexual and domestic violence, can derive from a prevention approach. In an analysis of U.S. media coverage on sexual violence, the Berkeley Media Studies Group recommended a “prevention perspective which focuses on root causes and ways to change societal and community norms to reduce the incidence of sexual violence. . . Framing the news about sexual violence in the context of prevention can help shift the public’s and policymakers’ perception of sexual violence from a sense of risky, random inevitabilities to a focus on specific rates, causes of violence and prevention strategies.”21
The role of news media in primary prevention was also the subject of a 2017 Australian study which concluded:
“By making visible the issue of violence against women, news media helps to construct and regulate public understanding. The Australian news media can potentially create a space for violence against women to be understood not as private or shameful matter, but as a problem that should and can be prevented. . . . Overall, the findings reinforced the importance of media as a primary prevention tool, its potency in influencing community attitudes, and the increasing importance of social media and its interaction with traditional news media.”22
Journalists do not necessarily set out to impact the outcome of specific situations or cases, but their investigations can positively contribute to issues of justice and accountability.
18.104.22.168.CASE STUDY: “THE TRUTH THAT WE FIND IS THE GOAL”
Elizabeth Flock is a U.S.-based journalist and documentary filmmaker with a focus on gender and justice. She was interviewed by CWGL for this case study on April 23, 2021.
Independent American journalist Elizabeth Flock spent approximately nine months in 2019 reporting on the case of Brittany Smith, who faced life in prison in Alabama for shooting and killing a man who was an old acquaintance. Smith said that he had raped and threatened her earlier that night. She was charged with murder, although she consistently claimed that she acted in self-defense.
After laying out the facts about the circumstances of the rape and killing, Flock examined a wide range of issues and data points that shed light on the context and complexity of the case, from rape-kit examinations to court-appointed attorney systems, and from the handling of sexual violence complaints by the police to the geographic and gender disparities in self-defense law.
Flock’s pursuit of the truth resulted in a lengthy investigative piece published in the Jan. 13, 2020, issue of The New Yorker magazine.23 Smith’s “Stand Your Ground” hearing to consider her claim of self-defense started the next day. In a follow-up article dated Feb. 3, Flock reported that, despite Smith’s multiple injuries, neither the district attorney nor the judge believed her story about that night, including that she had been sexually assaulted. Her claim was denied.
In October 2020, a month before her trial was due to start, Smith accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, she was expected to only serve seven months of the sentence and to be released to house arrest in May 2021. According to Flock, “this type of conviction – to serve just seven months for murder – is very unusual, and sentences seem to vary a great deal based on media attention. Without it, Smith likely would have served more time.”
In her quest for missing data, Flock went so far as to commission an analysis of FBI homicide statistics to look at “the differences in outcomes for women and men who claim self-defense.” This review of justifiable homicides showed that in Alabama “women lost their cases twenty-five per cent more often than men did,” a disparity even more pronounced than at the national level.
Flock pointed out that a significant number of judges and prosecutors are not trained in understanding the complexity of trauma and can be influenced by clichés and assumptions associated with domestic violence and sexual assault.
According to Flock, “media investigations can contribute to improving the criminal justice system” if they adhere to essential standards of fairness and accuracy. “The truth that we [journalists] find”, she concluded, “is the goal.”
Flock also stressed the key role of local media coverage, which often becomes the source of national headlines and in turn can generate international attention. In this instance, The Independent (UK) and other British publications covered Smith’s case quite extensively in October 2020 and referred specifically to the reporting in The New Yorker articles.
Although seeking impact is a common quest, assessing it is especially challenging, even for media professionals engaged in explanatory or investigative journalism. Impact is most commonly measured by changes in laws, policies and practices, or by positive changes in the lives of specific individuals or communities.
A rarely documented discussion of this topic was published by the Nieman Journalism Lab of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.24 Its author, Lindsay Green-Barber, former media impact analyst for the U.S.-based Center for Investigative Reporting, uses the example of a 2013 extensive investigation conducted by center into the sexual harassment and rapes of female farmworkers.25 “This project,” she wrote, “has had impact in the strongest sense of the word: real-world change affecting the daily lives of hundreds – maybe thousands – of vulnerable women.” The lesson learned from Green-Barber’s research26 and own practice, is that “impact might just be the holy grail of today’s media, both desired and elusive.”
impact might just be the holy grail of today’s media, both desired and elusive
Endnotes Chapter VI.III
- Johnson Hostler, M. and O’Neil M. (2018, April 17). Reframing sexual violence: From #MeToo to Time’s Up. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/reframing_sexual_violence_from_metoo_to_times_up
- Rose, T. (April 2013). A Human rights-based approach to journalism: Ghana. The Journal of International Communication 19(1): 85-10, DOI: 10.1080/13216597.2012.737347. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13216597.2012.737347?journalCode=rico20
- Macharia. S. (November 2015). Global Media Monitoring Project 2015 (p.14). World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://whomakesthenews.org/wp-content/uploads/who-makes-the-news/Imported/reports_2015/global/gmmp_global_report_en.pdf
- Balan, V. (August 2019). A human-centered and human rights-based approach to media work. Freedom House. Retrieved on July 31, 2021 from https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/2020-02/11-Human-Rights-based_Approach_Media_Work_ENGLISH.pdf
- Chowdhury, R. (2021, April 22). The need to revise how gender-based violence is reported. The Daily Star (Bangladesh). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.thedailystar.net/shout/news/the-need-revise-how-gender-based-violence-reported-2081417
- Sharpe, M. (2018, September 27). Who’s a victim? Who’s an “accuser”? The loaded language of sexual assault. The Washington Post. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/09/27/whos-victim-whos-an-accuser-loaded-language-sexual-assault/
- AAJA MediaWatch Committee (updated 2021, March 26). AAJA guidance on Atlanta shootings & anti-Asian hate incidents. Asian American Journalists Association. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.aaja.org/2021/03/17/aaja-guidance-on-atlanta-shootings/
- Brown, H. (2021, March 18). Were the Atlanta shootings a case of femicide? MSNBC Daily. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/were-atlanta-shootings-case-femicide-n1261448
- Higuera, S. (2020, May 5). ‘Journalists cannot lose track of the people to whom we have a responsibility.’ Latin America Journalism Review (Knight Center, University of Texas, Austin). Retrieved on July 31,2021, from https://latamjournalismreview.org/articles/journalists-cannot-lose-track-of-the-people-to-whom-we-have-a-responsibility-jineth-bedoya-unesco-press-freedom-laureate/
- Ford, E. (2021, March 12). Email communication to CWGL.
- Hylton, A. (2017, November 27). What is the media’s role in covering mass atrocities? Women’s Media Center (Women Under Siege project). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.womensmediacenter.com/women-under-siege/what-is-the-medias-role-in-covering-mass-atrocities
- Torgovnik, J. (2019, March 30). Rwanda’s children of rape have come of age. New York Times. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/opinion/rwandas-children-of-rape-have-come-of-age.html#:~:text=Rwanda's%20children%20born%20of%20rape,they%20endured%20as%20a%20result.
- Moore, J. (2016, December 18). This is the story a UN court didn’t want three rape survivors to tell. BuzzFeed.News. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jinamoore/this-is-the-story-a-un-court-didnt-want-three-rape-survivors
- Gutman, R., Rieff, D. & Dworkin, A. Eds. (2007). Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know. (2nd edition). New York & London: W.W. Norton.
- Southern Africa Development Community (2008). SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.sadc.int/files/8713/5292/8364/Protocol_on_Gender_and_Development_2008.pdf
- Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention (MESECVI/CEVI): Declaration on Femicide (2008). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.oas.org/en/mesecvi/docs/Tercer-Informe-Seguimiento-EN.pdf
- Council of Europe: Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention, 2011). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.coe.int/en/web/istanbul-convention/home
- Council of Europe: Encouraging the participation of the private sector and the media in the prevention of violence against women and domestic violence: Article 17 of the Istanbul Convention (2016). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://edoc.coe.int/en/violence-against-women/6804-encouraging-the-participation-of-the-private-sector-and-the-media-in-the-prevention-of-violence-against-women-and-domestic-violence-article-17-of-the-istanbul-convention.html
- Nahhas, R. (2019, December 15). Jordanian journalist’s award puts ‘honour killings’ in spotlight. The Arab Weekly. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://thearabweekly.com/jor- danian-journalists-award-puts-honour-kill- ings-spotlight#:~:text=AMMAN%20%2D%20 Jordanian%20journalist%20and%20activist,husbands%20or%20society%20in%20general.
- UNFPA Arab States Regional Humanitarian Response Hub (March 2020). Reporting on gender-based violence in humanitarian settings: A journalist’s handbook. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.unfpa.org/reporting-gbv-humanitarian-settings
- Berkeley Media Studies Group (September 2015). What’s missing from the news on sexual violence? An analysis of media coverage, 2011-2013 (Issue 22). Public Health Institute (California, USA). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from http://www.bmsg.org/resources/publications/issue-22-whats-missing-from-the-news-on-sexual-violence-an-analysis-of-coverage-2011-2013/
- Sutherland, G., Simons M. & Blatchford, A. (June 2017). News Media and the primary prevention of violence against women and their children: Emerging evidence, insights and lessons. Our Watch (Australia). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.ourwatch.org.au/resource/news-media-and-the-primary-prevention-of-violence-against-women-and-their-children-emerging-evidence-insights-and-lessons/
- Flock, E. (2020, January 13). How far can abused women go to protect themselves? The New Yorker. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/01/20/ how-far-can-abused-women-go-to-protect-them- selves
See also follow-up article:
Flock, E. (2020, February 3). Brittany Smith loses her stand your ground hearing. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/ brittany-smith-loses-her-stand-your-ground- hearing
- Green-Barber, L. (2014, March 19). How can journalists measure the impact of their work? Notes toward a model of measurement. Nieman Journalism lab. Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://www.niemanlab.org/2014/03/how-can-journalists-measure-the-impact-of-their-work-notes-toward-a-model-of-measurement/
- Rape in the Fields” was a multiplatform collaborative investigation conducted in the U.S. in 2013 by PBS Frontline, Univision, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), and UC Berkeley School of Journalism Investigative Reporting Program. The link to the transcript is:https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/rape-in-the-fields/transcript-46/
- Green-Barber, L. (2014, August 18). Three things CIR learned from analyzing the impact of “Rape in the Fields.” Reveal News, Center of Investigative Reporting (California, U.S.). Retrieved on July 31, 2021, from https://revealnews.org/article-legacy/3-things-cir-learned-from-analyzing-the-impact-of-rape-in-the-fields/ See also two PBS follow-up articles by journalist Bernice Yeung: Yeung, B. (2014, March 18): What’s happened since “Rape in the Fields?” https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/rape-in-the-fields/whats-happened-since-rape-in-the-fields/ Yeung, B. (2014, September 30). California enacts bill to protect female farmworkers from sex abuse. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/rape-in-the-fields/california-enacts-bill-to-protect-female-farmworkers-from-sex-abuse/