Media training: A step towards better reporting on violence against women
September 26, 2023
From the beginning of 2023 until the end of August, 24 women in Serbia were killed by their family members, most often husbands or partners. A third of them was killed with a firearm. In many cases the perpetrator committed suicide after the murder. Media reports are the main source of information about these cases and their specific circumstances, since there are no publicly available institutional data in Serbia on gender-based killings of women (femicides), nor is there a developed practice of the regular analysis of such cases.
Media have an informative role, but they should also educate the public, an element often missing in case of reporting on violence against women. We also frequently see reporting that can lead to long-term negative consequences.
“JALOUSY CAUSES ANOTHER TRAGEDY: Husband in Mol pours gasoline on wife and lights it, then attempts suicide in despair”, “THIS IS THE POLICEMAN (27) AND THE WOMAN (19) HE KILLED: Nothing suggested such a tragedy would occur, and here’s the possible MOTIVE of this horrific crime” – we see these and similar titles passing newsstands on the street or popping up while we are scrolling on social media. Calling a murder “a tragedy”, presenting these events as something society cannot change, romanticizing violence, not only distorts the perception of violence, but completely distances us from survivors and the effects of violence on all of us.
Bearing in mind the manifold role and impact of media, the “Journalists against Violence against Women” group has worked for years drawing attention to problematic aspects of media depiction of this phenomenon and on educating journalists who wish to improve their reporting. After the debate on ethical media reporting on violence against women the group organized with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a training was held at the invitation of Adria Media Group, gathering over 50 journalists and editors of different editions of this publishing house. Among them are daily papers, fashion, educational and entertainment magazines, as well as digital editions, with over 1.3 million readers, which means they can disseminate important messages to the widest public. The training, organized in cooperation with UNDP, was held at the beginning of March 2023, to mark International Women’s Day.
“Our company has worked intensively for four years now to improve ethics in its media. We initiated this training to improve our media content when it comes to reporting on violence against women and femicide, in order to, in a way, affect our audience, above all, in the sense of easier recognition and prevention of violence”, said Petar Jeremić’, Ethics Manager of the Adria Media Group company.
The aim of this and other trainings organized by the group “Journalists against Violence” is to teach journalists to present the problem of violence in an ethical way. Journalists gain knowledge on how to write about concrete cases so that their reporting does not cause additional trauma to survivors and the public, but to the increased understanding of citizens about this social problem and greater readiness to react to violence, and to prevent it.
Photographs that are part of media reports often show explicit scenes of violence, depict women as helpless, or directly reveal the survivors’ identity or location or the address of their family. The training was an opportunity to present the database of photos and illustrations that present the problem of violence against women in an ethical way, a resource all media can use free of charge.
“We haven’t had training on reporting about this topic so far, we’ve had some dilemmas with regards protecting survivors’ identity and until now we’ve not had the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the very phenomenon and dynamics of violence against women. I am glad that younger colleagues had the opportunity to learn about this topic thanks to representatives of the “Journalists against Violence” group”, said Vladimir Šuster, editor-in - chief of Espresso.
Group members especially focused on the problem of media report titles, since this is the part of articles where most breaches of indicators of ethical reporting are made - in 32% cases according to the last Analysis of media reporting on the problem of violence against women 2019-2021.
Information in the public interest
The method of reporting and information provided can traumatize women that were exposed to violence, but can also affect their families, especially children. This is particularly true in the case of publishing details from private life which are not directly linked to the concrete case of violence, details stigmatizing the violence survivors or their community, giving survivors inappropriate nicknames, and justifying the perpetrator’s actions with factors that are not the direct cause of violence (e.g., alcoholism, poverty).
This is why it is important for journalists to be well-informed about the phenomenon of violence against women and only publish information in the public interest. This refers, above all, to information on circumstances of violence that represent risks for severe consequences, as well as information on what steps institutions took in a concrete case.
The training especially focused on how to handle situations when a violence survivor turns to the media wishing to tell her story. In such cases, it is the journalist’s responsibility to the make sure that the story is published only when the woman is ready to share it, when enough time has passed since the violence, when she is completely safe, and the story cannot compromise court proceedings.
When reporting on violence against women, journalists can always consult the Guidelines for Reporting of Violence against Women the group “Journalists against Violence” prepared for the very reason of encouraging media to become active allies in violence prevention. Reporting on women who have managed to leave their abuser and recover from violence, on society’s power to stop violence, can have a positive effect both on those who are directly exposed to violence and on the entire public.
Author of the text: Jovana Netkovic
The training of the group “Journalists against Violence against Women” was organized within the project “Reduce Risk - Increase Safety II” implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Serbia, with the financial support provided by Germany, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Norway, as well as the support by the European Union, through the United Nations’ Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap Multi-Partner Trust Fund.
The training was held by group members, journalists Jovana Gligorijević, Ana Manojlović and Sanja Pavlović.