Be sensitive when reporting on GBV stories

Saturday, October 6, 2018

With more cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) being exposed to the public, journalists have been urged to be sensitive when reporting on GBV and stories involving children.

The call came from various speakers who participated at the GBV and Media Ethics panel discussion held at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) in Tshwane on Friday.

Led by Communications Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana and Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffrey, the discussion was a build up to the Gender Based Violence and Femicide Summit, taking place on 1 and 2 November 2018 in Johannesburg. 

The dialogue looked at unintended consequences of media reports on victims of GBV, how media can report sensitively and responsibly on GBV cases taking into consideration the well-being of the victim, and how the information shared by the media affects legal processes on GBV cases.

Among the panellists included representatives from Soul City, Total Shutdown, South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and the Press Council.

In her opening address, Kekana said the media have a crucial role to play in the struggle against gender based violence because they are the memories of society.

Gender sensitive

“The media is very capable of shaping the narrative about anything and everything, and in a democratic society such responsibility comes with an element of free expression but also fairness. To what extent does the media coverage curtail or abet gender based violence?

“I would argue that the media must not reveal the identity of a child because we need to safe guard the interest of the child. This sensitivity must not end here, even when you report on stories where a child is not involved, you need to be gender sensitive. Instead of saying Pinky was allegedly raped by Thabo, why not write: Thabo allegedly raped Pinky,” Kekana said.

Jeffrey explained that normally the name of the accused can be reported by the media, once the accused appears in the court for the first time.

However, in the case of GBV matter or sexual offences matter, where the release of the name of the accused could lead to the identity of the victim, particularly if it’s a child, Jeffrey said the name of the accused cannot be released.

The Deputy Minister also noted that while the conviction rate is at 70%, the number of cases that get to trial is very small.

Social media challenge

Kubi Rama from Gender Links challenged the media to review how it tells a story.

“There’s the question of whose stories do we tell, and clearly we cannot talk about this subject without talking about social media. We have a problem… what are we going to do because we have every person who is a journalist, telling stories, [and] not always in constructive or useful ways,” Rama said.

Portia Kobue, who is a journalist, said that contextualising, analysing, as well as writing critically about GBV issues are very important.

“One of the easiest things is watching the language that I use as a journalist and how do I frame my story to allow my viewer or my listener to walk away with something that can have an impact on them, in terms of how to transform, and how they think about for example GBV,” Kobue said.

Rape survivors are more than statistics

Latiefa Mobara from the Press Council of South Africa warned that rape survivors are more than statistics and headlines, they are human beings.

Mobara emphasised the importance of training men and women to become GBV counsellors in their communities.

Social activist, feminist and Soul City CEO Lebo Ramafoko noted that whether writing an advertisement or stories, “how are we representing women is important”.

“Violence is not only a rape or murder, it is whether I’m seen, whom I slept with or whom I’m married to. We need to widen our lenses on how we see violence and how we report, [because] even innocent things can be violent. We want to position women in one way or another,” Ramafoko said. –