News Coverage on Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence

With more than two women dying per week as a result of an intimate partner or family member, there is no doubt that domestic violence is an epidemic in Australia. The media has a crucial role in perpetuating certain beliefs as domestic violence generates daily media coverage in Australia. The media has an important role in transmitting and shaping social norms and beliefs as well as ‘inform[ing] the perpetration of this violence, shap[ing] victims’ responses to victimisation, and influenc[ing] community responses to violence against women (McGregor 2010,p. 15).  Studies have found that Australian news media fail to report incidents of domestic violence in an ethical manner, which can negatively undermine the stories and experiences of victims of domestic violence. A number of characteristics have been identified in the way in which news organisations report domestic violence. These include:

‘Events-based’ News Reporting

News reports on domestic violence primarily focus on individual incidents located at specific places and times. Such reports fail to provide statistics and expert analysis to address the extent of this social problem. For example, between 1986 and 2008, only 2% of the newspaper articles provided information about victim help services (Carlyle, Slater and Chakroff, 2008). While news reporting is improving on this issue, it nevertheless falsely gives the impression that domestic violence is an individualistic, private responsibility as opposed to a social responsibility, and thus does not warrant State intervention. This contributes to a culture of silence whereby victims of domestic violence do not report it.

Misrepresenting the Realities of Domestic Violence

Majority of news reports on domestic violence fail to present the violence and murder within the context of intimate partner violence. For example, many news reports would not specify if there was a current or pre-existing relationship between the perpetrator and victim (Morgan & Politoff, 2012). This falsely perpetuates the view that the greatest threat for women comes from strangers.

Furthermore, news reports tend have a ‘murder-centric’ focus as they usually report on homicide between intimate partners as opposed to other forms of violence against women (Our Watch, 2015). Such stories are considered newsworthy but are statistically unlikely. This is problematic as it may result in assumptions that violence against women often ends in death.

Use of Language which Indirectly Alters Blame and Responsibility

News reports of domestic violence often include certain language which portray victims as partially or entirely responsible for the transgressions committed against them. For example, providing background details of the victim’s sexual life, use of drugs or alcohol can convey the message that victims were reckless and thus placed themselves at risk. This contributes to one in five Australians believing that an intoxicated woman is partly responsible if she is sexually assaulted (Ferrier, 2014).

The National Media Engagement Project

As a means to improve the quality of news reporting on domestic violence, Our Watch has developed a government funded project called the National Media Engagement Project (NME). The project aims to achieve a more informed, balanced, helpful and ethical media commentary which will contextualise the social issue and help achieve a community-wide message of respect, equality and non-violence. There are a number of initiatives within the NME Project to help achieve this goal:

Training for Both Future and Practicing Journalists

Our Watch is working with the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia to develop training curriculum material for both university journalism students, and practicing journalists. In fact, in March 2016, the Press Council introduced an advisory guideline on how to report incidents of domestic violence.

A National Survivors’ Media Advocacy Program

Our Watch has collaborated with VicHealth and Women’s Health Easy to develop training packages that will empower survivors of domestic violence to become more effective media advocates to raise awareness of the issue.

A National Awards Scheme to Recognise and Encourage Ethical Practices

An Awards scheme has been developed as an incentive for media organisations to engage in more ethical and factual reporting practices.

Strengths & Limitations of the NME Project

While the Project has developed a number of useful mechanisms, they have not been enforced by a regulatory body. For example, the Press Council’s Advisory Guidelines are merely guidelines and thus journalists are not legally bound to follow these. Thus in pursuit of a ‘juicy’ news story, journalists can easily ignore these guidelines and continue with unethical practices. However the extent of effectiveness of changing media practices is questionable. It would be more effective if the Project also directed its cause to the community to educate them on how unethical news reporting on domestic violence can cloud our perceptions on the issue. By gaining community support on the cause, media bodies are more likely to succumb to community pressure. After all, the community is their readership and target audience. Nevertheless, such guidelines will encourage a shift in newsroom cultures and practices around reporting on domestic violence.

A second issue with the Project is that it fails to identify the media’s tendency to report on domestic violence committed on Aboriginal women, women of different ethnical backgrounds and sex workers. A victim hierarchy exists within the media which also must change. For example, Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence than women in the rest of the community (The Conversation, 2016). Yet such incidents receive little coverage (Gilchrist 2010). By failing to recognise this issue, the Project is failing to represent the voices of all victims of domestic violence. This can inadvertently lead to the ‘otherisation’ of these women and undermine their experiences.

While news reporting on domestic violence is improving, there is still a long way to go. The effect of the NME Project is still yet to be observed.

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References

Carlyle, K, Slater, M & Chakroff, J 2008, ‘Newspaper Coverage of Intimate Partner Violence: Skewing

Representations of Risk’, Journal of Communication, vol. 58, no.1, pp.168-186.

Ferrier, S 2014, ‘One in Five Australians Believe Drunk Women ‘Partly Responsible’ For Rape: Survey’, ABC

News, 18 September, viewed 17 August 2016, < http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-17/one-in-five-believe-drunkwomen-

partly-responsible-for-rape/5749088>.

Gilchrist, K 2010, ‘“Newsworthy” Victims?’, Feminist Media Studies, vol.10, no.4, pp.373-390.

Jenny Morgan & Violeta Politoff 2012, Victorian Print Media Coverage of Violence Against Women — A

Longitudinal Study, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.

Kiah McGregor 2010, National Survey on Community Attitudes to Violence Against Women 2009: Changing

Cultures, Changing Attitudes – Preventing Violence Against Women, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation,

Melbourne.

The Conversation 2016, ‘FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous women 34-80 times more likely than average to experience violence?, The Conversation, July 4, viewed 17 August 2016, < https://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-are-indigenous-women-34-80-times-more-likely-than-average-to-experience-violence-61809>.

Our Watch 2015, ‘Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety to Reduce Violence against Women & their Children’, Report, November, viewed 17 August 2016, < https://www.ourwatch.org.au/getmedia/339a9055-16fb-4d57-8cb3-3d2a2f9c5fa1/Media-representations-of-violence-against-women-state-knowledge-paper.pdf.aspx>.

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The Hierarchy of Human Suffering

What is news? What makes news? Such questions are constantly under debate in both the public and formal spheres. Ideally, news media institutions have an obligation to report everything that occurs, locally, nationally and internationally in an objective manner. However in reality, news is not transparent and is in fact, a product of journalistic routines and standardised procedures of selectivity. In other words, news is a privileged ‘packaged story’ which is largely driven by the values and beliefs the media wishes to present. This is particularly apparent in the reporting on stories of atrocities and human suffering.

While on the surface, it may seem like an ordinary course of business for news organisations to report on stories of atrocities and human suffering, it is quite apparent the coverage of such events is hierarchal as they are inherently influenced by cultural, ideological, political and social undertones. Ultimately, certain events of human suffering will be considered more important, relevant and politically advantageous than other events. Such coverage can have the potential undermine events of atrocities and lead to an exploitation of the victims involved.

This was apparent in the media and politicians’ treatment of Malala Yousafzai — a 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban — and Nabila Rehman — an eight-year-old girl who was attacked by the CIA-operated drones in her family home in North Waziristan. Everyone knows who Malala and what Malala’s story is. Malala has received so much media and political attention – she has practically transformed into a celebrity as she has become a symbol of support for American foreign policy. Indeed, it goes without saying as to why Malala’s story has been privileged. Malala was a victim of the Taliban and has been used as a tool for political propaganda by war advocates. Thus the only people who supposedly deserve recognition for their suffering are those who fall victim to the enemy. As Max Fisher wrote from the Washington Post:

‘Western fawning over Malala has become less about her efforts to improve conditions for girls in Pakistan, or certainly about the struggles of millions of girls in Pakistan, and more about our own desire to make ourselves feel warm and fuzzy with a celebrity and an easy message. It’s a way of letting ourselves off the hook, convincing ourselves that it’s simple matter of good guys vs bad guys, that we’re on the right side and that everything is okay.’

Malala_Yousafzai_Oval_Office_11_Oct_2013

In contrast, Nabila’s story has sadly been marginalised as her suffering was the result of America’s act and thus supposedly, did not deserve recognitionabila-rehman-drone-testimonyn. For example, Nabila travelled to Washington DC with her father to share their story and seek answers about the events of that day. However, at the congressional hearing where they have testimony, only five out of 430 representatives showed up to hear her story. Thus Nabila was practically ignored and those who should have listened, were disinterested in her story. As Murtaza Hussain explains, the marginalisation of Nabila’s story comes down to the perpetrator of her suffering:

‘While Malala was feted by Western media figures, politicians and civic leaders for her heroism, Nabila has become simply another one of the millions of nameless, faceless people who have had their lives destroyed over the past decade of American wars.’

Thus it is quite evident that human suffering is hierarchal as well as political. The media and governments select certain stories of human suffering as a tool for political propaganda. Certain events of human suffering are merely used as puppets to construct a story with an agenda. Please share Nabila’s story and anyone else’s story which gets marginalised by media outlets and the government. Everyone deserves to be heard. No one is more important or less important in our society.

News Values in Global Media

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What is news? What makes news? Such questions are constantly under debate in both the public and formal spheres. Ideally, news media institutions have an obligation to report everything that occurs, locally, nationally and internationally in an objective manner. However in reality, news is not transparent and is in fact, a product of journalistic routines and standardised procedures of selectivity (Khorana 2014). In other words, news is a privileged ‘packaged story’ which is largely driven by the values and beliefs the media wishes to present. (Khorana 2014) identifies eight main new values which are maintained news editors when presenting the news:

  • Cultural proximity
  • Relevance
  • Rarity
  • Continuity
  • Elite references
  • Negativity
  • Composition
  • Personalisation

Some of these values were prevalent in the recent Australian broadcast of the Malaysian Airlines, MH17 crash over the Ukraine-Russian boarder in July 2014. It was obviously a _76420019_malaysian_airlines777_pic624negative story which was seen as an act of terrorism. This would also explain why it received such heavy coverage. As (Khorana 2014) says, ‘negative news will more easily be consensual and unambiguous in the sense that there will be agreement about the interpretation of the event as negative’.

Australia’s broadcast of the event was quick and remained continuous and rigorous for many weeks. As (Khorana 2014) outlines ‘once something has hit the headlines and been defined as ‘news’, then it will continue to be defined as news for some time even if the amplitude is reduced’. In fact, only one day ago, on September 30th 2014 — 2.5 months after the MH17 plane was shot down — News.com reported a story in relation to the event. This comes as no surprise, considering the rarity, relevance and cultural proximity of the event.

Firstly, as the clip indicates, the Today presenters were quick to announce the unofficial report that ‘there may be up to 27 Australians on board that plane’ which is ‘awful awful news for all those families in Australia’. The fact that 27 Australians were on board makes the global news story even more personal, relevant and close to home. Furthermore, the Today broadcast also privileged the 23 —unconfirmed —deaths of American civilians on board the flight over other nationalities such as the deaths of 71 Dutch civilians,12 Indonesian citizensmh17-malaysia-airline-ukraine-russia-plane-crash and 44 Malaysian citizens. However, it turns out that only one American citizen died on that flight. This demonstrates the way in which news institutions such as Today play upon the cultural proximity of the event. This also suggests Folker Hanusch’s findings that new institutions privilege the stories and deaths of those we can identify with most. As Hanusch (2007, p.39) writes:

Journalists, assuming that people want to know about people who are like them, show a clear preference for covering deaths that Australians can relate to, be that in terms of the victims’ nationality, country of the event…journalists stay within their own cultural real when reporting foreign news.

Thus, we care about those with whom we identify; such individuals will be from countries which share similar world views, values, political systems, histories, languages etc (Hanusch 2007, p.32). In other words, those who are more ‘like us’ are more worthy of being reported than those nationals who come from countries which are culturally more dissimilar. Therefore, it comes as no surprise when American deaths and reports are privileged in the Australian media over those from other countries. As Hanusch (2007, p.39) sadly asserts ‘one Australian is worth five Americans, 20 Italians, 50 Japanese, 100 Russians, 500 Indians and 1000 Africans”.

Furthermore, the fact that a civilian aircraft was shot down from a missile is pretty rare and remarkable and thus warrants worldwide media attention. As the expert claims in the Today broadcast — a classic use of elite references — it is ‘very unusual for a missile to get to that sort of altitude…very few of them can…’. Thus the unusual circumstances of the event naturally evoked strong ‘blockbuster film-like’ images, which attracted greater media attention. The rarity of such an event also influenced media news institutions to the rely on the analysis of many experts and politicians. As (Khorana 2014) says, news is elite-centred and relies on experts and professionals as a means to display an image of veracity, factuality and certainty. Of course, providing air-time for any expert also involves a process of selection. After all, the news media institution has the power to decide who they wish to broadcast. It may be someone who is more in line with that particular media institutions values and ideologies.

Thus Australia’s broadcast of MH17 was significant and driven by many value-laden journalistic principles. While journalists attempt to be objective, it is clearly evident that new reports are privileged and broadcasted based on the principle of selectivity. Nevertheless, it must be noted that Australia’s broadcast of MH17 was informative and as Media Watch’s Paul Barry says, ‘there was little misreporting or stupid speculation’.

Reference List

ABC 2014, ‘Twenty-eight Australians among 298 killed as Malaysia Airlines “blown out of sky” by missile over Ukraine’, ABC News, 18 July, viewed 30 September 2014, < http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-18/malaysia-airlines-passenger-plane-crashes-in-ukraine/5606004>

Hanusch, F. (2008) ‘Publishing the perished: The visibility of foreign death in Australian quality newspapers’, Media International Australia, vol. 125, pp. 29-45.

Jacobs, H 2014, ‘Here Are The Nationalities Of The Victims Of Downed Malaysia Plane MH17’, Business Insider, 18 July, viewed 30 September 2014, < http://www.businessinsider.com/nationalities-of-the-victims-of-downed-malaysia-plane-mh17-2014-7?IR=T>.

Khorana, S 2014, ‘Who counts in Global Media? News Values’, BCM111, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 1 October.

Media Watch 2014, ‘The Australian Media’s Coverage of MH17 Tragedy’, ABC, video, 21 July, viewed 30 September 2014, <http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s4050602.htm>.

news.com 2014, ‘Julie Bishop: 251 victims on board MH17 have been identified, process far from over’, news.com, 30 September, viewed 30 September 2014, < http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/julie-bishop-251-victims-on-board-mh17-have-been-identified-process-far-from-over/story-fnh81p7g-1227075138778>.

SydneysTVChannel 2014, Today MH17 Tragedy Coverage 6:32am-6:42am, 18 July 2014, video, YouTube, 18 July, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GznzyLhI_0>.