How do media in Bosnia and Herzegovina report on the issues of violence against women?
Research conducted in 2016 in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that, although media report on violence almost daily, reporting about violence against women is sensationalistic. Furthermore, the media report on individual cases of violence against women rather than addressing the issue and its roots.
Violence against women is a problem of the entire society, it is considered a global pandemic, and the role of the media is to address this problem in a responsible way to stir public discussion on the declining rate of violence. UN Women in Bosnia and Herzegovina conducted a study on media reporting on gender-based violence against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The study was done under a three-year programme “Standards and Engagement for Ending Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, which is funded by Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).
The research included an analysis of 302 print and web articles on cases of violence against women published from January 1 to June 30 2016. Furthermore, the research monitored TV content in four specific cases of violence against women in the same period.
One of the analyzed cases was the murder of a girl in Olovo in March 2016. The analyzed content, which was broad enough to cover reports on when the murder happened and when the trial took place, did not provide the wider context of violence against women as a social issue. Most of the reports were placed under the section ‘crime news’ or the case was portrayed as a ‘story that will intrigue the public because of its unusual nature and brutality’. Experts in this area were not consulted nor were there follow-up articles to tackle motives and consequences from the psychological point of view.
The research shows that media rarely initiate topics related to violence against women and rather report on individual cases only when the information is communicated by police or non-governmental organizations. Every fifth text contained a clear portrait photography of either the violence survivor, perpetrator or an expert from the area of violence against women.
Half of the analyzed articles cover physical violence. While physical and sexual violence are recognized as a problem, there are almost no articles on other forms of violence against women (psychological and economic). The main actors in the reports on violence against women are mostly perpetrators of violence, followed by experts in the field, and then people who had suffered violence. In only a few cases the identity of the person who had committed violence was ethically protected with a clear emphasis on the sensitivity of the situation.
Only 20 percent of analyzed articles have in some way questioned stereotypes, while most of content deepened existing stereotypes about violence against women.
Given the findings of this research, the recommendations concerning the desired media practices in addressing issues of gender-based violence have been developed. These recommendations include more media accountability in combating discrimination, continuous cooperation between the media and the institutions involved in the field of violence against women to raise awareness and ethical reporting based on the existing Media Code and the Law on Gender Equality of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also, the recommendations urge media professionals to proactively deal with the topic of violence against women, to encourage women survivors of violence through analytical reporting, and to treat cases of violence against women within the context of social inequalities between men and women and not as isolated cases.
Responsible media reporting on violence against women, devoid of sensationalism and guided by ethical principles, contributes to the prevention of violence in society and represents part of the solution to combating violence against women.