Journalists and social media influencers can play a key role in preventing and ending Gender-Based Violence (GBV) not only by giving more attention and coverage to the issue but also ensuring that it is reported about in a manner that does not encourage or enforce stereotypes around GBV.
At a time when social media has taken the world by storm and the competition for views on platforms like YouTube, more than ever, there is a need for responsible reporting and proactive involvement in GBV issues to influence a positive mindset change where victims feel free to report cases and tell their stories instead of fearing that they will be exposed and ridiculed.
In recent years, with the advent of the aforementioned multimedia platforms, insensitive and unethical media reporting of GBV has had direct ramifications on how the society understands the phenomenon and in a way, the media ends up reinforcing stereotypes and in doing so, encourages practices that condone GBV.
This is partly what was discussed during a media breakfast organised by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and UNFPA Rwanda, bringing together media stakeholders, managers, editors and individuals of influence on social media, as part of 16 Days of Activism, with the aim of assessing the role they can play in combating GBV.
Speaking at the event, Mireille Batamuliza, Permanent Secretary MIGEPROF, said that the media has the power not just to expose issues around GBV in a manner that can lead to finding permanent solutions and also show society its implications, as opposed to encouraging it.
“We appreciate media practitioners who are already doing a good job in exposing GBV issues, domestic violence and other issues within our society, prompting institutions to act and we encourage you to continue doing this in a more professional and ethical manner for improved results,”
“As media practitioners, you have the power and what it takes to be the difference because you have masses that believe in you and trust you to bring them information. They look up to you and you can use this influence positively by doing what you do in a more professional manner, where victims feel protected to tell their stories without the fear of being exposed and violated even more,” Batamuliza said.
During the session, one of the key issues raised was a case of media practitioners such as YouTubers and bloggers interviewing victims of GBV but in a bid to make the story more compelling to attract views, they end up exposing the victims rather than protecting them.
Shafiga Murebwayire, the head of the Anti-GBV unit at Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and coordinator of Isange One-Stop Centre, said that there are cases which media practitioners get to know before they are reported to law enforcement organs, which makes journalists key players in the fight against GBV.
She however said that in other cases, in search for a scoop, some journalists take advantage of the situation and hurry to report and in doing so engage in unethical practices such as mentioning and identifying details of the victim or even go ahead to publish videos and photos without thinking about the consequences. In other cases, it ends at getting the scoop and nothing is done to help the victim.
“You can get your story yes but you have a responsibility to protect the victim. You can also take a step and reach out to us if there is a need for intervention, you can also take the victim to Isange One-Stop Centre if there is an urgent need for help, that is where your responsibility comes in,”
“We commend those who are doing that already. We have cases where the plight of GBV victims is brought to the fore by the media, some of you tip us off on cases we need to follow up on and that is what we really want,” Murebwayire said.
How the media reports about GBV may contribute to victim shaming besides providing clues to perpetrators. The other challenge identified is the lack of knowledge and skills to report on GBV, which in turn leads to unethical practices.
Focus on the plight of women
Bernadette Ssebadduka, Program Coordinator at UNFPA Rwanda, said that while men too suffer from GBV, media practitioners need to focus on the plight of women, who continue to bear the brunt of GBV more than men, driven by society beliefs that women’s bodies are not their own and that the rights of women are inferior to those of men.
“This is creating a situation where women are not safe in many spaces, be it online, their homes, the workplaces, in taxes, anywhere and this is a narrative that we need to change,”
“When I see the media fraternity excited about this I am impressed because I know that you are a force for good that can help us tell the story with all its nuances, many faces and intersections that various people do not know about GBV,” Ssebadduka said.
She pointed out that GBV is a painful experience and those who survive it have a deep personal story to tell, particularly women, who face it more than men and how this story is told matters to the victim and the media has the power to tell it without jeopardizing the victim’s life even further.
Ssebadduka challenged media practitioners to report more about subtle forms of GBV that seem to have been normalised, particularly on how men and women coexist in a household, expectations of society and gender norms, all of which perpetuate GBV and majority of these stories go untold.
“When we tell the story, let’s try and tell the full story so that people can relate to it and understand that we cannot continue to normalise GBV in all its forms because it leaves very big, emotional scars and the little we see or know like beatings and physical violence,”
“Like they say, a number of people are going through struggles of their own and we just need to be kind and tell that story from a point that will help others to speak out and prevent GBV. Today, I call upon all of us to continue in solidarity to end GBV using the platforms at our disposal. You have that power, given to you by your profession, to make sure that the stories are out there,” she added.
During a panel discussion, Jean Bosco Rushingabigwi, Head of Department for Media Sector Coordination Monitoring at Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), called on media practitioners to prioritise balanced reporting and avoid situations where the media becomes a cause of a negative debate targeting a certain gender.
Rushingabigwi called on media outlets to establish a gender desk which gives particular attention to gender-related topics such as GBV and also ensure that journalists reporting on the same have the right skills and knowledge to do so.
Among other things, journalists were called on to ensure survivor’s safety, right to dignity, confidentiality, protection from retribution or harm and also consider how a media story could potentially violate any of these core principles.
Marie Immaculée Ingabire, a board member at Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) and Rwanda Women’s Network said that one of the biggest challenges today is around journalists failing to add context to stories and in doing so come off as though they are promoting the same practices, blaming the ‘search for views’ phenomenal for that.
She pointed out cases where the media appears to enforce certain stereotypes and perceptions in society, rather than helping to break them. She cited a case where recently a popular actress completed a mansion which was covered in the press and the media helped enforce the narrative that she sold her body to achieve the feat.
Ingabire said that given the constant pressure on media outlets to create newsworthy content, journalists end up engaging in unethical practices, calling for a need for training to improve how media practitioners understand and report about GBV issues.