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09/05/2018 06:13 SAST | Updated 09/05/2018 06:13 SAST

Media Should Play More Critical Role In Highlighting Gender-Based Violence

How do we instil an activist sensibility in for-profit media?

Nodar Chernishev/ EyeEm / Getty Images

May 3 marked another year of World Press Freedom Day — celebrating the significance of press freedom and the freedom of expression that is enshrined in Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It's as good a day as any to ask why stories of gender-based violence [GBV] do not make as many headlines as they should.

According to the 2017 Global Peace index, South Africa has the highest rate of violence in the world, and one of the highest rape statistics as well.

Although in 2017 statistics released by the South African Police Service recorded a total of 39,828 rapes in the year 2016 to 2017, down from 41,503 in the year 2015 to 2016, this statistic only includes the number of reported rapes in the country — with many that go unreported.

So the average of 109.1 rapes that were recorded each day in the year 2016 to 2017 is way below the true figure.

But these statistics and record rape numbers hardly make the news and are rarely debated — by government or the media. Men largely occupy the top positions in media outlets and as a result influence the type of stories journalists are able to report on.

This sees many people's lived experiences — including those of violence against women and children — being sidelined, which in turn affects the activism against this violation of human rights.

Heterosexual-based news, often through the gaze of a man and powerful members of society, have influenced what we buy, read and are concerned about.

The Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, in Johannesburg, hosted a seminar reflecting on the theme Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law, on May 3.

Panellist and board chairperson of the Media Development and Diversity Agency [MDDA] Musa Sishange and Amina Frense of SA National Editors Forum [Sanef] both touched on the importance of honouring journalists that risk their lives in pursuit of vital stories and the media outlets that publish them, in which the voices of people who suffer are being heard. The audience took a moment of silence to remember the journalists who have died in the fields of objective, factual and accountable news journalism.

Other than serving as a source of entertainment, the role of the media is to produce a factual representation of lived experiences. In a society plagued by violence, it is even more important that what is shown in various platforms is not harmful to the affected people or a particular community.

This had me thinking about the policies in media houses that direct the ethics of journalism and information production. Are the people's actions guided by objective and accountable policies? Are the policies implemented in favour of political objectivity? Or do the policies play a hand in political propaganda largely consumed in this capitalist global society?

The Gender and Media Progress Study conducted in 2015 by Gender Links showed that women's views and voices account for a mere 20 percent of news sources in the Southern Africa media, lower than the global average of 24 percent. Nadia Bulbulia from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Musa Sishange pointed out that commercialisation is an issue in mainstream media. The goal of being in business is to make money. It completely overlooks activism.

The importance of the work Gender Links does in researching the role media plays when covering issues concerning women highlights a failure in equal representation of gendered societal issues. This includes the importance media plays in spreading information that is educational and promoting the voices of the marginalised in an objective, factual and accountable manner. After all, news media has the ability to serve and change society for the better.

As we reflect on media, justice and the rule of law, we need to bear in mind the type of society we are creating.

Factors that see many stories not being public knowledge include patriarchy and misogyny, social media, entertainment and politics — which have shaped the type of content we consume. Heterosexual-based news, often through the gaze of a men and powerful members of society, has influenced what we buy, read and are concerned about.

As part of a social contract based on people's beliefs, principles, attitudes and behaviours, information shared and consumed on a mass scale has the ability to shift the society's sociopolitical and cultural order.

That is why, as we reflect on media, justice and the rule of law, we need to bear in mind the type of society we are creating, what ethics we are breaking, and what we are contributing to as media.

Yolanda Dyantyi is the Young Women's Alliance intern at Gender Links. This article was originally published as part of the GL News and Blogs service. It has been edited for HuffPost.