Although the media and journalists have made progress in how they cover different types of gender-based violence, there is still a long way to go. The third webinar of the second series organized by the Network for Diversity in Latin American Journalism was held with the purpose of offering ideas to improve coverage of these types of violence without re-victimizing and seeking approaches that can prevent them.
"How to cover gender-based violence from the perspective of journalism" featured the participation of Argentine journalist Leila Mesyngier, editorial coordinator of Anfibia Magazine; Mexican journalist and writer Lydiette Carrión, and was moderated by Pilar Cuartas, Colombian journalist and lawyer.
Cuartas began the conversation with an introduction on what gender is and how the roles imposed on it can lead precisely to gender-based violence.
"To the extent that society imposes on us how we should look and behave, what spaces we should inhabit, discrimination arises when people step out of those socially-assigned roles," Cuartas said. "Historically, this inequality or these gender roles mostly affect women because they are socially considered as inferior."
According to UN figures provided by Cuartas, women have 23% less income than men, only 24% of parliamentary seats in the world are occupied by women, and in 29 out of 187 countries men are legally the heads of household, leaving women without any decision-making power.
This reality and inequality gives rise to gender-based violence, defined by UN Women as those acts that target people because of their gender. "It’s not just any violence, it’s not just any harmful act, but it’s a harmful act that is motivated by a gender reason and has at its origin gender inequality, precisely in that belief that women, especially, are inferior to men. And in this sense, they are always in at-risk situations that lead them to experience multiple forms of violence," Cuartas said.
Related to these multiple forms of violence came one piece of advice: To cover other types of violence beyond the physical violence that usually grabs the media’s attention. For Carrión, sexual violence and harassment in public spaces is one of the issues that require greater visibility. According to her, feminist movements have placed importance on this issue, but there is still a long way to go in the media.
However, Carrión highlighted economic violence as one of the most neglected issues in the media and one that ironically has the greatest impact on women's lives. She said that "women's shoulders" bear the responsibility for unpaid domestic work and unequal salaries, to mention just a few issues.
Mesyngier pointed out that she has a "particular obsession" with obstetric violence "because those who perpetrate this violence are part of a group that is very difficult to access, which are health professionals." She said that they’ve been talking about the issue at Cosecha Roja since 2014 when it did not even have a name, and that although it has been gaining space in the media "much work remains to be done."
Another of the discussions revolved around when should the homicide of a woman be classified as "femicide," since in some countries it involves a particular legislation. The journalists agreed that there was no exact science to define them, but the media bears a responsibility to provide a gender focus to these crimes.
Mesyngier highlighted how experience allows one to notice certain characteristics that could determine whether this is indeed a femicide: To train "the ear" when talking to victims' relatives, as well as to determine what the law says on this issue and to seek out those elements when covering a crime.
In Mexico, according to Carrión, by law it could not be labeled a femicide until an authority figurehad determined it, but she stressed that the media should not repeat the authorities’ language that could re-victimize.
They were emphatic that, although all cases can be evaluated individually, one must avoid expressions such as "crime of passion" or others that could "justify" the crime.
One of the questions that also shows up in the middle of these coverages has to do with whether one should mention the name of the victim and the perpetrators or not. As in the case of femicides, Carrión also recommended first knowing what is established by law. For example, in countries such as Mexico one cannot give the name of an alleged perpetrator until there is a conviction.
In the case of victims, the matter can be handled in different ways depending on circumstances such as whether you are dealing with a disappearance, whether the person is a minor and even the victim's relatives’ requests. Mesyngier said that in the case of missing or lost persons, they publish their photos and names — always with the authorization of family members — but once a person appears, the posts are taken down and their followers are asked to do the same.
If the victim is a minor, Carrión said not only the identity of this person must be protected, but also that of his or her family members. Otherwise, it might be possible to identify the victim.
However, both Mesyngier and Carrión stressed that sometimes the identities of victims can generate empathy or even become a banner of struggle. Mesyingier mentioned two examples, one of them that of Melina Romero, who was singled out by a news outlet as a "disco fanatic." For Mesyngier, showing her as a young woman who liked to enjoy herself with her friends in the bowling alleys is an example of media violence which justifies the crime.
"It becomes an identity that suddenly feminist activists, organizations, journalists turn into a banner," said Mesyngier, referring to certain cases. "I think it’s possible to think from a different perspective. It seems to me that this allows us to make visible sometimes the violence of the case itself, of the crime, and sometimes the media violence. It seems to me that both things are at stake. Or even the judicial violence that catalogs a case in a certain way and perhaps it’s not what those who are on the ground are seeing. It seems to me that there is something about using their name that allows us to use it as a banner of struggle."
Carrión agreed and also mentioned the case of Mariana Lima whose case went all the way to the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice, especially due to her parents' struggle to obtain the truth.
Related to this topic and to the discussion on the need to make a profile of victims, Mesyngier spoke of "bad victims" as one of the most serious errors in coverage. By showing a victim as someone who likes to party, who dresses a certain way, among other aspects, a justification is given to the crime.
Along the same lines, Carrión pointed out that there is also the "good victim." "And the good victim does not obtain justice either, because there are no good victims," Carrion said. "Then the victim becomes a caricature, an unreachable thing, a person who is not human."
The journalists also discussed the need to go into the details of the alleged perpetrator, whether or not to mention the nationality of the persons involved in the crimes, what kind of photographs or images should accompany the coverage, as well as the need for self-care measures. This webinar is available on Youtube.
The second round of webinars, supported by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, ended on July 11 with the event "Disinformation, audiences and dangerous discourses on diversity issues."