Majority of public wants less sensationalism and more information against gender-based violence in coverage of femicides in Argentina, study shows

The feminist mobilization #NiUnaMenos ("Not one less"), which was born in Argentina in 2015 and has spread throughout Latin America, has highlighted the emergence of femicides in public debate, in public policies, and also in the press. While news coverage of the murders of women focuses on the details of the crimes and presents them as "isolated cases," most of the Argentine public wants more focus on the prevention of gender-based violence and more empathy for the victims, according to a recently released study by a United Nations initiative.

The study "Femicidios en los medios y en la opinión pública" ("Femicides in the media and in public opinion") was released on March 11, when Argentina celebrates National Day of the Fight against Gender Violence in the Media. The study was conducted by the Spotlight Initiative, a global alliance of the European Union and the United Nations (UN) dedicated to eliminating violence against women and girls, which in Argentina focuses on eradicating femicides.

In the most recent data made available by Argentina's National Registry of Femicides, in the year 2021 the country recorded 251 femicides, which are the murders of women and girls motivated by gender discrimination and often preceded by domestic or sexual violence.

To evaluate how the Argentine media have carried out news coverage of this type of crime, the study analyzed 1,352 journalistic articles published between May 1, 2020 and May 31, 2021 on cases of gender-based violence and femicides. Among the 16 news outlets analyzed are the state news agency Télam, the print and/or online newspapers of national coverage Clarín, La Nación, Página/12 and Infobae, and also TV and radio programs and regional newspapers.

According to the analysis, the notes have primarily a sensationalist approach, “that seeks an impact on emotions.” Despite the presence of the terms "femicide" and others related to the topic of gender-based violence, the events are not covered journalistically “from a gender-based approach,” according to the study.

Femicides are presented as “isolated cases” in 51% of analyzed news items, which means that “more space is devoted to the telling of particular facts of each case, considered in their specificity.” In 33% of news, “the public's sensibility is appealed to through sensationalist details or features with the aim of capturing attention, while little space is devoted to the possible existence of early warnings that could have prevented prevented the crimes,” according to the report.

Only 20% of the news stories include statistical information about femicides, which would be a way to contextualize this type of violence. However, according to the study, “when this happens, the media generally limit themselves to referencing the number of femicides that have occurred in a given period of time,” as the number of cases that took place in the last month or year.

Although most of the news (21%) is illustrated by images of feminist demonstrations and protests against gender-based violence, “there is a high number of articles and journalistic coverage that present the photo of the victim (19%), the photo of the femicide (18%) and, in many cases, the image of the two together (17%) when they were a couple.

In 91% of the cases the news do not develop a profile of the victim of femicide. Instead, they present personal data such as name, surname and age, and refer to her according to the role she occupied in her family, with "wife" and "young" as the terms most used to characterize her.

The news “constantly alludes to the fact that the femicide perpetratoro was the victim's partner,” states the study. “This implies that the treatment given to the news can condition the reading of the facts if gender-based violence is presented as a natural phenomenon that is typical of relations between women and men in the private sphere,” according to the study.

The study also affirms that negative evaluations about the absence or bad performance of state institutions that supposedly should intervene to prevent or clarify the cases of violence are recurrent in the news, with questioning of the actions of the Justice system, the Police and the State in general. The analysis concludes that “in general, the femicide perpetrator is presented as less responsible than the public institutions for the fatal outcome of gender-based violence."

Only 11% of the news analyzed presented information about assistance services for victims of gender-based violence, which in Argentina takes place calling Line 144. This telephone number has national reach, is available 24 hours a day and offers attention, support and advice on cases of gender violence. Law 27,039, enacted in 2014, states that “all information broadcast through audiovisual communication services about episodes of gender-based violence shall include an express mention of the toll-free telephone line '144.'” However, this law is not always respected and does not apply to print or online media.

Public opinion

The study also conducted a public opinion survey to establish what the Argentine population's impressions of cases of femicide and gender-based violence are from news coverage of these crimes. The survey was conducted by email, at a national level and with a sample of 597 people in September 2021, according to the report.

When asked whether they had read, seen or heard any information about femicide/gender-based violence that year, 95% responded that they had learned about cases of violence against women or LGBT+ people that did not end in death, and 91% said they knew about cases of femicide.

The survey also asked what aspects of these cases people remembered. Physical violence, sexual violence, and femicide were the terms most often mentioned. “This data implies that, out of the totality of the information offered in general by journalistic articles, violence, especially physical and sexual violence, is the topic that causes the greatest impact,” according to the study.

The predominant psychological reaction in relation to news about gender-based violence was "indignation," shown by 70% of the interviewees, a rate that did not vary by socioeconomic level or place of residence. However, when dividing the respondents by gender, 79% of women said they were outraged by the cases, while among men this figure was 72%.

For 80% of the interviewees, gender-based violence is a problem that should concern the whole society, while 77% would like the news about these cases to be treated by the media as a way to involve the whole community in the problem so that it can participate in its resolution.

Most of the people interviewed also want the media to provide information on how and where to report gender-based violence (81% of respondents), to inform where victims of violence can seek help (78%), and to expose the reality of violence against women (77%). Already 73% consider that the media should raise awareness of all people who can help prevent a femicide.

When asked what is missing from the news about femicides, 66% said that the media should "tone down" the sensationalist tone and 65% said that the media should focus on spreading which early warnings could be recognized as part of an escalation of violence before reaching a femicide.

“In short, public opinion asks the media, first, to eliminate the predominant sensationalist tone and, second, to prevent and help, and ultimately, to empathize with and protect the victim,” according to the study.