SA: TV media has power to change attitudes on GBV

SA: TV media has power to change attitudes on GBV

Date: May 24, 2019
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By Colleen Lowe Morna and Tarisai Nyamweda

Johannesburg, 24 May: In January a TV news channel reported a story about the police believing they had arrested a serial killer and rapist who had been terrorising residents of eMbalenhle in Mpumalanga for the past four years. The story relies on one source – the police officer. A woman standing next to the police officer is not identified and says nothing.

In contrast, a story aired on the same channel last December shows three men appearing in the Taung Magistrate’s court in North West accused of raping a 12-year-old girl who fell pregnant as a result of the ordeal. In keeping with ethical principles, only the bottom half of the girl (who is a minor) is only shown as she goes into court. In contrast, the three accused, ranging in age from a teenager to a 61 year old man, are shown as they go into court. The report includes the perspectives of a variety of women and men including the girl’s mother and a male community leader expressing outrage and advocating that men take a stand against GBV.

Monitors in the Gender, Diversity, and GBV in South African TV 2018 -2019  study from 25 November 2018 to the end of January 2019 would have recorded only male sources for the first story, and tagged it “gender blind”, a story relying on a single “official” male source while treating women (those most affected) like background wall paper. Monitors would have tagged the second story as being “gender aware”: a story relying on multiple sources; naming the alleged perpetrators, while shielding the victim; sharing her agony through the eyes of her mother, whose identity is also concealed.

While the first story left viewers numb (the all- too- familiar GBV story) the second prompted strong responses from viewers during focus group discussions on the #GenderinTV monitoring. The men respondents said this kind of behaviour must not be allowed to be normalised. A woman respondent said, “Honestly it’s sad it’s hurtful, for me; it’s hurtful for that innocent 12 year old youth, she would have committed suicide but she saw that her family was standing beside her.”

The two stories, cited in the study, reflect the potential of the powerful TV media to either be part of the problem or part of the solution in ending GBV. Breaking new ground, the study went beyond news to include entertainment and children’s programming. Despite GBV being the most one of the most flagrant and persistent violation of human rights in South Africa post- apartheid, the topic comprises only 2% of TV news and children’s programming, and 4% of entertainment programmes. For all three genres, most of the 1462 news items and episodes were classified as gender blind or conveying subtle stereotypes, like the serial killer story told by a police man. But 2% of TV news, 7% of children’s programming and 16% of entertainment episodes fell in the category of “blatant stereotypes”.

Soapies are among the worst offenders, with story lines typically shaped around strong, powerful men and weak, submissive or evil women. But a scene from The Queen shows the potential of this medium to foster greater understanding on sensitive subjects. A young woman is in deep depression because her mother is trying to force her to marry a man she cannot bear. Finally she shares the real reason with a friend. The man, a family acquaintance raped her. As she weeps uncontrollably on her friend’s shoulders, we are reminded that the vast majority of rapists are not strangers: they are the men in our homes that our mothers would want us to marry. This is edutainment – entertainment content that is also educational. Can we have more of these stories and less of the tired stereotypes without affecting audiences and ratings? This is the challenge that the research poses as South Africa crafts a new deal on ending GBV following the presidential summit last year.

(Colleen Lowe Morna is CEO, and Tarisai Nyamweda Media and Communications Manager at Gender Links. All the case studies from the research can be accessed on:

This article first appeard in the Mail and Guardian

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