Who and what makes the news_A case study of The Citizen

Date: November 15, 2010
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On 19 October 2010, Jennifer Lewis attended a workshop to discuss human trafficking of children, women and girls at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. The following day, The Citizen, a daily newspaper published a photograph of three women including Lewis at the human trafficking workshop. The image also had a correct caption but was not accompanied by a story. Lewis writes a letter to the editor in response to the use of the image.

Letter to the Editor:

To Whom It May Concern:

I wanted to take a moment to comment on your newspaper which ran on Thursday 20 October, 2010. On page 16 of this issue you featured a photograph from the J’oburg Child Welfare event: Lekgotala. This photo ran alongside two unrelated articles, City ‘didn’t consult’ on open toilets and Top Cele aide’s office is burgled. See Annex A for the news clipping.

The event represented in your publication dealt with the issue of trafficking, centering on the trafficking of children, women and girls. I do not need to explain to you the graveness of such a topic, or the necessity to highlight it in the public domain.

This letter is therefore a complaint regarding the use of this picture without a story to accompany it. Before doing so, I would like to thank you for taking interest in the event, and featuring the work of Gender Links and Jo’burg Child Welfare. I gather from the inclusion of the photo that this must be the case. But I would like to flag some key concerns regarding the way in which this ‘interest’ was manifested.

Gender Links is an organisation which champions gender equality in and through the media. Part of this commitment means assuring that women’s voices are heard, and issues regarding gender are publicised. We have recently conducted a research study titled the Gender and Media Progress Study, which looked at gender in media content. This study was conducted in South Africa from 19 October to the 16 November 2009 and covered 19 media and 5,957 news items. The study is part of a regional survey that covered 14 countries in Southern Africa and 33,431 news items.

Three of the South African findings of this study show:

– Women are more likely to be seen than heard.
– Women sources only constitute 20% in media coverage.
– Gender equality is not given top priority in South Africa, constituting only 0.3 % of all topics covered.

Against this backdrop several problems arise with your reporting on this event. Firstly, the women in the photo (myself included) are seen and not heard. I would like to ask the responsible person why this was the case? Was the photo seen as sufficient coverage of the event, or was it simply that a story to accompany the photograph was not deemed as interesting to your readership?

Furthermore, I am also wondering how a photo of three women talking (yet not saying anything) says anything about the very serious issue of human trafficking. This photo used in isolation, tells your audience absolutely nothing about the issue. What have they learned?

Secondly, if a story about the event and/or the issue was included, the photograph in and of itself would have been fine. But this is a glaring example of gender issues being grossly ignored by the media at a meager 0.3%. I would argue that a story on human trafficking would not only be of interest to your audience, but would also help to raise awareness on the issue.

Thirdly, our voices were not heard. The women in the photograph are all accomplished professionals and experts. But aside from this fact, there were also men present at the event. Why was this photo of women chosen to be published without a story, while a photo of the men present was not chosen?

Further, the location of the image was confusing and mildly insulting. Perhaps your readers would think that it was linked to the article on burglary or toilets. And while I am on those articles, how is it that they were deemed as more newsworthy? It is a slap in the face to all of those who champion for human rights, gender equity and the end of gender based violence, to see that toilets were more significant than human trafficking. South Africa is a country with a constitution founded on human rights and a tumultuous history of oppression and segregation, yet the above issues are ghettoised an all but ignored.

I welcome your response.

Kind regards,


Jennifer Elle Lewis
Manager, Gender and Media Diversity Centre
Gender Links


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