Report highlights issues with media reporting of violence against women

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Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and Our Watch have published a report investigating how Australian media reports on violence against women, one of the largest international studies of its kind.

The Media representations of violence against women and their children report looked at over 4500 items from radio broadcasts, online news sites, newspaper articles and television broadcasts. These items appeared more than 15,000 times over a 4 month period. Key findings from the report include:

  • Most reports focused on individual incidents without information about social context or underlying drivers of violence
  • Very few media items included information on where to seek help
  • Physical and sexual violence, particularly fatal events, were reported more frequently
  • Sensational headlines, graphic language and photographs that minimised or trivialised the issue were a concern but were not common
  • Some of the media covering sexual violence referred to the behaviour of women, in some cases contributing to victim blaming
  • Male perpetrators of violence were largely invisible
  • Police and other criminal justice professionals were the main sources of information and opinion
  • The variations in media reporting perpetuate ambiguity and ambivalence about the definition, dynamics and harms of family violence and sexual assault
  • Story angles, story structures and other features contribute to minimising harms
  • Editorial judgements may influence what is considered relevant or perceived as newsworthy

ANROWS Chief Executive Officer Heather Nancarrow said the research "...highlights a few issues that remain a concern, including victim blaming, minimal use of expert sources and lack of help seeking information."

Lead researcher Dr Georgina Sutherland at the University of Melbourne said "Only 4.3 percent of news reports included help seeking information, and 15 percent of reporting implied the victim was in some way responsible for the violence inflicted upon her, such as she was drinking/flirting/went home with the perpetrator/was out alone/they were arguing/she didn’t report previous incidents/did not leave."

Our Watch Chief Executive Officer Mary Barry said "Time and time again, national and international research – including this report – tells us that the public is heavily influenced by the way violence against women is portrayed in the media."

The full report is available online as well as a brief document outlining key findings and implications for policy-makers, researchers and practitioners.

More information and resources

The resources below provide guidance and ways to take action for reporters, journalists, family violence professionals and communities.

Australia

Our Watch is focused on the primary prevention of violence against women and children in Australia. The website includes a range of tools for media including guides for journalists reporting on sexual violence, domestic violence, family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and child sexual abuse.

Uncovered is an online resource developed by journalists for journalists to improve their understanding of the complexities of violence against women and their role in changing attitudes around the issue.

The Australian Press Council has published Advisory Guidelines on Family and Domestic Violence Reporting.

The Australian Council on Children and the Media in partnership with Children and Families Research Centre at Macquarie University are hosting a one day conference on Violence in the media: The stories and the science in Sydney, Australia on 18 July 2016.

ANROWS and Our Watch have previously published a report on Media representations of violence against women and their children: State of knowledge paper (2015).

Aotearoa New Zealand

The It's Not Ok campaign has a number of resources on media advocacy including:

Media

Report shows the problem with family violence in the news, NZ Herald, 07.06.2016