How is violence against women reported about in Serbia?

Most media reports on violence against women cover individual cases and situations where violence has occurred, while this topic is only discussed beforehand on a few important dates such as the 16 Days of Activism Campaign.

Media reports on this issue are largely sensationalist, focusing on physical violence and without much regard for legal provisions and the Code of Ethics. However, since the reporting of violence against women is now monitored and analysed, a slight improvement in the media space has been observed over the past two years in terms of reporting about domestic violence.

According to the analysis, the most violated indicator is to reveal the identity of the victim and her family members. Even when their names are not published, photos of the houses where the violence took place are depicted, which give sufficient information about the victim’s identity. Sensational and stereotypical expressions, which the tabloids use almost as a rule include the words such as ‘shocking’, ‘gruesome’ and ‘horror’, while the victims are often presented as ‘unfortunate women’, and the perpetrators as ‘maniacs’.

The emphasis is on brutal physical violence, illustrated by photographs of knives and blood, together with the pictures of the victim’s corpse.

As Vedrana Lacmanović from the Autonomous Women’s Centre recounts, such reports are an attack on the dignity and integrity of the victim, while at the same time, other forms of violence, such as psychological and economic violence, are rendered almost invisible.

“Victims are believed less if they are not physically hurt, with cuts and bruises, or if they do not fit the stereotyped profile created of the victim and perpetrator. Some media are inclined to make profiles of the perpetrator and the victim, thus stereotyping the image and the phenomenon to a good extent,’ Vedrana Lacmanović explains.

She adds that when reporting on femicide, responsibility is often shifted to the victim through descriptions of her behaviour or appearance, e.g. ‘she used drugs’, ‘she was a kafana singer’, ‘an easy woman’, ‘she had a lover’, etc. “Such details are not only irrelevant to the event but also relativise the violence and lead the public to believe that the violence is justified. We need to condemn the procedure itself, not the person,’ Lacmanović underlines.

She also points out that media reports can have the effect of prolonging stereotypes or destroying them. That is why it is important to avoid the stereotype of violence as reminiscent to the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ scenario or use such phrases as ‘a crime of passion’.

In order to improve reporting standards on violence against women, a group of journalists regularly monitors and analyses media content on this topic. Analyses are carried out every month and the latest one published covers the period from 2019 to 2021.

Journalist and member of the group, Jovana Gligorijević, notes that the media are slowly becoming more sensitive when reporting on violence. As she adds, it is necessary to educate editors, because for every properly written article there is at least one with scandalous headlines. “When I say ‘scandalous’, I mean headlines that use disturbing words, such as ‘spilt blood’, ‘he burned the woman for hours and then moved on to the child’ and the like. Moreover, the categorisation of content that mentions gender violence is controversial when public figures are survivors, because they are usually published under the categories such as ‘entertainment’, ‘showbusiness’, ‘leisure’… We can ll agree that talking about a beaten or murdered woman is not entertainment or leisure at all,” Jovana Gligorijević points out.

Domestic violence victims have several toll-free hotlines they can call – Reporting Domestic Violence 0800-100-600; National SOS Line for Women Victims of Violence 0800-222-003; Autonomous Women’s Centre – SOS phone 0800-100 -007).

(Danas, 03.10.2022)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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