Violence Against Women: a media intervention

In this project, Centre researchers will investigate how a neglected social issue suddenly became news - and the limitations of this change. In the process, we will inquire into how gender inequality in the newsroom impacts on news agendas.

This project investigates how a neglected social issue - namely violence against women - suddenly became news and asks: what are the limitations of this new found visibility? In the process, the project also looks at how gender inequality in the newsroom impacts on news agendas.

Overview

Violence against women costs Australia $14.7 USD billion a year in harm and loss of opportunity for women, including the cost of intimate partner violence as the lead cause of preventable disease and premature death among women aged 15-44. Violence against women is a largely hidden problem, yet manifests in and forms part of the backdrop to most other more visible health issues. It is, one would think, the biggest crime story in Australia and one of our biggest social and economic stories. Yet until recently, violence against women was not reported prominently or consistently by mainstream media.

This is of concern, since media plays a key role in forming societal attitudes to gender and gender roles. At the same time, ethnographic accounts of the newsroom and surveys of female journalists have suggested that newsrooms are sexist workplaces. These gender issues appear to be reflected in news values and decisions, and are stubbornly resistant to change.

The rape and murder of 29 year old Jill Meagher on September 22, 2012 signalled a turning point in the media's coverage of violence against women. Since then, the Herald Sun newspaper - Australia's largest circulation daily - has taken a conscious leadership role in reporting on violence against women as shown by the successful 'Take a Stand' campaign which continues today.

We have interviewed editorial executives, senior and junior journalists from the Herald Sun, The Age, Mamamia, Channel 10s The Project and Channel Nine to find out how these changes in news priorities occurred. Our focus has included cursory reporting of violence against women as well as in-depth, consistent and contextual reporting of the issue. Alongside the interviews we are analysing print, online and broadcast content from the above mentioned outlets, spanning in time from September 2014 to late 2016.

In early 2016 we launched Uncovered, an online social media intervention aimed at journalists to help them source information about violence against women and further improve coverage of the issue. The impact of this intervention will be studied through more interviews and an analysis of media content post-intervention.

Finally, a series of focus groups with people from across Australia will be carried out in 2017. This qualitative component of the project will complement existing data from the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) and in particular, further explore the impact of the media on community attitudes.

The project is already beginning to shed light on what forces, conversations, considerations and internal politics have been working together to shift newsroom agendas and news judgments. We will examine the limitations of this change in news agenda, reasons and implications.

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