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Study and gender and tabloid news presented in South Africa

rookellos Icon Posted by Rosemary Okello-Orlale

August 21st, 2008

This week I had the opportunity to witness the launch of a study entitled; “Whose views, whose news, Gender and Tabloid,” by Colleen Lowe Morna, the Executive Director of Gender Links.

The launch, which took place during the Gender Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa was organized by Gender Links and Gender and Media, Southern African (GEMSA), under the theme, “Critical citizens, responsive media,” and brought together over 180 journalists, academicians and gender activists from 14 countries.

Presenting the research findings, Morna said the research looked at nine newspapers — in Mauritius: L’Hebdo (weekly), 5 Plus (weekly) Le Dimanche (weekly); in South Africa: Daily Sun (Media 24); in Botswana, The Daily Voice (Independent) and the Sunday World (weekly); and in Tanzania, Alasiri (evening daily), Amani (weekly), and Uwazi (weekly). Morna said the research looked at the general features of the tabloid, the origin of stories, the editorial package, how they cover sensational stories, who speaks on what and who tells the story.

Some of the key findings revealed that most stories in these newspapers are written by their own reporters, which is a clear indication that with proper editorial policy, they can apply ethical standards. Most editorial content in tabloids is of a non- news nature. News constitutes only 45% of the editorial package (except in Mauritius, where the figure in 60%). The balance comprises human interest stories, features and other genres.

And among the people interviewed, when asked why they like tabloids, over 59% said that they wanted to catch up with gossip; when asked what they did not like, both men and women were in agreement that they did not like the fact that tabloids do not tell the truth.

However, even though tabloids are seen as further stereotyping women’s issues, gender experts agreed that since it is a popular medium, if used effectively tabloids could have a positive impact on how the media portray women.

The same sentiments were shared by editors of the tabloids, who were present during the study launch and offered a perfect opportunity for the media in the Southern African region to start interrogating the impact of tabloids on gender reporting and on the overall portrayal of women in the media.

Editors of the tabloids who attended the sessions agreed that even though they aspire to entertainment by publishing sensational and juicy stories, editorial policy, news and entertainment cannot be separated from the overall entertainment package and that ethical standards needs to apply to every aspect of the media.

The Editor of the Voice from Botswana echoed that fact that a good newspaper should be able to talk to the nation, and told the participants that her newspapers have not only spoken to both women and men of Botswana but have also raised concerns and interests of their readers.

“The Voice has brought issues, for example in the case of HIV/AIDS and Gender Based Violence (GBV), we wanted to change the suffering of the majority of women who were suffering in silence by changing attitudes through our reports,” said the editor.

The Voice, which according to her became the face of tabloid in Botswana, wanted to catch the attention of people who make decisions, and is famous for splashing the photo of a woman with HIV/AIDS under a headline reading, “Have you had sex with this woman?”

The editor of L’Hebdo, one of the leading newspapers in Mauritius, said that while they are being seen as tabloid, they apply the best practice approach in their editorial ethics by creating awareness of womens’ achievements and portraying men and women in diverse roles to break stereotypes. “We make sure that we apply a gender lens even in sports pages, which is normally preserved for men.”

The meeting unanimously agreed that women and readers should start making noise on how tabloids portray women. “Such as where a woman’s body is being compared to a juicy hamburger, what is the news value in that?” asked a participant.

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