By: Prof. Mirjana Najchevska, PHD, human rights expert
The media play, or should play, a huge role in promotion and protection of human rights. It is the support that the media can offer in the protection of vulnerable groups (all those kept outside of the centres of power, subjected to special forms of violence, socially disenfranchised or discriminated) that is of special importance.
It often seems that vulnerable groups and protection of human rights are not as attractive subject matter for the media as the current political affairs, and it seems equally often that they are not really connected with each other directly. A fine investigative journalist, on the other hand, can and should find the connection. The fine investigative journalist can and should place the protection of human rights and vulnerable groups in the context of current political affairs and position him or herself as a critic and controller of the government that has accepted the obligation to create the conditions in which all citizens can equally practice their rights and freedoms.
The role of the watchdog is given by special media, but certain elements of that function are expected to be integrated in journalism in general and in the operations of each and every media outlet.
That role implies a deeper interest in the concept of human rights, an analysis of activities of the state aimed to facilitate their practicing, reaction to major violations of human rights and promotion of activities (events) aimed to raise the awareness about a given problem (injury) related to human rights.
Macedonia finds itself in a sort of a ghetto, from the viewpoint of global developments related to promotion and protection of human rights. The country rarely takes part in global human rights-related events and the media are the entities that could contribute greatly to escape that ghetto of insufficient information.
I would place in the same context the media coverage of the latest event related to human rights, which was supposed to animate the public, but above all the state/government/politics about the violence against a specific vulnerable group – the women.
Initiated by the global V-Day movement, on February 14 we had the “One Billion Rising” event that marked, all over the world, the preparedness and the will of the people to oppose the widespread violence against women. The event also marked the 15th anniversary of the V-Day movement.
While events like this aim to attract media attention and get the front-page treatment, the media are expected to:
- help promote the underlying idea of the event;
- help organize the event;
- use the opportunity to present their findings on the current situation in that area in Macedonia;
- use the opportunity to ask the political figures some questions;
- use the opportunity to make the connection with current political events, problems and situations.
What Macedonian media did, or failed to do?
1. Promote the idea.
No media outlet offered indepth information about the idea that stands behind the movement. The media, at best, offered a couple of paragraphs with minimal information about the campaign, the movement and the underlying idea behind the event. No media outlet chose to present the four core beliefs that provide the foundations for the whole movement:
- Art has the power to transform thinking and inspire people to act
- Lasting social and cultural change is spread by ordinary people doing extraordinary things
- Local women best know what their communities need and can become unstoppable leaders
- One must look at the intersection of race, class, and gender to understand violence against women
The media didn’t find it necessary to explain the name of the movement and offer explanation about the “V” in V-Day. According to the movements website, the “V” stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.
2. Organisation of the event.
No media got actively involved in the organization of the event, which is prepared for months. The whole process depends on a developed methodology, creation of relationships, use of video and print promotional materials, efforts to explain its aims and purpose. All those are undertaken with the goal to animate as many citizens to raise their voice against violence against women.
A true involvement by the media implies a continuing reporting on preparations, analysis related to the idea and the goal of the movement, public calls and actual participation in the event not as observers/reporters, but as an integral part of the activity.
The media in Macedonia, on the other hand, first mentioned the event one week before it was held, while some reserved their coverage only to the day of the event or the following days.
3. Analysis of Current Situation in Macedonia.
The event wasn’t used as a starting point for an effort to provide more information to the general public about the situation regarding violence against women in Macedonia (only limited and ultimately insufficient space was dedicated to the topic, for example the coverage provided by the web-portal of Radio Free Europe).
Namely, the media didn’t use the opportunity (the very raison d’etre of such events) to remind the citizens (and authorities likewise) about the statistics, cases and activities related to violence against women in Macedonia.
No interviews were conducted with women victims of violence who decided to stand up and resist (with the exception of few words here and there in the short reports on the event).
4. Ask Questions of Political Figures and Public Personalities.
The media didn’t use the event to approach the politicians and ask them what they did to reduce violence against women, what they intended to do in the future to fight violence against women, whether that issue has been integrated in their election campaign platforms?
They didn’t ask female politicians what they thought about the situation in Macedonia and what they do in the offices they hold?
No media was bothered by the absence of political figures from such an action, as if it was totally normal and OK. As if those issues were not part of the obligations of the state. The media didn’t raise the question where were the politicians, public personalities, academics, the plethora of NGOs that allegedly work in the are of gender equality and prevention of discrimination of women? The politicians de facto said that they couldn’t care less about the violence against women, and the media didn’t react to that in any way or fashion.
The media never asked why so few people joined the action in the city square and what was going on in the other cities and towns in Macedonia.
5. Tying it to other events and developments.
It is customary to use such events to tie them to current social or political affairs and situations in a country. Not in Macedonia, though.
The media didn’t draw the line connecting the event to the incidents and the violence against female MPs in the Parliament of Macedonia on December 24, 2012. No connection was made with the global masculinization of society, manifested not only in the absence of women from key positions of power, but also in the manner how new architectural solutions present the history in such a way to emphasize the role of male sex in history and, in essence, focus on violence throughout history and neglect the other values.
The media offered no analysis that would show why was the organisation of the event so bad, why so few people turned up, why commercial advertisements were integrated in the campaign video, why the sound-system was so bad. Rather bombastic headlines like “Macedonia Joins the Global Campaign to Put an End to Violence against Women” were used as a smoke-screen for a couple of poor and rashly written paragraphs, leaving the impression that they covered an event that opposes domestic or other form of violence happening in other countries and to other women, not an event that allows the women to raise their voice against the very conditions that create a violent environment and result in specific forms of violence against women in the world and in Macedonia.
English translation provided by One World SEE.
This analysis was created within the framework of the USAID Media Strengthening in Macedonia Project – Media Fact-Checking Service Component, implemented by Metamorphosis. The analysis is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, USAID or the United States Government. For more information on the work of USAID in Macedonia please visit its website (http://macedonia.usaid.gov) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USAIDMacedonia).