Ethical Media Reporting as Key for Addressing Gender-Based Violence with Use of Firearms

Gender-based violence is the main concern affecting safety and well-being of numerous women across the Western Balkans but also globally. In many cases, firearms are used to perpetrate the violence, resulting in devastating consequences for the victims and their families.

Homicide committed by a family member is the most common form of femicide in South East Europe. Women are particularly at risk from intimate partner violence. From 2012 to 2016, 38.6% of all killed women were killed by an intimate partner. The same hold true for 1.2% of all killed men1.

In South East Europe, between 2019 and 2021, 101 firearm-related deaths were recorded in the context of domestic violence2, which exceeded the number of fatalities resulting from any other type of incident covered by SEESAC’s Armed Violence Monitoring Platform (AVMP)3, including those in the criminal context, public disputes, and undetermined shootings.

The media have a particular and significant responsibility in contributing to the prevention and response to gender-based violence. In their work, they should respect the public's right to know the facts concerning important societal issues but also respect the victims' privacy and dignity. This can be only achieved by focusing on the facts, rather than on unnecessary depiction of incidents’ details or clickbait headlines.

To combat gender-based violence, reporting on the incidents’ facts is not enough. Journalists should provide context and raise awareness about the underlying societal issues that contribute to gender-based violence that is particularly deadly if combined with the presence of firearms. These issues revolve around deeply enrooted gender inequality and the continued presence/prevalence of firearms throughout the region. By highlighting these root causes, changing the narrative, and promoting a more comprehensive understanding of these issues is possible. The narrative will also shift in the appropriate direction if the often-seen sensationalism is removed from reporting on these incidents and they are treated with the seriousness they deserve.

To contribute to achieving ethical reporting on gender-based violence incidents with the use of firearms in the region, SEESAC organized a three-day regional training for eighteen journalists from the Western Balkans on the issue. The training which took place in Belgrade, Serbia, on 28-30 March, was carried out by three journalists from the network Journalists Against Violence Against Women, a group of over 70 journalists and editors who fight violence against women in an organized, public, and emphatic manner.

“It is important to report on each societal issue ethically, and it is important to highlight that gender-based violence against women is indeed a societal issue,” Jovana Gligorijević, one of the network’s members, told us. “As journalists, we have a responsibility towards our societies and victims,” she added.

Journalists must also be mindful of the potential harm that their reporting can cause to victims and their families if it reveals the identity of the victim, contains echoes of disbelief of victims, or transfers guilt to them, etc. Their reporting also directly influences women experiencing violence but have not yet reported it. Victims of gender-based violence often experience trauma and may be reluctant to speak out about their experiences, particularly in cases involving firearms.

Another important consideration for ethical reporting on gender-based violence with the use of firearms is the potential for biases or stereotypes to influence reporting. This can include assumptions about the victim's behavior or character that may influence the portrayal of the perpetrator or the context of the violence. It can also include contributing the violence to some other external factors such as poverty or the perpetrator’s bad character when drinking. Journalists must be aware of these potential biases and strive to present a fair and accurate portrayal of the events.

“If conducted unethically, reporting on gender-based violence may demotivate women to report violence to the authorities, and it can lower the surrounding’s sensibility on violence in general,” Sanja Pavlović, another network member, highlighted.

“It is not only about women. We also speak to those in their surroundings, friends, but also to the authorities. When reporting, we are also addressing the authorities’ oversights and how these incidents could be prevented,” the third member of the network, Ana Manojlović, said.

“Unethical reporting on these issues can also have grave consequences for judicial processes,” Jovana told us and said that oftentimes courts cannot take eyewitnesses’ testimonies as relevant to the process because they have already been in the media.

Journalists should recognize the power that their reporting can have in shaping public attitudes and policy responses to gender-based violence with the use of firearms. Reporting can help to raise awareness and drive change, but it can also perpetuate harmful stereotypes or fuel fear. It is essential for journalists to approach their reporting with a critical eye and to consider the potential impact of their reporting on victims, perpetrators, and the wider community.

Ethical reporting on gender-based violence with the use of firearms is a complex and challenging responsibility for journalists. It requires professionalism, sensitivity, empathy, questioning of one’s own biases, and a commitment to accuracy and fairness. By prioritizing the safety and well-being of victims, avoiding biases and stereotypes, and recognizing the power of their reporting to drive change, journalists can help raise awareness, increase understanding of the topic, respect victims, and promote professionalism among colleagues, thus contributing to a safer region for all.

As we heard from the journalists who attended the training, the training’s aspects mentioned above helped them understand the complexity of the issue, the grave impact of firearms and gave them sufficient knowledge to advance their ethical reporting.

Often, the journalists covering gender-based violence feel isolated. That’s why SEESAC will keep supporting journalists’ networking with like-minded colleagues and continue enabling the creation of support networks in their jurisdictions. These are the important prerequisites for journalists to strengthen their work on ethically reporting about the issue.

Participants found statistics related to the impact of firearms in domestic violence incidents, collected through AVMP, especially interesting and useful for their work and understanding the dynamics of domestic violence.

In the upcoming months, the participants will work on a regional analysis of media articles concerning gender-based violence with the use of firearms which will help SEESAC assist the Western Balkan authorities in reforming their policies and allowing a positive change.

SEESAC is supporting journalists and authorities from the Western Balkans to address gender-based violence with the use of small arms and light weapons in the framework of the regional project Support for Enhancing the Fight Against the Illegal Possession, Misuse, and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Western Balkans funded by the European Union through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA II).


1 The Misuse of Firearms in Domestic Violence in South East Europe: Fast Facts

2 Domestic violence is the most common type of gender-based violence.

3 In Focus Armed Violence Monitor: More People were Killed with Firearms in Context of Domestic Violence than in any Other Context; Women are Disproportionally Affected