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Updated: Dec 15, 2021

An article on how to report on femicides in a more respectful and honorable way towards the victims

By Lisa-Sophie Staß

,,The Partygirl and the love triangle ‘‘that’s how the Austrian newspaper,, DerStandart’’ titled an article about femicide that happened in Austria in 2020. Even though the newspaper changed the title of this article after there was a huge backlash about it, the problem remains the same. Not only is this title a way of victim-blaming the woman that has been killed (which already is a common accusation with which a lot of victims of sexual harassment, abuse and femicide are confronted) but also does it downplay what really happened here and even justify it: A man murdered his girlfriend because she was a woman. Because he has the power to do so. Because of the social structures which degrade women and because home is one of the most dangerous places for women. With an article like this, not only the murder that happened here is made in some way invisible, but also makes it the victim invisible by this stereotypization. Making women invisible is a huge issue and, I believe, that the media plays a huge role in this problem. But I also think that the media has a huge potential in changing that, and with that also change how society sees and values women.

Since this sadly is not the only article that reported about femicide this way, I came up with the idea for my project:

I want to find those articles, show, what they did wrong there, and why it is not right to report the way they did.

I also want to show a more respectful way to report.

First I think it is important to point out, why those articles are problematic if not dangerous. By calling the murdered women ,,Partygirl‘‘ and pointing out the love triangle she was in, it might seem like they are trying to justify what that man did. It seems like they are trying to blame the women for what happened. In some way it reminds me of the common question that victims of sexual assault or rape often have to face: ,,But what did you wear?’’ As I previously mentioned, a framing like that leaves out the real, structural problem behind femicides and the importance of talking about those structures.

To analyze and evaluate the articles I am using the Ethical checklist for news reports dealing with violence against women by Belén Zubano Berenguer and Mar Gracía-Gordillo. To analyze news reporting about femicides they had put together an ethical checklist: Context, sources, Identity identification, terminology, images, causes, wording, resources, approach and placement. Since the articles I will be analyzing are from Austrian newspapers and therefore only in German, I will copy and translate the parts that, in my eyes, are the most problematic.

The first article I want to look at was published on 02.12.2021 (after the 30. Femicide in Austria) by the Kronen Zeitung (in case you want to read it: https://www.krone.at/2570185).

Translation: strangled, wrapped into a rug and ,,disposed’’ in the basement

This part is linked to the point of wording that Belén Zubano Berenguer and Mar Gracía-Gordillo included in their ethical checklist. The word entsorgt (=disposed), even though it was put into exclamation marks does not only give the readers an explicit order of events (especially in context with the whole sentences) but also is extremely disrespectful and dehumanizing towards the victim. The ethical checklist also includes, that the wording should not be passive and with that reverse the roles. These sentences failed here as well. The explicit description of the modus operandi is highly dangerous in terms of imitators. A better way to put these sentences could for example be: ,,The men murdered his wife’’. Wording like that would take away the passiveness of the victim and would also leave out the explicit modus operandi of what happened.

Translation: Subadeh just recently opened up her heart again – to a Canadian Iranian man. That she would pay for that new love with her life is inconceivable for everybody in the building

The first problem is that the article mentions the name of the victim. In the ethical checklist, it is mentioned (under the term Identity Identification) that the article should not allow identifying the victim or immediate environment. Especially with the other information given in the article, such as a picture of the building where the murder happened as well as the name of the Gemeindebezirk where it took place, it is easy to identify who the victim was.

In terms of terminology, this part of the article would fail the ethical checklist as well. With wordings like opened up her heart again as well as the new love, this article again frames the femicide as a relationship drama, which, as described above, is a common way of reporting femicides. In my opinion, this downgrades what really happened here. Also, those words are emotional and it seems like the journalist who wrote this article wants to add more drama. The objective way of reporting gets lost by writing about it like you would write a novel or a story. The fact, that a woman died here and that it is a highly serious topic gets, in my opinion, also lost here. Another part of this sentence that I want to point out here is the mentioning of the murders’ nationality. This is, in my point of view, unnecessary and only gives (far) right-wing parties another reason for their policy or a reason to marginalize a certain group of people even more. It seems like they want to make us believe that violence against women and not respecting women, in general, is a cultural problem and that the upbringing in certain cultures or religion is the main reason for misogyny. But, yet again, this takes the point of view away from the real problem that we have. Also, the statistics show, that it is not an issue that can be connected to certain cultures or religions. According to an article published by ,,Die Presse‘‘ 2/3 of the murder had an Austrian citizenship (for reference https://www.diepresse.com/6065127/jung-mannlich-und-bekannt-wer-in-osterreich-frauen-totet?from=rss)

Translation: A 59 year old man is suspected to attacked and killed his 50-year-old wife in an apartment in Innsbruck with a kitchen knife. The men got arrested at the crime scene and confessed. The Serbian men stated that he felt provoked during an argument {…}

The next article I want to analyze was published in the Austrian newspaper ,,DerStandart‘‘ on 19.11.2021 (https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000131281319/ver dacht-auf-femizid-in-innsbruck-frau-starb-durch-messerattacke) and reported the 26. Femicide that happened in Austria in the year 2021.

A thing that the person who wrote this article did right is that they mentioned the word femicide and the huge issue that Austria has with femicides.

Translation: {...} Austria being the EU country with the most femicides shows, that ,,we have a huge problem with male violence and that we have to work against that on many levels‘‘

This part of the article shows, that they acknowledge the problem and acknowledge the fact, that if we want to work against femicides we not only have to look on the micro-level (and with that see it as an individual problem that only happened because of the personal life or the personality of the murder) but also on the meso and macro-level. We have to look at the social constructs that make it so unsafe for women to live their daily lives. I feel like this is not mentioned in a lot of articles that report about femicide, even though we must take a look at all those levels to work against them. On the macro-level a change could also be how we report about femicides since media also shapes our thoughts and views on certain topics.

Another negative example in terms of images is an article that was published by OE24 on 24.02.2017. Here they have out together a whole slight show with pictures of the building where the femicide happened, a picture of the neighbor, and pictures of how the dead body is carried out of the building. I will not include those pictures in my article, because I do not want them to be spread online once again. But for those who want to look at an example on which images not to put into an article about femicide, here is the link https://www.oe24.at/oesterreich/chronik/slideshow/mord-in-wien-donaustadt/270270561. As mentioned previously those pictures make it easy to identify the victim where the femicide happened. Also, they seem attention/seeking and catchy, which not suitable for a topic as serious as this one.

Another thing I want to mention is that in none of the articles I have looked at, they gave a trigger warning at the beginning of the article. I believe that, especially for articles that are dealing with topics like that, it is important to give one because it could be highly triggering for former victims or family and friends of those victims.

On a more positive note: Most of the articles I have looked into mentioned the word femicide. By doing so they ate acknowledging the fact that this murder happened because of a more structural level. Since not all people are in terms with that wording I think it would be even better, if they would also explain what femicide is. Also, more and more newspapers now inform about helplines such as the ,,Frauen Helpline’’ or ,,Telefonselensorge’’ where victims of domestic violence can look out for help. Belén Zubano Berenguer and Mar Gracía-Gordillo also mentioned the mentioning of those hotlines in their checklist under the term Resources. And even though this is a great approach and a step in the right direction, it should also be taken into context that a lot of women who are suffering from domestic violence do not have the chance or can take the risk to reach out to those numbers.

In general, it is to conclude that a lot of articles would still fail the ethical checklist. Also, there is a huge difference in regards to the newspaper that I have looked at. While ,,DerStandart’’ did quite a good job most of the time (for example they took down the article where they have called the victim Partygirl and included information about the topic of femicide in general) ,,OE24’’ would fail the checklist in, most of the time, all their checkpoints. I was most shocked about the specific picture they had put with their article and the attention-seeking headlines.

Sidenote: I would highly recommend reading the article: ,,Does Austria have a problem with femicides?’’ by Phelia Weiß. In this article, she is doing a frame analysis of the Kronen Zeitung reporting on fatal violence.

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