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Regulation on addressing violence against women

Last edited: July 28, 2020

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The majority of countries maintain dedicated domestic legislation to address intimate partner or domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual harassment (Tavares and Wodon, 2018). These laws, however, only address media in a few cases.  Within legislation addressed specifically to the media, some forms of discrimination (e.g. racial, religious) and violations of human rights may be covered, however, the majority of regulatory frameworks do not include or have weak provisions related to discrimination based on gender.  In some instances, provisions from different parts of the legislative framework may contradict one another or come into conflict. For example, research with media professionals from Australia found that laws related to court reporting, contempt and other aspects within the Family Violence Protection Act, made it difficult for news reporters covering cases of domestic violence to situate these cases within a broader context of gender-based violence and precluded them from sharing certain information as it related to perpetrators (Sutherland et al., 2017).  Regulatory processes often take time and may not be keeping pace with contextual changes.  For example, innovation and expansion of ICTs, which have opened tremendous opportunities for public communication (e.g. through private and instantaneous chat applications, video production and dissemination and social networking platforms), have also posed new challenges to protecting women from abuse and holding perpetrators accountable.  

 

Examples of National Mechanisms to address Gender Discrimination and Violence

in Media and Communications

Belgium’s National Action Plan to Combat all forms of Gender Based Violence (2015-2019) referred to the importance of self-regulation and the need for training for media professionals to address sexism in the media (Government of Belgium, 2015).

In Morocco, the government established an arbitration commission to deal with cases of women journalists and their employers; requires reporting on gender equality activities of institutions under the Ministry of Communication (e.g. statistics on women journalists); has adopted charters and editorial policies to promote respect for women’s rights and a guide on gender stereotyping in media for public television stations (United Nations, 2017).  In 2018, a law was passed including provisions on fines that will be levied for gender-based defamation against women and should any person who intentionally shares (including through technology) someone’s private or confidential information, statements or pictures without their approval (Government of Morocco, 2018).

The Slovak Republic’s National Action Plan for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women (2014–2019) included the need to track violence against women in the media and advertising based on annual monitoring to increase the effectiveness of media law and self-regulation. The plan also includes training activities on tackling violence against women and gender equality for professionals in the media (Government of the Slovak Republic, 2014).

Tanzania’s National Plan of Action for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children (2001–2015) mandated a range of measures in order to achieve gender-sensitive reporting of cases of violence against women and children without perpetuating gender stereotypes, including training of media personnel on women’s human rights and violence against women.

Timor-Leste’s National Action Plan on Gender based violence (2017-2021) includes the role of the media in promoting gender equality and zero tolerance towards GBV. The plan proposes to achieve this through 1) the development of a code of conduct on gender sensitive reporting, including ethical guidelines on reporting gender-based violence but also disciplinary action in case of breach of the code,  2) the institutionalization of mandatory annual trainings on human rights, gender equality and gender sensitive reporting on gender-based violence and 3) the development and implementation of a media tool to monitor the reporting on gender-based violence and portrayal of women (Government of Timor-Leste, 2017).

Spain’s National Plan to Heighten Awareness and Prevent Gender-Based Violence: Conceptual Framework and Main Lines of Intervention (2007– 2008) included: actions to promote and distribute best practice guidelines on media reporting and awards for best practices in advertising; strategies to establish strong partnership structures between government and media/ advertising industries; the creation of an Advisory Committee on the image of women to analyze how women are treated in advertising; extension of self-regulation agreements in advertising; development of agreements with publicly-owned media to promote non-sexist content and the active participation of women in all areas of life; a self-regulation pact that will guarantee that news items are treated objectively and that they transmit the values of equality and reject this type of violence; extension of the Self-regulation Agreement for television operators on the subject of the protection of minors to include gender-based violence and discrimination for reasons of sex; and conventions with Audiovisual Regulatory Authorities to establish collaboration procedures to eradicate from programming and advertising all direct or indirect encouragement of gender-based violence.

 

Addressing violence against women in the media through domestic legislation and regulation must be approached very carefully, with thoughtful consideration of other rights and freedoms (e.g. freedom of speech and expression; access to information; and the right to privacy) that are at the foundation of fostering democratic, inclusive and more equal societies. Exceptions to these protections are necessary when words or images pose a danger to individuals (when asserting one’s rights compromises and harms the rights of another), peace and the rule of law (OSCE, 2008). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that the exercise of the rights of freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals (ICCPR Article 19). This applies across mediums (e.g. print, audio, video, digital, etc.) and content types (e.g. news, entertainment, advertising, social media, etc.).

Legislation and regulation around online or digital content has proven especially challenging to address given the various private and public stakeholders involved (individuals, internet intermediaries, government) and the unique context (e.g. transnational communication and jurisdictional issues; public domains versus ‘private’ communications through apps/texting) within which this form of communication exists.  Online violence and harassment were previously omitted from discussions of violence against women, but have come into sharper focus since 2016. While this form of violence seems to be on the rise, response to ICT-mediated violence remains insufficient as legal frameworks addressing this specific form of violence are either non-existent or not enforced. There is a need for clear self-regulatory frameworks to govern internet and ensure it is a safe space which respects women’s rights (World Wide Web Foundation, 2015).

Self-regulatory organizations and standards bodies for advertising are also taking action to promote and respect healthy and progressive portrayals of gender.  The European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) consisting of 14 industry bodies and 27 self-regulating organizations has committed to ensuring that women and men are portrayed responsibly (WFA, 2018).

Examples of media regulation related to gender discrimination and violence against women

In Botswana, a code of the media council under the Media Practitioners Act 2008, states that media institutions should not identify victims of gender violence unless they have supplied consent and bans presenting content which could incite hatred based on gender.

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has enacted regulations stating that broadcasters must not broadcast any “comment or abusive pictorial representation” that could “expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of… sex or sexual orientation”; and that they must ban unjustifiable and uncalled-for stereotypes, present women and men of different ages, or different appearances, of different opinions and interests, in a variety of tasks and roles, including non-traditional ones; in journalistic programs, seek women's opinions, as well as men's, on the full range of public issues; and strive to reach a balance in the use of women's and men's voices in voice-overs. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/media-and-the-law; http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/acts-and-policies/programming/program-policies/1-1-3

In India, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 has both a “Programme Code” and an “Advertising Code” which both ban content which “denigrates women”.

The Press Council of Pakistan, a statutory body, includes 19 members from different sectors of the print media, as well as civil society, including representatives of women’s groups.  Their code of ethics addresses content which incites hatred against women, as well as a clause preventing the identification of victims of sexual offences against women and children.

In the United Kingdom, the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) produced a regulation for the industry stating that “[Advertisements] must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence,” following a report on the harm that gender stereotypes in advertising contribute to. This rule goes into effect in June 2019.

 

Resources:

The Media Self-Regulation Guidebook (OSCE). Available in English.

Online Harassment: A comparative Policy Analysis for Hollaback. Available in English.

Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Experssion on ‘Content Regulation in the Digital Age’. Available in English.

Countering Online Hate Speech (UNESCO). Available in English.

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