The government needs to show leadership in fighting domestic violence, and the media needs to report it properly

Article by Caroline Zielinski/
Nine.com.au /
April 20, 2015 /
Click here to view original /

AUSTRALIAN society’s continued perception of domestic violence as a private issue is the result of a masculinist culture, confused reporting styles and a “paucity of leadership at government level and within corporate Australia”, says outgoing Army Chief Lieutenant General David Morrison.

And changing this culture requires a commitment — and willingness to change — from not only society, but mainstream and social media, which are each failing in different ways.

Speaking at an Our Watch meeting today — a foundation dedicated to eradicating violence against women and children — White Ribbon ambassador Lt Gen Morrison said “there are systematic issues with our culture that need to be met … a culture that largely consists of men”.

“Women are denied opportunities that are accorded to me as a male.

“I’ve remained apolitical until now, but there’s a paucity of leadership at government level and within corporate Australia that needs to change.

“This is a global issue … and I am of the view this is not a gender issue, but a societal issue, and that men and women have an equal voice here to speak about it.”

Lt Gen Morrison said he commended traditional media’s tackling of domestic violence, but likened social media to a “pretty ungoverned beast”.

“Social media is largely ungoverned, not critiqued, and largely gives voice to very skewed perspectives that male Australia has told itself over the years,” he said at the meeting.

“I am nowhere near as sure that social media is in any way near the maturity [of traditional media].”

But Women’s Agenda editor Georgina Dent commented that social media has allowed previously stifled female voices to access a much broader platform from which to voice their concerns and values, with a plethora of women’s sites such as News Corp’s recently launched RendezView, Fairfax-owned Daily Life, Mamma Mia, Debrief Daily and more being dedicated to exploring topics often sidelined by mainstream media.

According to research conducted by Weber Shandwick, 75 per cent of American women use social media, compared to 63 per cent of men.

After sending out an online survey to a sample of 2000 women, researchers found that many women preferred online socialising to real-life social events, and preferred to engage in other activities, such as news reading and shopping, online.

Marcy Massura, Director of Digital Engagement, said: “Our research reveals how invested these women are in their social network communities and, based on the results, we offer food for thought to marketers who want to engage these women and tap into their marketplace connectivity.”

Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, Margaret Simons, says that journalism as an industry still reflects male values, where certain “hard” news stories and events are prioritised over those seen as “softer” — and usually related to women.

During her speech, she brought up two examples of how both traditional media and social media can influence public debate with regards to campaigning against domestic violence.

In one case, Dr Simons mentioned Herald Sun’s 2013 domestic violence campaign, led by reporter Ellen Whinnet, which relied heavily on police figures and statistics to highlight the domestic abuse epidemic.
Channel Ten’s The Project was also cited as an example of social media’s potential in fighting the scourge of domestic violence, with the youth-based news program looking to Twitter and Facebook to find victims to talk to.

Social media was also responsible for running US pick-up artist Julien Blanc — who advocated for violent methods such as choking, grabbing women’s heads and pushing them into his groin — out of the country, after the hashtag #takedownjulienblanc and almost 35,000 signatures on Facebook caught the attention of former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who cancelled Blanc’s visa.

Dr Simons also said that social media was instrumental in spreading Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech while “traditional media writers were utterly dismissive”.

“Social media — especially YouTube — allowed her voice to come through before the columns were even finished,” she said.

Social researcher Dr Lauren Rosewarne agrees that while social media has its shortcomings — “the internet allows for behaviours as manifested in trolling or the calibre that does not occur offline” — it’s also given women an opportunity to have a say and an audience in a way that traditional media has previously excluded.

Twitter campaign against domestic violence such as #WhyIStayed, #WhyILeft, #EverydaySexism and other social media conversations relating to marginalised issues have made traction around the world, spurring mainstream media into action.

However, she said sites such as RendezView, Women’s Agenda or Daily Life fare better if they have backing from a traditional media source, despite being online initiatives.

“These have been given a leg up by mainstream media, but still exist as these in-between spaces,” she told News Corp.

“If you want to be read widely, you still need traditional media’s help — look at The Hoopla, which closed a few weeks ago. Not being supported by a major media outlet was probably a factor.”