‘Improve Broadcast Codes to Help Strengthen Gender Equality in Media’

By Nontobeko Mlambo

Credit: Google

The media has the power to influence, spread information and messages across countries and across the entire world, it is the most powerful sector that serves to inform, influence and entertain. As the world concludes the marking of the 30th anniversary of the Global 16 Days Campaign which raises awareness about gender-based violence, different media stakeholders discussed the role that the media plays in advancing gender equality in South Africa.

Panellists at the Strengthening the Regulation of Media for Gender Equality webinar discussed a research paper by Gender and Sexual Violence Researcher Gorata Chengeta, hosted by the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), UN Women, Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) and the Film and Publication Board (FPB).

Chengeta’s paper titled The Role of Regulatory Bodies and Financing Schemes in Addressing Gender-Based Violence Through Broadcast Media in South Africa looks at the roles of media regulatory bodies and financial schemes in addressing gender-based violence through the broadcast media.

“The main objective of the project was to review the landscape, what the media regulatory bodies are doing, what the finance schemes are doing to advance gender equality and make recommendations,” Chengeta said.

These regulatory bodies include the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA).

ICASA is the official regulator of the South African communications, broadcasting, and postal services sectors. It develops regulations for these sectors, issue licences to telecommunications and broadcasting service providers, protect consumers against unfair business practices and poor-quality services, among other services. The BCCSA is an Independent Judicial Tribunal established in 1993, it is a body corporate formed to promote freedom of speech, the free flow of information and the maintenance of high standards of broadcasting in South Africa.

“The code by these regulatory bodies have not been reviewed or updated since coming into effect, dating as far back as 2011,” Chengeta noted.

The research found that the current conduct by the BCCSA and ICASA do not reflect the full scope of gender-based violence as identified with a different form of violence as embedded in it, the codes have not been reviewed or updated since coming into effect and in some instances some of the things that were prohibited had not been defined in the definition clause of the document. Chengeta also found that the codes did not encourage broadcasters to depict any anti-GBV content or to promote any anti-GBV messaging beyond just prohibiting material from being broadcast.

“When the codes of conducts were created it was around the early 2000s and they did well in tackling forms of violence that were known about but since then the definition of GBV has changed and it now includes femicide, emotional abuse, economic abuse and reproductive abuse among others”, she says. She also says that some clauses use sexist language and recommends in her report that they be changed.

She makes several recommendations, one being that the BCCSA and ICASA as well as the Film and Production Board (FPB) should update the codes of conduct and guidelines regularly. She also says this can be achieved if a full spectrum of gender-based violence is addressed.

Questions and Answers

There is a regulatory framework, the SADC protocols which turn to have more comprehensive guidelines with regards to gender equality in the media, specifically even to the extent of explicitly mandating that the media should give equal voice to women, GCIS as the government entity that oversees government communicators, do you have any codes and guidelines that give voice to women?

Sandile Nene, Chief Director for the Government Communication and Information System:
We have norms and standards that guide all our communicators from national governments to provincial departments. One of the things we have done recently is to ensure that all our writers, one of the functions of information provisions are to ensure that you write some of the information through our different social media and newspaper platforms. They have all been trained,  we want to balance the understanding of gender sensitivity so that content that comes from the government is balanced. We do not want to cause any harm through our communication strategies. For the future what we are trying to do is that that system, that code, that training must also be expanded to all the provinces, to all the municipality communicators. One of the undertakings that we have made is that the primary function of GCIS is to profile at least four of the five major priorities in government which are anti-corruption, Covid-19, the economic recovery plan and the fourth one which is important, is around GBV. With time with the infusion of the different definitions that are coming up, we will make sure that this is done but I must stress that at the heart of what we are trying to do as this administration is to deal with GBV as one of our priorities.

According to the research, it is recommended that the BCCSA should review and update codes of conduct and guidelines regularly, is this suggest something that is doable and realistic looking at the members that you have?

Adv. Sunette Lotter: BCCSA Acting Chairperson:
I think our code of conduct has stood the test of time, but the constitution can be changed, the code can be changed as well. The most important thing to remember is that the BCCSA is not prescriptive, we are reactive, so we react when someone complains, and the complainant feels that in their view the code has been infringed.  When we say the code is exempt, it mostly applies to dramas and soapies where there are complaints, and it must be looked at in a context to see where the code was infringed. When a drama is exempted is when there is a correction at the end of the programme, the storyline may be about the abuse but there is a correction at the end. Complaints we have received this year (2021) about GBV, we have had 62 complaints and all the programmes were soapies or dramas. Normally once the broadcaster has responded to the complaint, the broadcaster explains what happened and normally the complainants are satisfied. It’s a principled approach taking into consideration all these things that might happen.

As far as whether the code should be amended, we can look at it again because it the basic principles that do not necessarily need to be changed too often because it is interpreted in context as I said and it is taken into consideration what is prevalent at the moment in society. It is important that we should remember that freedom of expression is at the heart of our democracy and we do not want to put things in place that will eventually turn around and not do what we think they should do. I know the research mentioned conduct that is degrading but those terms and terminology are interpreted in terms of the context and the society that we live in.

There were several recommendations made about financial schemes that there is funding specifically for GBV content programming or films and things like gender-sensitive training and ensuring that there is gender parity what sort of interventions are there already in place at the NFEF?

Onke Dumeko, Acting HOD of Operations at the National Film and Video Foundation:
I would agree but I think the key thing is the approach, I think one of our biggest challenges is the fact that the industries that we serve, the perception of them is not necessarily what we would like it to be, in a sense that there are these lingering perceptions that the industries are not formalised enough. With those perceptions that linger,  it makes it difficult to engineer the types of things that we want to do and institute that people or practitioners adhere to them. Even when you look at the industry that we service for instance as the NFVF there are codes of conduct supported but to get production companies to really adhere to them, it is almost as if they must face some type of public potentially embarrassing situation retaliate who are not necessarily aligned with gender-related matters and continue to be perpetrators of those. It is almost as if though the practitioners we should depend on need to get to a point where their backs are against the wall for them to look at the code of conduct not only to just have a piece of paper that should collect dust as the structure that protects any organisation and besides protecting the organisation gives them the skills and the knowledge and the understanding of how to approach any gender-based violence related matter and what interventions to implement and processes to follow. It is one thing to have terminology lingering around but then the question becomes what are the practical interventions that need to take place and how do we see those through.

I think one of our biggest challenges is us getting to the point whereas a collective we find an absolute temperative where we hold ourselves to these coded of conduct because they are really there to drive a more sustainable industry in a sense that you have the type of participation of women which is at the level where women feel comfortable enough to be the industry and right now that is a huge challenge that we have, where you have women who are highly skilled, highly employable but always face sexual misconduct challenges without some of their personal wishes and wants that kicks them out of the industry because of the perceived lack of support and interventions that protect them in the industry. The one thing that is going to shift participation in this industry and as a country is once we get to the point where we are having a discussion but understanding the economic impact of GBV.

There was a study that the GIZ did which indicated that the current socio-economic reality is fast out passing our regulations, how do we insure that the FPB classification guideline remains relevant and, please explain how FPB contributes to protecting women and children.

Laurie Less, Shared Services Executive at the Film and Publication Board:
Our mandate regulatory mandate covers the recreation, distribution and consumption of media content, which includes games as well as other media like artwork, publication, etc with very specific limitations. You cannot undermine the role of mass media in the construction of gender stereotypes, gender roles and diversity and our right to human dignity which is protected by law in the country by the constitution, other pieces of law, the Bill of Rights and the children’s activities as well. Given that we have such a very strong and powerful legislative space from the work that we do and specifically the FPB, our work is largely guided by the constitution, many women children and the LGBTGIA+ community tend to suffer abuses at the hands not just of perpetrators, cyberbullying. We also have a child protection unit that a lot of South Africans do not know about that very important piece of work we do. Last year alone there were 23 suspected child sexual abuse material cases that were referred by the South African Police Services to the FPB, three of those were carried over from the prior year, 10 of those cases or almost 50% came from the Gauteng, 7 of those came from the Western Cape and 2 cases were from Limpopo. Out of those 23 material cases, this amounts to 733 810 images that had to be analysed by a small team of 2/3 people and we found 3.7% of child sexual abuse material in those 733 810 pieces of content. This is what they do daily and it is to look and monitor the deep, dark web as well as to assess these materials as professionally trained employees.

Source: allafrica.com

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