New study reveals widespread discrimination against women in the Serbian media

To map out media practices and assess the overall quality of reporting on violence against women and girls on social media, UN Women joined forces with the BeFem non-governmental organization (NGO) to conduct an analysis entitled, ‘Bad as usual, in unusual times’ with the support of Norwegian embassy in Belgrade.

Date: Monday, July 26, 2021

The public on social media was engaging on these posts without prior critical thinking. As a result, the laughing emoticon was used 949 times as a reaction to posts about cases of violence against women. Photo: Jovana Zdjelarevic/UN Women in Serbia
The public on social media was engaging on these posts without prior critical thinking. As a result, the laughing emoticon was used 949 times as a reaction to posts about cases of violence against women. Photo: Jovana Zdjelarevic/UN Women in Serbia

The global increase in domestic violence amid the COVID-19 health crisis has reflected in the media with women often encountering stereotypes that perpetuate gender discrimination in both traditional and social media. In Serbia, as many as three-quarters of the posts on social media about violence against women revealed the victim’s identity. This is according to the recent study conducted by the BeFem NGO with the support of UN Women in Serbia and the Norwegian embassy in Belgrade on reporting on violence against women on social media.

"Common mistakes are using the victim’s initials, revealing some of her whereabouts and other details from her private life that are easily traceable in smaller urban and rural areas. This is very dangerous knowing how quickly any information can spread in the online world and become viral," said Milana Rikanovic, head of UN Women office in Serbia, adding that the media should be our allies in creating a world free from violence.

The analysis, which is the first of its kind in the country, covers the state of emergency period in Serbia introduced to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, from 15 March to 6 May 2020. It focuses on the social media platforms of the mainstream media.

Coverage of violence against women on social media in Serbia was extensive in this period. However, explicitly situating violent experiences for women within a broader social context was infrequent. Few posts included information for women on where to seek help.

The analysis also showed that the articles, especially in the tabloids, contain sensationalist or stereotypical expressions referring to violence and women. Terrible, shocking, outrageous and horrific were the most frequently used words to describe the situation of violence.

“The characteristics of tabloid reporting can be seen in the style of writing with the extensive use of adjectives, punctuation, capital letters, bombastic titles, etc., selected photographs and the presence of gender stereotypes. On the contrary, non-tabloid media showed, in most cases, nonbiased approach in reporting, answering to key questions – who, what, when, where, why, and using clear language, without the adjectives,” the analysis states.

The perpetuation of gender stereotypes is present in all analyzed media, however non-tabloid media tend to challenge gender stereotypes more often than tabloid ones. The articles that confirm the stereotypes are twice as present as the ones that challenge them.

Additionally, the public on social media was engaging on these posts without prior critical thinking. As a result, the laughing emoticon was used 949 times as a reaction to posts about cases of violence against women.

To improve the overall quality of reporting on violence against women and girls, the analysis also provides a set of recommendations tackling privacy issue, administration of comments, professionalism, and the like. The analysis is set to serve as a baseline for designing relevant trainings and other future work with the media.