Is the media treating violence, rape too casually? Not exactly

The Balance Sheet

As I checked my Facebook updates recently, I came across a familiar but depressing post by journalist Dorothy Nakaweesi. “OMG! It’s so touching what women go through giving birth at night, without lights but midwives use a torch as a means of lighting in Soroti…”

I say familiar because stories of this country’s sick healthcare system are very common; the sobering statistics about our maternal
mortality (currently standing at an unacceptable 438 per 100,000 live births) are well publicised; the deplorable conditions under which mothers, especially in rural Uganda, give birth make frequent newspaper headlines. But this, like issues such as rape and defilement, never seem to go away.

Various reasons explain this. A keen Daily Monitor reader, however, told me the media has not done enough. He says the surveys by NGOs and Police crime reports we publish are simply cosmetic. What the country needs, he argues, is a sustained campaign by the media – beginning with giving more front-page coverage to what he calls “women issues”.

Another reader, Mr Cato Lund, a regular Daily Monitor Op-Ed contributor once wrote: “[Your newspaper] refers to a new report that has revealed that 20 per cent of city students are in the sex trade. Girls down to pre-teens are recruited into transactional sex. This comes on top of the survey published three-and-half years ago which showed that 40,000 girls in upper primary school were defiled annually by their teachers.

This information has not caused public uproar and tangible actions to do something about the underlying attitude towards girls and women. There is apparently a misinterpretation of Genesis 2, assuming that God made a mere toy for man out of Adam’s rib…

Almost 2000 years after Christ treated women as equals and St. Paul wrote that it was not a question of being man or woman because all were one in Christ, we should have reached further. It is more than 135 years since these values concerning treatment of women began to become Ugandan…But it seems that an older set of values tend to prevail.”

While some of the assertions in Mr Lund’s submission may be debatable, I agree that certain values influence the way society – and by extension newspapers – treat issues of women. This view reinforces an article by Lisa Shannon, founder of Run for Congo Women, published in the New York Times about her trip to eastern Congo in 2010, in which she quotes  an aid worker thus: “Foreign militias are gone. Just rapes and looting for the moment. No attacks.” It is shocking that such heinous crime is referred to as “just rapes”!

Many other incidents come to mind. I recall a man once reading a story of a girl who accused a musician of raping her; he laughed out loud and said “this one must have enjoyed being raped”, simply because the alleged offender is considered a “star”.

A few weeks ago, a friend told me her colleague joked, in the presence of many, that she deserved to be raped because, well, she’s not “easy to approach”. Both stories passed off as jokes, but these were crude jokes – whether they were targeted at women or men!

But there are people who see things differently. Like the first reader said, newspapers sometimes don’t treat stories of rape, violence against both women and men etc., as conventional news, opting for politics and corruption scandals.

As a newspaper, we still have work to do to but we do take these stories seriously. Beyond follow-ups to the seemingly small stories of rape and violence in villages where poor parents let offenders off the hook for negligible pennies, Daily Monitor gives what is often considered the non-conventional stories prominence. Our daily NEXT magazine comprehensively covers news features by giving a human face to ordinary news stories. But we can and should do more!

mvuchiri@ug.nationmedia.com
Twitter:  @MVuchiri