On the Nigerian media, beyond gender stereotypes

By Patience Andrew

“We know that quality journalism is ethical journalism and that ethical journalism includes full and fair representation of the actions, opinions, concerns and aspirations of women around the world.” — Lavinia Mohr, World Association for Christian Communication (WCC) General Secretary.

News, beyond facts, highlights real-life experiences of people often victimized and dehumanized by those who should respect and protect the sources of these same news stories. Women in Nigeria repeatedly receive the brunt of stereotypes perpetuated by media outlets and journalists.

The word ‘gender’ is a social construct of a society’s culture and belief of what it considers masculine or feminine, it is different from the biological concept of sex which relates to one’s physical makeup. More so, gender refers to the social behaviour of human beings, and like any social construct, gender isn’t fixed, binary or final. However, there are many news reports from the Nigerian media that often portrays gender within the context of the female and this needs to be rightly understood. Although historically, gender has been associated with women’s movements and remains largely so till date, the term however now encompasses alternative forms of gender as well (i.e. Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals etc).

For the purpose of the Gender Reporting workshop put together for media professionals by TechHer NG in Abuja on the 6th and 7th of March 2020, I will restrict my writing to the female and how she should be portrayed in the Nigerian media drawing lessons from the workshop.

According to the Global Media Monitoring Projects, 2010, “76% of the people heard or read about in the world’s news are male. The world seen in news media remains largely a male one.’’ This goes to explain why most news reports of women in Nigeria are portrayed through the paradigms of men, either their spouses, relatives, or male perpetrators of heinous crimes against women and girls. The woman is almost invisible except seen through the lenses of some male figure even when she is the victim of a crime.

The workshop was aimed at creating and mobilizing demand for the fair and balanced portrayal of women in the media and had over 30 media professionals from different states in Nigeria who were trained on how to address gender-based stereotypes through balanced news reporting. It also provided guidelines on how to become a gender-sensitive reporter. The drawbacks of gender-insensitivity in reporting and language were also highlighted by the workshop facilitators Aisha Salaudeen and Dorothy Njemanze, who advised journalists to use gender-fair language in their reporting by using neutral terms (chairperson in place of chairman, a police officer in place of policeman etc) when addressing men and women.

A highlight from the workshop was the live sessions with victims of sexual assault from the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation. They shared their experience with how it’s frustrating for women to get justice in Nigeria. Those present at the workshop were then shown the appropriate ways to go about telling the stories of women in these circumstances, helping them seek justice and speaking out about their challenges. This experience was eye-opening, engaging, emotional and heart-wrenching as the silence in the room as these women spoke indicated.

Listening to survivors of rape share their experiences and how they would want their stories to be portrayed in the media amplified the human angle of news reporting, imbibing the value of truth over neutrality or balance, a debatable idea in the media profession. Media professionals are fact seekers working, to tell the truth in every issue they cover, and as such should report only the truth. By doing so, we should always respect their sources through a fair portrayal of women and men by eliminating all forms of stereotypes and erroneous gender classifications.

My take-home from the workshop is simple, realizing the need for a Gender Code of Ethics for the Media which should be adopted by all media organizations and reflected in news reports by journalists in Nigeria. This will help keep media professionals in check and accountable to one another when reporting gender-sensitive issues.

This story is part of a series highlighting the work of journalists who participated in TechHer’s Gender Reporting for Media Professionals Workshop. Find out more about Andrew Patience.