Not worth the news (women)

03 Feb 2019

BY BOITSHEPO BALOZWI

Listening to Media Studies lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB) Dr. Seamogano Mosanako analyzing the coverage on women and violence in the Botswana media conjures up an outré image of Batswana journalists trapped in a time warp: Punching away at their computer keyboard against a stone age setting where courtship involves men in loin cloths clubbing the objects of their desire on the head and dragging them into their caves.

Dr Mosanako says very little has changed in how the media depicts women and violence, particularly in mainstream news. For many years the media has consistently portrayed a one-lined, stereotypical narrative that women are to blame for the violence perpetuated against them: “Why did she go with a stranger? Why did she go with that person? We are still seeing the same narrative in the 21st Century, that of women being blamed.”

Mosanako acknowledges that the media is doing a good job in exposing these violations and cases of abuse however it is the news frames of these stories, and the language used that defeats the purpose. The #JusticeForZinedine, an anti-sexual abuse campaign which culminated in a flurry of young women publicly revealing their personal experiences of similar abuse on social media reflected the #MeToo #HearMeToo international movements. Media such as Botswana Television (BTV) also covered these stories from the social media pages and broadcast them on their platform.

The Botswana Gazette has also lately provided coverage motivated by a leaked audio tape with the voices of advocate and opposition politician, Sidney Pilane and aspiring female opposition politician, Sesame Nakedi. Mosanako observes that the societal profile of both these individuals, Pilane and Nakedi, conforms to news values of prominence and personification. Although there have been other cases of rape and sexual abuse as experienced by numerous other “ordinary women”, Pilane and Nakedi’s case generated public interest because their names are familiar to the public, they are known individuals and therefore deemed newsworthy. “News gathering principles are such that people who get coverage are individuals who are already prominent,” explains Mosanako, “I think it’s an issue of journalism practices and values. We probably should add another principle that emphasises focus on the issue, rather than the person.”

Current data, although limited shows that the most influential media in Botswana is radio, this according to a 2013 study on the growth of radio in Botswana as conducted by one of Mosanako’s colleague at the UB, Dr. William Lesitaokana. BOCRA also previously conducted an audience survey on people’s preferences in terms of access to media. Similarly in 2013 Kabelo Binns of Hotwire PRC presented through the Lilac Awards (media) the results of their second annual survey which had gauged the public’s perception of local media, “The few studies that have been done might be dated but other than that we don’t have anything specific.” In Mosanako’s observation Botswana is an interesting but divided society which has the “cosmopolitans” or those who are largely influenced by print and social media and have an opportunity to contribute to radio discussions and watch TV for the visual aspect. On the other hand there are those who live in the rural areas “people who are still reliant on radio” but would also like to access internet if not for issues of electricity connections, internet downtimes and data bundles being expensive, “I was recently in Ghanzi area on a USAF project visit, where we were checking remote areas access to broadcasting and broadband services, and I got the impression  that radio is still the dominant mass medium, although the communities are also showing interest in internet use,” she explains.

Mosanako goes back to the topic of women in media and juxtaposes the portrayal of Batswana women in media to the larger concept of patriarchy, the notion that men are the predominant members of society and that they hold the power and moral authority. She confirms that indeed the Botswana society is dominated by males, and the local media mirrors this male dominance in its news coverage and that it is only on rare “and not consistent occasions” such as the current rape revelations and allegations that women are used as sources, “Women have to be the news themselves, that is when you will likely find them as sources.” The UB lecturer also observes that despite there being a reasonably good number of women in influential positions in both government and corporate sectors, their voices are rarely heard in the media “unless the media has no choice but to interview a woman.” Her perception is that journalists and reporters prefer male sources and that there has to be a conscious choice made to use women as sources. In this case Mosanako is likely one of the very few women in Botswana with her educational credentials, experience and expertise, someone who can answer expertly to this specific story of Batswana women in the media, “Did you really have a choice but interview me?” she laughingly teases this reporter, “Apart from the fact that women are lacking in media coverage there are also different standards set for both genders. Sometimes I feel women are being given unattainable standards,” says Mosanako.

The Voice, a weekly tabloid is in comparison to others more likely to use women as sources in their stories and to give a women’s perspective on the issue. Mosanako attributes this to a concerted effort on the part of the leadership at the newspaper. The late Beata Kasale-Kabango, the founding publisher and CEO of The Voice was a champion of women’s rights who facilitated for female journalists to be empowered and hold worthy positions in the newsrooms. Her predecessor, the current Editor in Chief who is at the helm of the paper, Emang Bokhutlo continues this legacy, “If you look at The Voice’s structure, ownership and editorial team, women are dominating. It is part of their organizational culture to gender mainstream,” says Mosanako, “I think these are deliberate efforts by the publisher. We are not saying women should be treated with kids’ gloves but they should be given equal opportunities. And men need to be sensitized on gender matters,” she adds. 

This October 2019 the general elections are expected to be held and the media expert does not anticipate any new trends in news coverage particularly in context to women politicians; she foresees that women will get less coverage because they are a small number of women who will be campaigning, anyway, and that “…women will also be under-represented because of editorial decisions…” resulting in them being deemed uninteresting. Mosanako also anticipates that in the news coverage leading up to the elections women’s’ issues will be stereotyped and trivialized as has been the norm, “That focus on women’s outfits.” The lecturer uses the UK’s Theresa May as an example of progress in global women’s leadership, but emphasizes that the British Prime Minister is also likely receiving the same treatment from western media, as women politicians here, “Women around the world are still battling for their recognition. Women still have to prove what they say they are worth. This is a global concern and I don’t know what to do to improve the situation,” says Mosanako. The advent of social media has not improved the outlook either. In her observation social media does give women control over what they can post and share and the ability to “generate news.” Despite this, on social media women are likely to post information that further stereotypes them, using trends such as the “Ereng glow mo ngwaneng” or “My bundle of joy”. Mosanako explains that indeed women are feminine and it is part of their nature but her message is that women need to move towards the narrative “that goes beyond my look.”