Original article (in Bosnian) was published on 15/11/2022
The recent case of femicide in Tuzla was reported unprofessionally by the media in BiH, again downplaying the seriousness of the problem.
Media from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region have been reporting on the murder and suicide committed in Tuzla on November 13, 2022, when Salko Mehmedovic killed his wife using a firearm and then shot himself.
Many media reported on this case of femicide inappropriately and in a way that trivialises and relativises gender-based violence. In articles published on dozens of web portals, this case was described as a “family tragedy” or a tragedy caused by “family disputes”.
A terrible family tragedy in Tuzla: He killed his wife, then shot himself in the head! (24 sedam)
The focus of reporting on the murder and suicide in Tuzla was the perpetrator. Many articles are devoted to the details of his life, the fact that he was awarded the Golden Lily war award, and that he is the father of a player from FK Sloboda. Nothing is mentioned about the murdered wife in these articles – not even her name.
Violence and femicide, not “family disputes” and “tragedy”
This case of femicide is another in a series of cases of gender-based violence in BiH that received inadequate media attention.
Femicide is defined as killing a woman or a girl because of gender. The term is used to describe the killing of women committed by their intimate partners or family members and gender-motivated killings in certain communities.
In an article published by the Radio Free Europe web portal on August 2020, it is stated that 56 women were murdered in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2015 to 2020 and that the perpetrators were mostly husbands or extramarital partners. Despite this, femicide is still not legally defined in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Lana Jajcevic, a lawyer at the “Duga” United Women’s Foundation, told Radio Free Europe more about femicide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, explaining that in most cases, femicide occurs after prolonged violence.
When it comes to aggravated murder, that is, femicide-murder of a wife, which occurred in most cases as a result of the long-term suffering of violence, we have situations where the courts qualify it as domestic violence because it is a milder punishment and not as aggravated murder, for what is a possible prison sentence of up to 45 years. The Convention of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the so-called Istanbul Convention, to which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a signatory, defines femicide as a more serious form of murder that is taken as an additional aggravating circumstance when sentencing the perpetrator.
Partner violence, that is, violence in the family, is a deep-rooted and widespread problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to data from the Agency for Gender Equality, every third woman in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a victim of domestic violence, and every second woman over the age of 15 has experienced some form of physical, psychological or economic abuse.
Unfortunately, media reporting on this topic in a significant number of cases practically relativises violence instead of pointing out the problem, which was repeated with the reporting of the case from Tuzla.
Media reporting on gender-based violence – from a problem to a solution
In two analyses, Raskrinkavanje drew attention to the recommendations on reporting on gender-based violence, published by the UN Women agency in 2016. The analysis from August 2020 states the following:
The conclusion of the UN Women research from 2016 is that the problem of inadequate access to femicide and violence against women in general is also present in media coverage. It states that BiH media report on gender-based violence often but superficially. These are mostly articles dealing with specific cases, while deeper analyses of this social problem are sporadic. Superficial reporting is also reflected in focusing on the perpetrators, which often results in an unethical approach to the topic. In such cases, men are the subjects of the media story, which is presented from their point of view.
Instead of informing or sensitising the public, reporting on this problem turns into “hunting for clicks” through a sensationalist approach to creating media content.
The analysis from January 2021 contains a series of instructions for the media on how to report on sexual violence but also on other forms of gender-based violence, such as partner violence. It is stated that reports should not trivialise violence using clickbait headlines and a sensationalist tabloid approach and that language that romanticises and conceals violence should not be used.
Also, in media reports, it is inappropriate to “represent” the abuser:
Unlike any other criminal act, there is a tendency among a large number of media outlets that in cases of even the most extreme violence against women, such as murder – especially if it was committed by a member of their family or a partner – “inquire in the neighbourhood” about the perpetrator and then publish a series of testimonies that the abuser was a kind and good neighbour, who “we would never have thought was capable of doing such a thing”. Among the many variations on this theme are articles about professional successes, being liked by colleagues, and even “mourning” the broken career of a bully.
Such articles often look as if they were written by the defence attorney, whose job it is to find extenuating circumstances to get his client acquitted or given a lighter sentence. There is no reason for journalists to do this work for them and encourage readers to identify with the bully by reporting on his habits, hobbies and “good sides”.
A 2016 UN publication states that the media should continuously work to raise awareness of gender-based violence against women, with certain guidelines that can help with this. Among other things, the media should deal more proactively with this topic by using longer forms of journalism, refraining from sensationalism and encouraging women to talk about violence, and giving space to experts (sociologists, psychologists, social workers ) and reminding more often about the punishments for bullies.
In 2019, the web portal Prometej wrote about the numerous shortcomings of media coverage of femicide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their article states:
The role of the media in the social problem of gender-based violence and femicide as its most extreme form should be clear: raising public awareness and contributing to the fight against violence and gender stereotypes on which violence is based. However, judging by the coverage of cases of femicide last year, the BiH media are part of the problem, not the solution, because of what they write and what they don’t write.
Regarding the cases of femicide last year, a good part of the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina reported only as individual incidents in the black chronicle, sensationally revealing the identity and photos of the victim, encroaching on her privacy and presenting information that is not of public interest, tendentially writing about the past of the victims, citing neighbours’ speculations as relevant, often blaming the victim for suffering previous violence, but not the environment for tolerating it.
At the same time, the media failed to name the murder of a woman as femicide, and gender-based violence as gender-based violence, to publish thematic articles on the social problem of violence against women and the obligation to report violence and did not specify the SOS phone numbers to which violence can be reported, nor in any other way encourage people who are currently experiencing violence to seek help.
Three years later, femicide and partner violence are still widespread problems in BiH society. Institutions show no signs of serious planning of work on improving the protection of women and girls from this type of violence. The media continue to approach the topic unprofessionally and sensationally. After numerous recommendations, educational activities and appeals, they mostly continue to be part of the problem, and it seems that there is still a lot of work to be done before they become part of the solution.