How news reporting on femicides in Turkey is part of the problem

By Mina Tumay

Femicides in Turkey have been on a drastic rise in the past decade, however with COVID-19 related restrictions in place, cases of gender-based violence and femicides in Turkey have seen a worrying increase in the past six months. Comparing March 2019 to March 2020, there has been a 38.2% increase in cases of domestic violence in Turkey.

According to a Turkish digital tribute platform, in 2020 so far, 264 women have died as a result of gender-based violence. Sixty-two percent of the victims were killed by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends; 28 percent by other male relatives, while a smaller proportion of 10 percent were killed by stalkers, neighbours or others. The last category also includes men the victim has never previously met before they deciding to commit the murder.

As a consequence of the rising numbers, global social media protests broke out late July with the #ChallengeAccepted hashtag trending worldwide, encouraging women to post black and white photos of themselves to highlight how femicides don’t discriminate, and the next victims could be any of them. The protests also criticised the Turkish legal system, which often allows offenders to get reduced sentences if they display signs of regret in court or dress smartly. The hashtag also urged Turkish officials to remain a signatory of the Istanbul Convention, a human rights treaty protecting women’s rights.

For all the international attention, the way Turkish media outlets and newspapers report on the topic of femicides remains extremely problematic. The words they choose to use and the approaches they take contribute to the bigger problem.

A Turkey-based women’s film collective called Filmmor has researched how femicide appears in Turkish media outlets and newspapers. Following The Conference on Urgent Action to Stop Femicide held in Istanbul, they helped start a campaign called ‘Femicide is Preventable’ and prepared a guide for Turkish media on how to report on femicides.

In this guide, they emphasise that femicides should be reported on with consideration of their political significance. They are political and ideological offenses that feed on the patriarchal discourse of society, while the government continues to undermine them instead of treating them as a systematic problem.

Femicide is defined by the World Health Organisation by asking the question of “if the victim was a man, would he still be killed?” If the answer is no, it is femicide. Because women are killed due to the simple reason that they are “women”, femicides are a political issue. Despite this, even the most seemingly liberal and left-wing newspapers often word articles from an alarmingly patriarchal point of view.

Government-backed and opposition media outlets are both guilty of unethical reporting of gender-based violence. We see a pattern of victim-focused, murder-excusing, melodramatic reporting styles that often disclose more information about the victim and the subtext than the offender, and that fail to give context to the crimes, or show how femicide is the last act of control in a relationship. They also often lack additional resources for women who might be suffering gender-based violence, or those who might be at risk, and for those who might be able to support them.

Data shows that 60% of femicides appear on the 3rd page of Turkish newspapers. In Turkey, this page is usually  so full of tragedies from knife crimes and car accidents, to shootings and sexual violence that news of this nature has been named ‘3rd-page news’ – not to be confused with the Page 3 journalism of the English-speaking world focusing on celebrity news.

Three types of news surrounding gender-based violence are reported on in Turkish press: news directly reporting details of the femicides, news on the legal process that follows, and news on organised protests often criticising the legal action taken, or mostly the lack of it. Where articles focus on the crime, they tend to sensationalise events, using click-bait headlines for online articles, and a tone that describes the details rather than the significance, effectively turning the killing into a form of a pornography of violence, not sparing any graphic details of the murder. This type of news reporting most of the time lacks the much-needed criticism of authorities, and neglects to outline the weaknesses of the legal process. The cases only start getting attention from newspapers and media outlets when social-media based organisations like the We Will Stop Femicides Platform start circulating photos and hashtags demanding justice.

A specific example of problematic reporting is when a part of the offender’s testimony is used as the headline. For anyone simply skimming the story,  the headline is what they are most likely to recall.  It should not be based on the offender’s testimony, as the victim is not alive to defend herself against the accusations. Using these excuses as headlines contributes to the idea that they are legitimate, while 55% of excuses stated are separation, rejection, jealousy, virtue. Some examples of this that Filmmor cites are from opposition newspapers Sözcü and Haberturk: “She cheated on me with my brother” (Sözcü, 23.12.2014) and “I was bedbound when she brought another man home” (Haberturk.com, 19.01.2015). These pretexts are often put forward by the offender (and readily taken up by media outlets) to distort public conscience leading up to the legal process.

Reporters are also normalising the reasons behind femicides and contributing to the bigger problem. They often don’t acknowledge that femicide is the last act in a pattern of violent behaviour, following cases of gender-based and domestic violence that remain unreported. While reporting on such cases could act as a deterrent, it would also raise awareness on the different ways gender-based violence occurs before a femicide happens.

Newspapers and journalists can play an important role in bringing about change and helping prevent femicides, but first they need to recognise and report them as the political and societal problem they are. They need to do so with context and in a way that shows the scale of the problem, and offers resources to others who might be experiencing domestic violence. Incidents should be reported on the first page of newspapers and the home page of online platforms in a thorough way among all the other pieces of political news.

Newspapers should take more responsibility while reporting directly on femicides, as they have an impact on public opinion and can easily shape an individual’s views. Reporters should also hold themselves accountable to keep the public informed on the case following the femicide, reporting on the legal process and point out its flaws where necessary, as well as including news on protests criticising both the legal process and the legal system in general. Journalists should use their platforms as a way of calling out the problematic legal system instead of turning femicides into melodramas, because the femicide victims of Turkey deserve better than to die a second death in the hands of a patriarchal media.

Main image from Shutterstock: Antalya / Turkey – 09.27.18

Author photo

Mina Tumay is a freelance journalist and photographer from Istanbul. She graduated from King’s College London in 2019 with a BA in Liberal Arts (Majoring in Film and Minoring in Politics), and is currently finishing up an MA in International Journalisms at SOAS. She enjoys storytelling more than anything in the world and often writes about many topics ranging from women’s rights and politics to sustainability and film.