THE DARKNESS OF THE BLACK CHRONICLES: The editorial policy of Kosovar media needs a gender perspective

The news about the murder of Sebahate Morina in March this year shocked and frustrated many in Kosovo. It mobilized feminist activists to protest in the streets, where they reiterated for the umpteenth time that femicide is preventable and that the state is failing to protect women’s lives. When Dardan Krivaqa and Arbër Sejdiu left the dead body of Marigona Osmani at the Emergency Center in Ferizaj in August, activists took the streets once again, accompanied by many others, to demand justice and call on the state to end femicide, this invisible pandemic.

Had activists not reacted publicly to the two cases, these murders would have been just a short brief in the “dark chronicles” of Kosovar media. They would have earned some quick glances at the headlines but would not have garnered any real attention.

The outdated dark chronicles news section — “kronika e zezë” in Albanian and “crna hronika” in Serbian, literally “black chronicles” in English — is found in most regional news publications, most likely inherited from the old Yugoslav press era. It seems to be an adaptation of American and British crime reporting which has been around since the early days of journalism. Newspaper owners noticed how reporting on crime, due to its attention-grabbing nature, appealed to people’s curiosity for the grotesque and was easy to sensationalize. Meanwhile, associating the color black with the crime section further emphasizes the lurid and the scandalous, suffocating the news with sensation.

Today, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls. The news will report that some public events are taking place, that in the evening some iconic buildings and monuments were draped in orange to bring attention to gender-based violence. Business as usual.

We will hear and read calls for actions in education, in the judiciary, throughout the government — the message being that we all have to step up. However, there is another powerful sector — the media itself — that maintains and reproduces harmful narratives about how women and men should be seen, and which perpetuates all the wrong images and messages about gender.

The fact that gender-based violence is treated as news fit only for the dark chronicles shows that most Kosovar media lack a gender perspective in their editorial policies. Taking cases from police reports and publishing them as daily briefs without putting them into context turns a long history of oppression into a simple show of violence.

The murders of Sebahate Morina and Marigona Osmani, like any other femicide, and in truth like any other form of violence, are just normal pieces of news for the vast majority of Kosovar journalists and editors. They have become something to file next to other news that arouses curiosity, such as theft, car accidents, police raids and fines for minor offenses.

In fact, the dark chronicle section itself is controversial; the moment an article enters that box, its content becomes completely detached from any social and economic context, remaining nothing but a poor rewrite of a police report. For example, reports of stabbings between men for a parking space, not uncommon in the dark chronicles, only reinforce the idea that conflictual situations usually end in violence. This style of reporting leaves unconsidered the importance of discussing toxic masculinity and the economic and social context that enables its expression.

When an outlet is privately owned in its entirety the search for profit leads to uncritical and easy to digest content which has a purely commercial purpose. As a result, the sensational representation of crime in the dark chronicles becomes necessary content. There is a long-running debate about how dominant ideologies and political, economic and technological factors shape the selection and production of stories, including crime reporting, but while that debate continues, Kosovar media must first eliminate the dark chronicles section, or at least leave gender-based violence out of it.

The style of reporting in the dark chronicles excludes narratives of economic violence. The reality of gender-based violence requires detailed analysis on underlying power and economic relations. This would help a feminist public debate that is often limited to women’s rights organizations.

Instead, almost systematically, the media re-victimizes women either through language formulations: “A woman is killed…”, “A girl is raped …”, or through the illustration. Everyone has seen photographs, commonly used in the media, where the attention falls on the perpetrator, standing in an attack position while the woman covers her face with her hands. With this, women continue to be portrayed as helpless victims. Something as simple as a header reading “Man kills a woman,” unseen up to now, would place responsibility on the perpetrator and offer the victims the dignity they deserve.

From the categorization of these articles to the language and pictures used, newsrooms need to show that they understand that femicide is not simply an offense and that putting it in the frame of sensationalism and entertainment devalues women’s fundamental rights. The role of the media is not to give basic information about one more murder, but to dig in and bring attention to the economic inequalities of the institutionalized patriarchy that enable and facilitate the killing of women. In the list of those who have the duty to fight gender-based violence and femicide, the media are at the top.

Author: Dafina Halili

Feature image: Anete Lusina / CC

This article was originally produced for and published by Kosovo 2.0 within the framework of RDN 2.0 project. It has been re-published here with permission.

This article was produced based on the media monitoring done by the Reporting Diversity Network 2.0, with the financial support of the European Union, Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade.