Media coverage of femicide and violence against women and girls more generally can play a powerful role in shaping and reinforcing societal understandings of these types of violence. While the relationship between media content and public understandings is a complex one, research on audiences suggests that media portrayals foster and reinforce perceptions of, and attitudes toward, violent crime (Anastasio & Costa, 2004; Roberts & Doob, 1990). Media can also influence the political and policy agenda concerning criminal justice (Doyle, 2003). For these reasons, it is important to develop an understanding of how femicide is represented in Canadian news media, including how victims and perpetrators are portrayed. Tracking and analyzing this coverage is a first step to understanding how these portrayals work to perpetuate and maintain the risk of femicide for women and girls. For example, important questions include who gets to construct these events for the public and what narratives are dominant. From here, we can work to encourage news coverage that provides insight into the complexity of these events and does justice to those lives lost to femicide.
News coverage of femicide has changed in recent decades, but not sufficiently to represent this violence as part of a larger social problem of violence against women and entrenched gender inequalities (Fairbairn and Dawson, 2013). Media coverage is public by definition, and can raise the visibility of important issues, shape everyday understandings, facilitate dialogue, and serve as catalysts for change. It also represents one of the most transparent sites for examination of dominant attitudes and beliefs held by society’s members.
Despite this, there continues to be a paucity of systematic research examining the way in which Canadian media covers, represents, and talks about femicide. The limited research that exists has observed news tendencies such as sparse and dehumanizing coverage of Indigenous women and girls and other marginalized groups (Gilchrist, 2010; Jiwani and Young, 2006). Media coverage of femicide has helped to create public awareness, but misinformation (including the selection of only some information for the public), a heightened focus on some forms of femicide and not others, combined with negative stereotypes about women and girls continue to be identified.
To respond to the above need for further research, one key priority for the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability will be to begin to identify, highlight and examine how femicides are portrayed in the media and how these portrayals contribute to everyday understandings of femicide as one form of violence against women and girls. The goal is to confront biases, and the societal silence that surrounds violence against women so that we can begin to improve prevention efforts and increase access to support and safety for survivors.
In the coming months, international and national research examining the way in which media represents femicide will be featured here, including innovative ways that various media outlets have been working to improve their coverage. In addition, as the research activities of the CFOJA unfold, they will be featured here as well.
Anastasio, P. A., & Costa, D. M. (2004). Twice hurt: How newspaper coverage may reduce empathy and engender blame, Sex Roles, 50, 535-542.
Doyle, A. (2003). Arresting Images: Crime and Policing in Front of the Television Camera. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Fairbairn, J., and Dawson, M. (2013). Canadian News Coverage of Intimate Partner Homicide: Analyzing Changes Over Time. Feminist Criminology, 8(3), 147–176.
Gilchrist, K. (2010). “Newsworthy” victims? Exploring differences in Canadian local press coverage of missing/murdered Aboriginal and white women. Feminist Media Studies, 10, 373-390.
Jiwani, Y., & Young, M. L. (2006). Missing and murdered women: Reproducing marginality in news discourse. Canadian Journal of Communication, 31, 895-917.
Roberts, J. V., & Doob, A. N. (1990). News media influences on public views of sentencing. Law and Human Behavior, 14, 451-468.