Interpretation of representations of macho violence in television news programmes
Inmaculada Postigo Gómez [CV] [ ORCID] Professor and researcher. Universidad de Málaga (Spain) firstname.lastname@example.org
Historically and to this day, women still face conditions of inequality in relation to men. We live in a patriarchal and androcentric system in which the conception of what is generically human is identified with masculinity, with males holding unlawfully the symbolic and material powers, and with women and femininity placed in the sexed variant of humanity. The demands of women to stop being considered the otherness of what is human and therefore to modify the patriarchal social order, provokes the resistance of men as a social group, both individually and collectively, often resulting in the exercise of violence against women by men.
Several studies carried out in the last two decades, including Sau (1996), Lagarde (1997), Barberá (1998), the Spanish Instituto de la Mujer (2000) and Varela (2012), agree that the behaviours of people build social roles, and that this is usually built around prejudice and stereotypes, based on which the media’s discourse, even if in an unintentional way, can contribute to their social perpetuation and reproduction.
On the basis of the fundamental objective of our work, which is to provide conclusions on the news treatment of gender-based violence in Andalusian public television, addressing how these representations are received, this work will focus on the following two specific objectives:
1.2. Theoretical framework
Before analysing the news treatment of violence in the media, it is necessary to address the problem of what we mean by gender-based violence, which is a term with different definitions.
To this end, it is essential to take into account the scope that we give to the concept. From a restricted viewpoint, violence is, sometimes, only understood as acts of physical aggression between individuals. In this line, the term will be defined as “the intentional use of physical force against an individual, with the purpose of hurting, abusing, stealing, humiliating, dominating, insulting, torturing, destroying or killing” (Rojas Marcos, 1995).
But this narrow definition raises at least two problems. The first one is that it leaves out other types of coercion that are less visible but no less serious (symbolic violence and psychological violence). The second problem has to do with the focus of the definition on individual cases and in isolation, not looking at the issue of gender-based violence as a social and global problem.
To overcome these problems, different authors propose broader concepts:
Michel Maffesoli when making reference to totalitarian violence (1982); Slavoj Zizek when talking about objective violence, which can be generated not only by physical strength but also by symbolic violence and systemic violence (Zizek, 2010); Susan George, who highlights violence as an impossibility to achieve basic needs (in Saimi, cited by Tortosa, 1994); Johan Galtung, who speaks of the presence of violence when “humans are influenced so that their emotional, somatic and mental relations are below their potential achievements” (1995: 314-315).
In opposition to the restricted definition, such an extensive view does not allow us to focus on those important and notable aspects and which we must emphasise when talking about violence against women.
For this task we can adopt the classification established by Galtung (1998), whose proposal also introduces the need to observe the greater or lesser visibility of violence.
The author distinguishes three types of violence: direct, structural and cultural.
Direct violence is the physical or verbal act performed to exercise control, and it usually occurs in asymmetric relationships. It encompasses different demonstrations, although the most visible is the one that leaves physical consequences, and is away from the established social norms. It can be exercised by individuals, groups or states, and on the same line the receiver can be any of them.
Structural violence is generated within the social system and paradoxically acts as a stabilising element that ensures its maintenance. It may come from the personality of each individual (internal) or from society as a whole (external):
Cultural violence is reproduced primarily in the symbolic realm. It has to do with religious beliefs, cultural productions, traditions, languages, etc. and its objective is the justification and legitimation of structural violence (both internal and external) to make such violence appear as normalised actions.
Throughout this cycle, often, the direct and therefore most visible type of violence is related to the previous exercise of structural violence, whose justification also derives from cultural violence. In that vein, in order to eradicate direct violence, we must attack the other two types of violence.
Currently, the violence that is exercised as a result of the patriarchal culture receives different names. The choice between one or another term is not trivial, since the discrepancies reflect differences in the way in which the phenomenon is understood in all its complexity. What are the causes? Who are responsible for it? What type of violence is exercised? What solutions are proposed? These are guidelines that may be patent in the simple choice of a one word or another when it comes to naming these actions since they particularly highlight any of these aspects.
“Masculine violence” (violencia masculine): proposes that the generic construction of masculinity is the sole responsible of the exercise of this violence, leaving out other more complex aspects from which these behaviours also derive and which also need to be examined.
However, its use may be confused when it is related to the term “sexual violence” which has another meaning and refers to the sexual component of the act of aggression (violation, abuse, etc.)
“Domestic or intra-family violence”: it makes special emphasis in the space where it is exercised and the type of relationship between the subjects, and confines it to the private sphere. This term refers to acts of which not only women or female partners are victims (although they are in most cases), but it also includes aggressions from parents to children. The problem of this definition derives from the fact that by locating the cause of the problem in the family or home, we relegate its solution to the private sphere, making invisible both the perpetrator and the victim and ignoring the fact that it is a social problem. Thus, it merges the space where the attacks take place with its origin, considering that the abuse against women is the result of a private environment where there may be conflicts that lead to violent acts. Violence becomes then an intimate problem among adults in which responsibility for its eradication is placed on the affected subjects and not on society, which does not have to overcome this barrier. In addition, and as a result, the use of the adjective “domestic” can suggest connotations about the problem as something trivial or insignificant.
“Gender-based violence”: in 2004 Spain passed the Organic Law 1/2004, of 28 December, on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender-based Violence (Medidas de Protección Integral contra la Violencia de Género), so we could say that this was the year when the use of this phrase spread normatively to refer this type of violence. However, despite this, its adoption has caused and continues to cause controversy. It is considered by some authors as an incorrect translation of the English term “gender violence”, which was coined by English-speaking feminists in the 1960s. Detractors of the term argue that in Spanish gender is defined and refers exclusively to a grammatical class that differentiates three types of words: masculine, feminine and neutral. The Royal Spanish Academy (composed by nearly 93% of men) indicates that it is an anglicism that has no place in the Spanish language.
However, the truth is that nowadays the concept of gender is broader than the definition offered by the dictionary, and it is socially accepted to refer to the cultural construction that determines the different behaviours of men and women and that is not based on biological (sexual) differences. In this line, talking about gender-based violence implies focusing on the fact that violence is the result of the social construction of masculinity and femininity, which allows us to understand that we are faced with a type of violence that despite being exercised ultimately on an individual basis, is the result of the situation of discrimination caused by the hegemonic patriarchal social structure. In the same vein, in recent times the literature has begun to generalise the use of the term “macho violence” (violencia machista), which also puts the spotlight on the patriarchal origins of the violence, and at the same time avoids the use of the anglicism.
As we can see and based on the previous observations, it is very important to choose the term right when it comes to naming the phenomenon. “Gender-based violence” and “domestic violence” are not the same, as the first puts the emphasis on the fact that all the receivers of violence are women as a result of the patriarchal society, and the second refers to a space and a kind of kinship relations. The use and confusion between the terms used in an interested manner contributes to the maintenance of the social consideration of abuse towards women as another form of violence. When both concepts merge into one, the result is the concealing of the fact that the abuse is exercised against women just for being women, as pointed out by the Organic Law in his explanatory statement:
This makes it difficult for violence against women to be visible in the public space, and maintains it in the privacy of the home, encouraging the prejudice that it is a problem that must be solved in private. The use of the term violence gender-based violence or macho violence, on the other hand, reveals the social and cultural, not biological or private, foundation of this aggression as a result of the different positions that men and women occupy in our society.
1.2.2. Types of gender-based violence
As we have just seen in the preceding section, it is very important to choose carefully the term that we are going to give to these acts, but once this aspect has been decided, we must now ask ourselves what kind of acts are we talking about when we talk about gender-based violence or macho violence, and what kind of attacks can and cannot be considered under this terms, because this will determine what units of analysis are and are not taken into consideration in the universe of this research.
In the final Declaration of the United Nations at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995),
“The term violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results of is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”
Therefore, gender-based violence can adopt, among others, the following forms:
a) physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rapes, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs (Beijing, 1995).
According to the previous, at least three categories are clear when talking about types of violence of macho violence, namely, physical violence, sexual violence and psychological violence, although these categories do not specify what other types of acts can also be considered acts of gender-based violence.
Despite the clarity of these types of gender-based violence, we must observe that not all of them receive the same attention. In the majority of cases, the media, institutions, research studies, and society itself, refer only to acts of physical violence, especially those concerning rape and murder. This does not deny that there are other types of gender-based violence that are not physical, but the truth is that the attention paid to them is not enough.
1.2.3. Gender-based violence in the Spanish media
The media play a fundamental role in the visibility of gender-based violence. According to Concha Fagoaga (1994 and 1999), the arrival of women to positions of responsibility in the world of journalism was when this problem began to form an important part of the news agenda of the media.
The diversity that exists in the media in terms of interests, political and economic positions, among others, makes messages to have to meet two ends difficult to reconcile. The first one responds to the need for news to have a serious treatment and in accordance with the seriousness of the events, and the second is related to the business interests of the medium which can lead to spectacle and sensationalism, representing the phenomenon based on gender stereotypes.
However, we can say that the emergence and evolution in the treatment of these news by the media has not obeyed only to criteria of media interest or audiences, but that it has been achieved by the process of institutionalisation and legitimation of the social denunciation of this phenomenon, its exit from the private sphere and the its discussion in the public arena. This has been possible thanks to feminist groups, NGOs, and other civil and governmental institutions that support women. Thus, the transition from the private to the public sphere has led what was previously perceived as isolated and individual events to be perceived as a social problem.
Therefore, we can say that today, in addition to the exposure of the problem itself, the media has adopted an attitude of complaint that encourages public debate and the search for solutions, providing figures, statements by experts, court judgments, statistics, etc., rejecting any sexist declaration or action that legitimises violence. But while this is the trend, women are still facing negative treatments.
This can be because despite all, there is still not enough specialisation among journalists and the self-regulation codes that exist still have huge loopholes or are not are applied.
When analysing the content of the mass media and the reception of the message, we can choose between quantitative or qualitative approaches. This study uses qualitative approaches and data collection and analysis tools because that is what we need to obtain detailed and in-depth results, not rounded numbers that do not help us understand the process of reception and the construction of opinions in people.
To achieve our research objectives, we have chosen the focus group method, which incorporates a key element to understand the complexity of the media discourse around gender-based violence and how the public receives these messages (Llopis, 2004). The flexibility of this dynamic, and the spontaneous and relaxed environment in which it develops, together with its depth and nuances, make it the ideal research tool to achieve our goals, and not only to unravel the different perceptions of the audiovisual discourses, but also to register the influence of cultural variables related to macho violence. However, there are other research techniques that complement the focus group method and are also necessary because they allow us to identify the different patterns of the discourse developed in TV news programmes, as well as the production patterns in which these discourses are generated.
Our framework of study (Andalusia and its public television network: RTV) determined the selection of the members of the focus groups: residents of Andalusia, and with profiles that represent the social and demographic diversity of the autonomous region. Therefore, we organised six focus groups according to two differentiating criteria: gender and geographical location, in order to address the diversity of socio-demographic profiles.
In the different focus groups, men and women were separated to prevent participants of other sex from provoking any kind of conditioning to free opinion.
With regards to the criterion of geographical location, we selected three different areas: one eminently urban area, an average city that encompassed activities and dynamics from urban and rural areas, and another a strictly rural area. In this way, and taking into account the number of inhabitants and the distribution of Andalusia, we formed two focus groups (one of formed by men and one by women) in each of the following locations:
The sessions were held on 7 and 8 April 2014 in Málaga, on 2 June in Chiclana, and on 3 June in Gilena. Regarding the composition of each group, we established a minimum of six and a maximum of ten participants (Llopis, 2004; Grunig, 1990; Bisquerra, 2004), with the aim of promoting dialogue and the sharing of different positions while preserving the agility of the sessions.
In the search for complementarity of points of view and experiences from an intergenerational perspective, we decided to cover a wide range of ages and included participants over the age of 16 and did not established a maximum age limit (there were no participants over the age of 73 in any groups). In the same way, with the objective of sharing visions and build collective proposals, we pursued diversity in the educational level and employment situation of participants.
Their interventions have been encoded in the text and identified according to the following table:
The sessions lasted approximately one hour and were moderated by two members of the research team and recorded with a camcorder to facilitate the subsequent transcription and analysis of data. They were structured around the viewing of 3 news pieces that were previously subjected to critical discourse analysis in a complementary study phase.
The news pieces are:
All sessions followed the same pattern: after a brief introductory presentation, we proceeded to the reproduction of the first of news video clip, after which participants were allowed to comment and discuss the highlights of the discourse. The same happened with the rest of the pieces. Moderators were responsible for guiding the dynamics towards the issues of interest for the research whenever it was necessary. Moderators did not share with participants the context of the events reported in the news pieces, nor the order of appearance of these pieces in the news programme, or any other related content that may have been broadcast by the programme. Our interest focused on the collective analysis of the news and their capacity to reveal the preconceptions of the population in relation to violence against women.
In this sense, during the development of each session some participants shared certain interests and demands that exceeded the limits of a mere description or collective interpretation of news discourses, and of our expectations. In this way, after the transcription and analysis of the data recorded during the sessions, we broke down the main constants, the thematic lines that we proposed and the most significant contributions expressed spontaneously by the different groups.
These constants form the three main categories on which we collected data, which were later organised and presented in this article to reflect the topics discussed in each of the aforementioned focus groups:
The treatment of the results of the focus groups are articulated and differ according to their components, their territorial location and, the categories that guided the discussion. From here, we begin to hear the points of view of each of the members of the groups, the points of coincidence, the qualifications and the stories that endured after the public expression of the testimonies.
It was composed of 6 males who resided in Gilena, aged 26 to 73 years; their employment situation was varied (one of them was employed, 2 were unemployed and 3 were retired) as well as their educational level (3 had elementary education, 1 secondary education and 2 had university studies.
As a general assessment, the majority of participants noticed the lack of clarity in the data provided in the news titled “Condemnatory sentences”, interpreting the information on the percentage of acquittals in the judicial proceedings on violence against women as ambiguous. Between the possible explanatory interpretations of this data, we could deduce laxity in the enforcement of the law, irregularities in the procedures and falsity in the events on trial.
The question of the information sources remarkably captured the attention of participants, particularly with regards to the use as source of the victim’s female neighbour in the news “Garden city case”, which strongly and widely showed its commitment to the legitimacy of this source, considering the difficulties of the editor in the search for information when such events occur. Several participants noticed that it was the anonymity of the neighbour what authorises the use of the source. However, they appreciated very eloquently the intervention of the representative of the Men’s Association for Gender Equality in the news titled “Condemnatory sentences”. Participants unanimously recognised the importance of the emergence of non-institutional male figures in the news, and stood out the impact it may have on the audience, as it involved all of society in the problem of violence against women.
The general agreement broke somewhat in the interpretation of the incorporation of the testimony of the female neighbour based on the conception of violence against women as a domestic phenomenon. One participant stated “(...) and the fact that the news highlights it, reflects that idea that it is something domestic, something that should be sweep inwards, when it is a problem of the whole of society.” (G5).
Faced with the opportunity to include some sources, the questioning of others, the institutional ones, as in the piece titled “Condemnatory sentences”, which has the opinion of the Director of the Andalusian Women’s Institute and the Minister of Justice and Interior of the Government of Andalusia, and the “Nijar case”, which includes the opinion of the Delegate of the Central Government of Andalusia. The interventions of these representatives were evaluated negatively, and perceived as contradictory given the scarcity of resources allocated by the institutions, and it was argued that their presence aimed to endorse the work and the need of existence of these public figures, but that this was not achieved because the reality was that they were not making all the efforts required.
Another of the most questionable aspects of the news was the identification of the people represented, and this was brought to light by the mentioning of the nationality of the murdered women and the killer of the “Nijar case”, both Moroccans, which is the data the news emphasises repeatedly. This fact causes the general rejection by the group, whose members do not recognise the contribution of the information about the nationality, and consider that this is a type of discrimination which contradicts what they perceive as an objective fact, i.e., that it is an exception and they worry that the mentioning of the nationality contributes, consciously or unconsciously, to establishing the idea of a higher incidence of violence against women among ethno-cultural minorities, and that this differentiation affects the empathy of the spectators towards the victims of macho crimes, because it is presented as a foreign phenomenon.
3.1.2. Gilena’s women’s focus group
It was formed by nine women aged 31 to 63 years, 5 of them were employed and one of the was retired, two were unemployed and one was a housewife. Four of them had elementary studies, two secondary studies, and two had university studies, and one had media studies. Eight of them were of Spanish nationality and one of Moroccan nationality and origin.
Contrary to the case of their neighbours, participants understood that the testimony of a neighbour delegitimised the information, but immediately also remarked that close sources result in greater social awareness.
The difficult balance between awareness that appeals to the frameworks of affection and commitment and awareness-raising in tune with the vindication of rights and freedoms. In the opinion of the members of this group, the individualism that is present in society and the private sphere is attributed to this type of violence explains the lack of necessary and widespread commitment to citizenry.
The nationality of the victim and the aggressor in the “Nijar case” was addressed in a secondary manner in the session, asking in any case about the function that such information performs in the news. The frugal debate was between G8 and G16:
The Moroccan participant of the Group G14 did not even speak once. We do not know whether she has no opinion on the matter, or whether she prefers to keep it to herself.
The news items “Garden City case” and “Condemnatory sentences” generated in this group many comments about the social assessment of macho violence, the inadequacy of resources allocated to it and the complexity of the design of an adequate assistance system. The public gestures of condemnation of violence by the institutional representatives were questioned in a context of cuts in social policy. An of the assistants, working for the Town Hall of Gilena, expressed in the following way:
With regards to the social impact of violence against women, women related it with cultural causes in a context of questioning and bankruptcy of patriarchy, ruling out socio-economic factors from its appearance. The concern for the increase in violence in the younger population focused the debate in this sense, oriented towards education as an element of transformation of the situation:
3.1.3. Chiclana’s men’s focus group
It was composed of 7 persons. In occupational terms, three of them were active, two were unemployed, one was retired and one was a student. Three of them had university studies, two had high school education, one elementary education and one secondary education. One participant was of Moroccan nationality, and the rest were Spaniards.
After viewing the news titled “Garden City case”, considered an “extensive” and “complete” news story, participants reflected on its use of resources. There was agreement in the intentional aseptic treatment of the narration, whose suitability was questioned by participants. With regards to the second news story, “Condemnatory sentences”, the group expressed agreement on the excess of data, and debated on its effects, which the majority disapproved.
On the use of the testimony of a female neighbour of the victim of the “Garden City case” as source of the information, the comments revolved around its reliability, which was questioned in the following way:
However, the group also assessed positively the intention and the way in which the testimony of the neighbour was narrated, i.e., in an indirect way in the narration of the editor.
And with regards to the reiteration of the Moroccan nationality of the victim and the murderer of the “Nijar case”, participants condemned it because of the possible contribution to the consolidation of stereotypes about macho violence:
Once again, the Moroccan participant fails to give their opinion.
In a more ideological level, during the session the group related several times the legacy of the Francoist dictatorship with the “prevailing sexism in our society” (Ch7), the basis of the violence against women and of the silence installed around it: “society is in its infancy in this aspect of the fight...” (Ch7). Participants also related this type of violence with social class because they boasted a widespread incidence, although they distinguished between this common place and the image presented by the media, which, in their view, usually relate violence against women with the lack of socio-economic resources:
Political commitment is assumed to be superficial because when greater involvement is demanded, it is claimed:
Again, participants also noted the cultural and historical factors as an explanation to the lack of public response to the problem:
3.1.4. Chiclana’s women’s focus group
The group was composed of eight participants; half of them were employed, one was unemployed, one was retired, one was a student and one a housewife. Of them, one had elementary school studies, two had secondary school studies, and five had university education. It is worth noting that one of the participants has specialised education in gender and another one had professional experience in the field of assistance to victims. All the women were of Spanish nationality, with the exception of one, who was of Bolivian nationality.
Participants evaluated certain aspects of the tone, style, and accuracy of the news stories. In general terms, they made reference to the standardisation appreciated in the news, and by extension to the treatment of these news stories on the television news programmes. In particular, they based their argument on the contribution of figures and statistical data on the different news stories, which they judged to be excessive and homogenising:
Accordingly, and in terms of tone, they discussed the lack of empathy that the news generated in their view:
However, the degree of detail in the account of the events, particularly in the news titled “Garden City case”, as well as the explicitness of some images were perceived as morbid in terms of treatment:
The last outstanding assessment has to do with a common feeling among participants, namely their concern for the persistent effort to circumscribe the phenomenon of violence against women to cases of murder:
The terminology used in the news also received severe criticism from the group and especially from participants educated in gender and with experience in social work with women affected by violence:
The use of the female neighbour of the woman murdered in “Garden City case” as source of information received the disapproval of the whole group:
Participants in this group showed overall mistrust in these informative routines:
When asked about the informational value of the mention of the existence of previous allegations, participants insisted on two aspects: the absence of a correlation between the filling of a complaint and the avoidance of violence, which contrasted with what the female participants believed the news stories suggested:
Elaborating on this point, one of the participants who worked providing assistance to victims of violence against women made some remarks about the complexity involved in filling a complaint for battering:
The last criterion of the information treatment of the news was once again the representation of the profiles of the victim and the aggressor. After viewing the news stories “Garden City case” participants demanded modifications in the construction of these profiles in the news. In particular, a clearer description of the perpetrator as a “murderer”, “because this is what he has become” (Ch11), and to dissociate the profiled of the woman who has been murdered or who suffers from domestic violence from the notion of “victim”:
For its part, the news titled “Nijar case” unleashed a generalised reaction towards the insistent repetition of the Moroccan nationality of the murdered woman and the murderer. The group rejected not just the repetition but the mere mention, which in their opinion was deliberate, and directly associated macho violence with certain ethno-cultural minorities. Among the comments, the following stand out:
Once again, one of the participants, perhaps the most qualified voice in this matter, prefers to remain silent. On this occasion, she speaks out to confirm through a generalisation:
The presence of a 17-year-old man of in the group -which is one of the potentials the focus group method- made it easier for participants to express their concern for education and training in equality as cornerstones in the progressive disappearance of the sexist values that promote violence against women. In that regard, they identified adolescence, with the establishment of the first relationships, as a key moment in the foundation of the values associated with these behaviours, consolidated with myths such as “romantic love”. They insisted a lot on gender balance in this education in an intergenerational dialogue:
They also insisted on the necessary mainstreaming of this education:
3.1.5. Málaga’s men’s focus group
This group was composed of seven members, aged between 23 and 64, of which five were employed, one was unemployed and another one was retired. One of the participants only had elementary education and the remaining had university studies. The countries of origin of participants included Spain, Nigeria, Morocco and Argentina.
Targeting some general assessments about the tone and style of the news, members of the group stressed a shared sense of homogeneity between the news showed to them and the rest of the news broadcast on television:
More specifically, participants shared their opinions about the consequences that these formal issues can have in terms of loss of impact on the population:
Going beyond the tone of the news, the details provided by the news piece were qualified as “morbid”, as well as expendable or unnecessary strictly speaking: “It is filling stuff” (MA7 and MA2), you could hear repeatedly, when participants connected the decision to include these details with the inherent demands of the operation of television.
Participants reacted unanimously to the allusion to the proceedings on battering and gender-based violence that end up in acquittal in the news story titled “Condemnatory sentences”. For them, this news story lacks clarity, the data provided are confusing and do not explain the factors that justify that rate of acquittals:
With regards to the names used, the controversy was similar to the one in other groups of males: some were in favour of the use of the term “gender-based violence” in comparison to “macho violence”, but argued different reasons. In general, the first expression was perceived as more “inclusive”, while “macho violence is something that can bring about certain rejection from part of the population” (MA5). However, the debate on the optimal term was also accompanied by a discussion about the phenomenon of gender-based violence, and the alleged incidence of violence from women towards men as a reason to reject the use of “macho violence”. Here are some outstanding comments:
But also in the opposite direction:
Regarding the sources, the group accepted the testimony of the female neighbour as an information source in the “Garden City case” news story. This validated the legitimacy of the neighbourhood as a source of information, and this was justified by the proximity to the focus of the violence and the alleged knowledge of the events:
This positive halo is related to the possibility of appealing to the collaboration of citizens: “You have to take proactive measures, if you notice something weird, you notify the authorities” (MA5). When asked about the representative of the Men’s Association for Gender Equality in the “Condemnatory sentences” news piece, the members of the group praised his presence as a destabilising model of stereotypes, followed by the media and specifically television:
The Moroccan nationality of the murdered woman and her killer, in the “Nijar case” news story, attracted good part of the attention in the session. All participants agreed that the repeated mention of that nationality in the news pieces was at least excessive, and were concerned about the risk of associating episodes of violence against women with certain ethno-cultural minorities. Thus, they specified their concern with regards to the responsibility of the media in the establishment of stereotypes:
With representatives of various nationalities and ethnic minorities in the group, participants also warned that these news stories could affect the integration of migrants:
The most debated aspects focused on the fact that, according to some, the media did not represent women on men violence. This was followed by a discussion between some participants about the alleged existence of false allegations of mistreatment from women towards their male partners. In this topic, assertive positions were expressed from each side, and there was a remarkable tension between some members. The economic crisis was postulated as the most plausible explanation for the so-called index of false denunciations:
Definitely this type of discussions occurs in groups of males with greater “spontaneity” and frequency.
3.1.6. Málaga’s women’s focus group
The group was composed of nine women aged 17 to 65 years. Four of them were employed, two unemployment, one was retired and the other two were students. Most of them, six, had university education, one was attending secondary school and the other only had elementary education. Most of them were of Spanish nationality, one was Romanian and another one was Cameroonian.
The members of this group agreed that the news titled “Condemnatory sentences” lacks clarity, as its indication of a drop in the number of complaints in the past four years generated confusion regarding the reasons of that decline: “what does it mean? That there are fewer cases? That the Law on gender is working? That women do not trust anyone and do not report the violence?” (MA11).
Participants calibrated the legitimacy and desirability of the three sources of information: the female neighbour of one of the murdered women, the government delegate in Andalusia as institutional representative and the spokesman for the Men’s Association for Gender Equality. With regards to the first one of the sources, there were two general comments. On the one hand, this type of source was described as “little rigorous” (MA11), even though it was appreciated that the participation of the neighbour was indirect, off camera, which is “much more sensationalist and morbid” (MA11). On the other hand, its contribution and presence was vindicated, as it was understood as a call for citizen involvement in violence against women: “It’s a way to raise awareness, we need to be aware that we have to stand up, it is an invitation, to battered and non-battered women” (MA16). The government delegate attracted harsh criticism by the group, whose statements were disapproved by the members, as they were understood as a form of self-justification, and questioned their legitimacy as an information source. They expressed their discontent with phrases such as:
Finally, the participation of the representative of the Men’s Association for Gender Equality was praised by participants, who spontaneously appreciated his inclusion as an information source as a sign of social change and a positive model for the male population: “I like to see a group of men who want to take that step higher, I love it!” (MA14).
Participants expressed different opinions about the information value of the allusion to previous complaints related to cases of gender-based violence. With regards to the effects of this mention, participants were divided between those who considered that the dissemination of the complaints data could serve to promote the importance of reporting abuse and those who appreciated the possible discouraging consequences between among women in similar situations. “why would I fill a complaint... if she gets killed anyways” (MA13). However, this point led participants to continue providing details about the criticism to the public powers and their representation on the news.
With regards to the profiles represented in the different news, participants assessed positively the maintenance of the anonymity of the victim and the alleged killer, and some pointed out that greater attention was given to the abuser than to the murdered woman: “he has more prominence” (MA15), complains one of the female participating. As in other occasions, the group agreed that the repeated mentioning of the Moroccan nationality of the murderer and the victim of the “Nijar case” was unnecessary: “they have repeated it many times, I don’t know whether that figure was so important...” (MA11). However, the stronger criticisms were directed at the supposed correlation between gender violence and the cultural otherness of those represented, and therefore any ethnic minority, implicit in the wording of the news. Only the women of Romanian nationality appealed later to her condition and reaffirmed the existence of a retrograde mindset in her country of origin that affects subjects, and has the involvement of the police:
Participants reiterated their distrust in the judicial and political system as a formula to tackle gender-based violence. This conviction was expressed throughout the session after viewing each of the three selected news stories. One of the participants expressed a generalised idea about the inefficiency of the instances of justice:
Participants also demanded legislative changes:
One of the issues that attracted the most attention was the alleged existence of false allegations of gender-based abuse and violence. One of the female participants pointed out that “sometimes women want things that a man cannot give to them and she decides to get him to court...” (MA13). This comment was followed by similar remarks about the reasons that could support the interposition of these allegedly false denunciations, such as: “the hate that is generated in a couple, the economic...” (MA15). However, the presence of a female lawyer in the group eventually settled the debate, as she shared her knowledge on the subject based on her professional experience:
Finally, participants debated for a long period over the causes of violence, as well as the practices that maintain it. The cultural and religious causes were the most remarked, in particular those related to the recent history of the Spanish State. One of the participants reminded us of these passages: “40 or 50 years ago, Spain established how a wife should behave and it was impressive. When your husband comes home, take off his shoes, do not disrupt his tranquillity, consent to his strange sexual practices... someone with 50 years of age has seen this in her mother. Thus we have to fight harder” (MA14). Egalitarian family and formal education between genders was insistently claimed as the ideal tool for the progressive eradication of gender-based violence. The youngest participant expressed concern on the current orientation of education:
3.2. Discourses and silences
If the selected method allows us to hear the voices of our participants, it also allows us to extract the discourses, and to deduce the configurations that support the conceptions-conceptualisations of the problem. Legally, gender-based violence is described in the preliminaries of the Organic Law 1/2004, but it stubbornly persists in mentalities. The discourses on violence still tend to circumscribe the issue to women, although it is true that it begins to acquire a still incipient public dimension.
For example, the valuation of the presence of neighbour as an information source in the “Garden City case” raises the debate about the public dimension of the phenomenon but leads to the debate on how the environment of the victim and the social pressure can urge women to not file a complaint. “Instead of reporting it, women opt to keep quiet for their children, for fear of what other people are going to say… the first time she stays silent, the second time too, and by the third time it is already too late” (G4). In parallel, and in terms of the responsibility for the rest of society in the denunciation of the violence, the moral theoretical obligation of all citizens in the task is assumed by participants, who also mention certain obstacles to the exercise of such responsibility. These were the lack of guarantees for the protection of the witnesses who fills up the complaint:
Last, but not least, there remains a lack of social awareness in the consideration of domestic violence as a crime.
The discourses often also make reference to the ballast that preclude the approach to violence as attempt to rights and freedoms, and which is what survives in some discourses in an elitist social-class-based construction:
Explanations about the increase in violence against women abound among participants, who also established a correlation between the socio-labour and economic situation of families, which according to some has worsened with the current economic crisis, and the emergence of situations of violence. “Families reach extreme situations in which there is not enough money to pay for the rent and the children’s education and that is when the discussions start. Today that is the reason, tomorrow there is another reason, and then there is beating and even murder” (G4). Elaborating on the line of economic insecurity, the lack of economic empowerment of women complicates the situations of macho violence, subtracting her independence in decision-making during the process:
The context of crisis, job insecurity, the loss of the status of independent breadwinner -in the economic analysis and feminist criticism- is present in the groups of men, where their role is still associated with their participation in the public sphere, in extra-domestic field .
It is also important to note how to the situation of inequality is superimposed a new bias that distances us from our fellow human beings, our peers and other people that are the protagonists of the information. This is particularly significant, as mentioned, in the case of migrants who do not speak as such and the majority of participants who decides not to share their experience or their direct knowledge on the topics treated, particularly in the case of the groups of Málaga which can have a direct or indirect knowledge of the cases treated. This process of estrangement, which can perhaps be attributed to the exercise of the role of observers, is certainly discouraging in the comprehensive approach to this problem, because empathy is essential. Only the social worker speaks of her experience:
As we have argued, the media and the information treatment given to gender-based violence acquires a key role when it comes to fighting against it. Apart from the different approaches, there is unanimity on the need to analyse, report and correct the current view that society has on this issue. Some years ago, the major concern was to publicly expose these events that always occur but remained invisible. Today, this problem is not denied but is still not properly addressed in some cases. Despite the fact that public denunciation and social awareness is increasing, and that there are measures of protection for victims, the real causes of this phenomenon are not explained, so the problem does not decrease and will continue occur with frequency. The future does not seem too hopeful if we add that in recent years, and as a result of budget reductions, many programmes of assistance and education and awareness-raising campaigns have been eliminated.
The examination of the focus groups that we have carried out has revealed the discourse that citizens build with the messages provided by the media, and which is summarised in the following table:
As Mies (1999) points out, research from below is at the same time a process of awareness for social researchers and the subjects under investigation. That is what we have observed in our analysis. Based on the analysis of the news pieces, the members of the group expressed their views and felt qualified as educated and critical audience. However, we also noticed that participants’ stories were fairly homogeneous, without age, educational level, and even nationality contributing to the establishment of diversity. We have seen that even the discourses on violence were configured mainly as a women’s problem, although they try to acquire a public character.
Nevertheless, our conclusion is that there is no approach as a public problem despite their discourses refer to the political forces, and the state security forces. We understand that there is an essentially individual and private approach, centred on the lack of protection of women, the ineffectiveness of the institutions and the determination of the perpetrators.
The media are indispensable tools of mediation between the reality and citizens and it is evident in the criticism towards the sources, but it is deficit in terms of conceptualisation – as we have seen - and the correct designation of the social phenomenon.
We can conclude then that some awareness has been achieved and hat this acts as an inverse correlation to the number of homicides (Lorente, 2009). Now, it is necessary to intervene in those aspects which, after this research, have been detected and identified:
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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
I Postigo Gómez, T Vera Balanza, A Cortés González (2016): “Interpretation of representations of macho violence in television news programmes”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 71, pp. 912 to 939.
Article received on 12 July 2016. Accepted on 24 September.