- Published on Friday, 11 May 2012 10:05
- Written by Cai Nebe
The case of rape in the media
A viral video depicting a 17-year-old girl being gang-raped in Soweto shocked South Africans when it came to light in last month.
The media’s handling of the case created a storm by reporting the violent crime, but also raised questions about how the story was reported by the news media.
Professor Robert Morrell of the UCT Research Office, specialising in issues of masculinity, commented there were three stages which most is contributed to the public outrage of this case.
Firstly, the six culprits’ decision and carrying out of the rape; secondly, their recording of their actions; and thirdly, their dissemination of the rape via video making their crime into an easily accessible form of media.
While acknowledging that this was a terrible crime in itself, Morrell identified the recording and the dissemination as “the most important issues in this case”.
“It appears that these young men believed the gang rape was testimony to their masculine prowess,” he said. Their combination decision of recording and distributing the rape “is an affront to the constitutional values of South Africa” and shows an “escalation of a serious social problem in South Africa”.
In view of how the event was presented to the public, which drew criticism, particularly in the Cape Times editorial regarding the Daily Sun’s publishing of video stills from the video that revealed the
Ntombikayise Bhengu, a first-year student who hails from Soweto, said that while it was important for the media to report on such crimes, the method of reporting was wrong. “We must a think about the girl, who will be badly affected for life by this. The coverage also gives a bad image of Soweto,” she said.
Morrell said publishing these images could inspire two different reactions in the public, such as “invoking rage at the violence against women”. Alternatively, they could instead initiate apathy, because the images naturalise and undermine violence.
Buhle Manana, a third-year Engineering student, felt the images and video may “encourage other young to engage in similar acts of violence, because the power of the media makes them feel ‘invincible’ ”.
Morrell added that journalists must therefore be “mindful” of this and remain ethical when they are reporting such crimes.
Manana added that South African society had become too “liberal”, stating: “The fact that they videoed it bothers me,” she said. She said that it showed how far the moral boundaries have been pushed back and also that we are in a moral decline in South African society.
“There was no need for visuals in this story – that’s just sensationalism by press, and it make the immune to the violent crimes.”
While the press method of reporting the incident has been questioned, third-year student Suvanna Pitamber said that at least the publication worked to raise discussion among the students and public. “By talking, we are raising awareness of gang rape and are less likely to live in denial of the problems in South Africa,” she said.
SRC Media & Communications Officer Nkateko Minisi said that suppression of the video would have been a form of censorship. “Media can be used, and mostly is, in positive ways to counteract this negative instances such as this,” she said.
Morrell said: “Unfortunately, sometimes it is martyrs that bring these kinds of issues into the spotlight.”
It is hoped that severity of the consequences and the raising of awareness that this combination of committing a crime, recording it and distributing the evidence via social media has created is a watershed moment in how South African society deals with violent crime and a wake up call to how far back moral boundaries have been pushed.