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Media: the new rules to talk about violence against women

By Luisella Seveso

There are new rules for those writing about violence against women. In Italy, the Commission for Equal Opportunities of the Professional Association of Journalists (Ordine dei Giornalisti) has set some indisputable points to ensure that the language used by the media does not disrespect victims and their families. Anyone who does not comply will be sanctioned by the Disciplinary Council.

From January 1, 2021, the new Article 5 bis will be added to the unified code regulating journalists’ ethics (Testo Unico). The article reads:

Respect for gender differences. In cases of femicide, violence, harassment, discrimination, and news events which involve aspects related to sexual orientation and identity, journalists shall: a) pay attention to avoiding gender stereotypes, expressions, and images that are harmful to the person’s dignity; b) abide by respectful, correct, and conscious language. They shall adhere to the essentiality of the news and its continence. They shall be careful not to fuel the spectacularization of violence. They shall not use expressions, terms, and images that diminish the gravity of the committed crime; c) They shall ensure, after assessing the public interest of the news, a respectful narrative of the families of the people involved, too.

There are only a few lines, but these simple guidelines will be useful for journalists to establish, if their personal sensitivity cannot, what is legitimate to tell and show, and what is absolutely not, when it comes to delicate topics such as violence against women or any person, whatever their sexual identity. Often, the incorrect narrative of facts turns into further brutality.

The unified code of ethics (Testo Unico di Deontologia) is an important reference for the Italian media because it provides the rules to follow for fair and balanced journalism. It provides very detailed references regarding the conduct to adopt in the fields of economics, sports, health; the language to use when talking about people who are homeless, immigrants, people who are incarcerated, and minors. Starting today, also about this unfortunately widespread type of violence.

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