This week in Nuku’alofa Tonga, the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) in conjunction with the host government of Tonga held the 5th Pacific Media Summit from 7 -9 May 2018. This year’s theme was Empowering the Media for Digital Challenges. Of particular importance to the discussions that kickstarted the summit was the plenary session on Reporting Gender Based Violence through the media – challenges and solutions. The panellists were made up of Pacific journalists who were able to share their experiences of covering stories regarding gender-based violence the sensitivity of reporting.

In the effort to tackle the digital challenges, Papua New Guinea has introduced legislation regarding cybercrime. The Cybercrime Act was enacted in 2016 and applies to defamation, cybersecurity, hacking and computer fraud among many more. The Act covers important aspects that touch on gender-based violence such as online abuse (cyber harassment) and unlawful disclosure through publication of private and confidential data and personal data. This is essential to the protection of women who are often threatened with public abuse and the use of social media platforms to discredit a person and incite hate messages and threats.

While the Act covers important dimensions of cybersecurity and prevention of illegal hacking, there are legitimate concerns over the extent of the Act’s reach and whether it curbs media freedom and free speech.

I believe that aside from unpacking the issue of gender-based violence, the role of media is influential enough to go beyond awareness and advocacy. Based on the panel inputs from Kalafi Moala (Tonga Times, there is an increase in reported cases of domestic abuse and rape in countries such as Tonga. Moala also noticed that these dire cases often results with perpetrators receiving very light sentencing in light of the horrible acts they commit.

This is an opportunity for media platforms to report on gender-based violence in two important ways. First, that it does so with the sensitivity and understanding of survivors to ensure that they are protected from further abuse especially when information is used on social media platforms. Second, that gender reporting moves beyond raising awareness to capturing the necessary information about trends in cases, the light sentences perpetrators receive, among other important issues yet to be raised. This will enhance the talanoa of a discussion that remains taboo in many Pacific communities yet needs to be addressed.

Perhaps an impactful way that media journalists are able to improve reporting on gender-based violence, is a shared reporting framework that sensitises their understanding of the issue and in turn, be acknowledged in the content of the reporting. The Summit was useful for Pacific media and relevant bodies to move such discussions and solutions forward, together.

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