There’s something quite sinister about the way the mainstream media reports violence against beautiful women. The focus on the woman’s appearance always has a touch of “she drove him mad with her beauty” (he couldn’t help himself) or “he loved her so much he had to kill her” (aww, romantic) that sits very uneasily with me.
Reeva Steenkamp was killed yesterday. Her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, has been charged with murder. I can’t imagine the grief and the loss that her friends and family are feeling, and I really hope that blogging about the coverage does not cause them more tears. I decided to blog about it because I think there’s something sick about the words that journalists are using.
This is the way smh.com.au presents the story on their homepage:
Reeva Steenkamp is the main image, but she isn’t even named. I’m quite surprised they didn’t get “model” in there somewhere – “Model ‘murdered’ by Olympian” is more their style.
This is the headline: ‘Obviously we are shocked': Pistorius charged with murder of model girlfriend. Again, no mention of Reeva’s name, she’s just a model girlfriend. An interchangeable pretty woman. But there’s something else going on here. The art of headline writing is lost online, because journalists include every term that someone might plug into a search engine to find the story (just as I have included both names in the headline and tags of this post). Which means the journos at smh.com.au don’t think anyone would be searching for Reeva Steenkamp’s name. Why is that?
This is how the story refers to Reeva Steenkamp, from the first par to the last:
South African police have charged Olympic amputee sprint star Oscar Pistorius with the Valentine’s Day murder of his glamorous model girlfriend, but played down reports she was mistaken for a burglar… charges of killing 30-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp… The blonde was shot four times… Steenkamp, once a FHM magazine cover girl…
These are the only mentions by the journalist in a 736 word story about her death. (There’s a quote from Pistorius’ father – “Our thoughts are with the family of the woman involved in this tragedy” – and a quote from Sarit Tomlins at Steenkamp’s management agency – “the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth” – but I didn’t include them because they’re not the journalist’s words.) Keep in mind that of those 736 words, the last 383 are about his “colourful private life full of model girlfriends, guns and fast cars” and his achievements as an athlete.
Smh.com.au has a second main image on this story as well:
The story – ‘A day of love for everyone': model tweeted before being shot dead in home of Pistorius – is fucking appalling:
The leggy blonde model tweeted that Valentine’s Day should be “a day of love for everyone.” Instead Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead in the home of her boyfriend, paralympian superstar Oscar Pistorius, who was charged with her murder… the glamorous South African celebrity… The freckled blonde who appeared in scanty bikinis on magazine covers and sashayed down fashion ramps…
This is how dailytelegraph.com.au presents the story on their homepage:
Although Steenkamp isn’t mentioned in the caption, the main image is the person charged with the crime (as is the case with every crime story, unless the victim is an attractive woman).
The headline is Oscar Pistorius charged with murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and this is how the story refers to Steenkamp:
PARALYMPIC superstar Oscar Pistorius has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend who was shot inside his home in South Africa, a stunning development in the life of a national hero known as the Blade Runner for his high-tech artificial legs… Reeva Steenkamp, a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women, was shot four times… Police have played down reports that Pistorius shot dead Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder, saying they had dealt with domestic incidents at his residence and will oppose bail… Pistorius was at his home at the time of the death of Steenkamp… earlier reports that Steenkamp may have been mistaken for a burglar by Pistorius did not come from the police… Capacity Relations, a talent management firm, earlier named model Steenkamp as the victim of the shooting.
The dailytelegraph.com.au story shits all over both smh.com.au stories and I recommend reading it. It’s less sensational and doesn’t focus on Steenkamp’s appearance. It’s by “staff writers” who have brought together copy from several sources, and whoever did it, well done.
(As an aside, here’s something that I just can’t comprehend: according to saynotoviolence.org, in South Africa “a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner”. Holy fucking crap.)
The version on the ABC website (from Reuters and AFP copy) starts well, but in the end has more words about how it might affect Pistorius’ sponsorship deals than it does about anything else. And, oddly, this bit:
Steenkamp, a model and regular on the South African party circuit, was reported to have been dating Pistorius for a year, and there had been little to suggest their relationship was in trouble.
Um, does that mean that if their relationship had been in trouble then the crime would make sense?
Journalists really need to think about the words they use. Because when I look at the coverage of this story on the websites of the ABC and a supposedly intelligent broadsheet, the impression I get is that journalists believe Reeva Steenkamp’s appearance/job is good for getting clicks, but it doesn’t matter that she was killed because she was just a model. If that’s really the way that Australia’s online journalists think about women – and keep in mind that most online journos are under 40 and tertiary educated – then it’s not just the crusty old guys in the industry who are the problem.
Update 16 Feb: Ok, since I’m criticising the SMH for their coverage, this is today’s story, these are the actual first five sentences of Pistorius breaks down at court appearance:
A tearful Oscar Pistorius has been remanded in custody after being formally charged with the murder of his girlfriend.
He was wearing a dark suit, tie and blue shirt when he appeared in the Pretoria magistrates court on Friday.
He broke down in the dock as magistrate Desmond Nair formally charged him with the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, 29.
A sobbing Oscar Pistorius has been formerly charged with the Valentine’s Day murder of his model girlfriend.
The 26-year-old Paralympian gold medallist wept on Friday as Pretoria magistrate Desmond Nair announced a single charge of killing blonde covergirl Reeva Steenkamp.
I hope no one actually read that before it was published, because if they did they should get their arse kicked. (The story is dated yesterday, so it’s been online for at least 12 hours like this.)