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An exploration of how word choice and framing contribute to agendasetting in the reporting of gender-based violence in three KwaZulu-Natal community newspapers (November 2021 to December 2022)

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This study primarily concerns how word choice and framing contribute to agenda-setting in reporting gender-based violence (GBV) in three KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) community newspapers from November 2021 to December 2022. Three weekly English community newspapers, namely, Zululand Observer, Maritzburg Echo and South Coast Sun, were purposively selected and provided the data for this study. The key objectives of this study were to look at descriptive and emotive words used in the GBV-related articles posted by the three publications; to determine if any changes occurred in the framing of articles during the 16 Days of Activism campaign period of November to December 2021 and November to December 2022, and to determine how word choice and framing prioritised the issue of GBV in terms of the media agenda setting. This study was guided by framing theory. A mixed-method research approach was used to collect and analyse the data. Quantitative content analysis was used to tally all GBV-related stories published during the period of study and to record all descriptive and emotive words used in these stories. Qualitative thematic analysis was used to group these words according to similarities and connotations to identify emerging themes on GBV. Because GBV is an issue that comes out of the private into the public sphere through being reported in community newspapers and other media platforms, it is important for this study to look at word choice and framing and, for this reason, initiate future debate on media responsibility when reporting on GBV. Looking at national stats-to-story-frequency and priority ratio, findings indicate that GBV was not given priority in the publications under review. Overall, 42% of all the GBV-related stories discussed in this study were posted during the two 16 Days of Activism time periods discussed. This indicates an outstanding visibility of GBV-related stories compared to the rest of the study period. Lastly, literature on GBV and the media in South Africa is very broad, but the study of word choice in the media, especially community newspapers in South Africa is yet to be thoroughly explored through research. This study acknowledges literature on analysing discourse around GBV in the South African media, that has been done by scholars such as Kulne Oparinde & Rachel Matteau Matsha, Floretta Boonzaier, Peace Kiguwa, Nechama Broodie, Amanda Gouws, Nicky Falkof and Mille Phiri, just to mention a few. The study of word choice needs attention as it is critical in understanding, significantly reducing and possibly eradicating GBV. This study suggests that the three publications need to increase the salience of GBV stories by dedicating more space to such stories weekly. Equivalency framing in the use of descriptive and emotive words is encouraged, as they are eye-catching, appealing and interesting to the readers.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.