Who is Responsible? Explaining How Contemporary Canadian Newspapers Frame Domestic Violence

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Gerrits, Bailey
Domestic Violence , News , Framing , News Production , Discourse Analysis , Canadian Feminism , Canadian Politics , Political Economy , Gender-Based Violence , Violence Against Women , Neoliberalism , Newspapers , Critical Race , Journalism , Anti-Violence Movement , Police Communication , Canadian Racism , Canadian Patriarchy , Family Violence , Sexual Violence , Intersectionality , Carceral State , Social Responsibility , Content Analysis , Carceral Feminism
Domestic violence is a pressing social issue in Canada. How the news media covers this violence has the potential to generate social responsibility or reinforce misconceptions about its causes, prevalence, and solutions. In this dissertation, I answer two questions. How are contemporary Canadian newspapers covering domestic violence? And, what explains the patterns of coverage? To answer the first question, I conducted an extensive content and discourse analyses of a sample of 823 domestic violence stories published between 2014 and 2016 in a range of English-language newspapers across Canada. To answer the second question, I interviewed over 120 news workers, police, and anti-violence advocates, shadowed five journalists, and observed three newsrooms in four select case study cities (Thunder Bay, Kingston, Toronto, and Ottawa) in Ontario, Canada. From these data, I argue that Canadian newspapers reinforce individualized notions of responsibility and racialized conceptions of belonging. The news communicates that Canada does not have a violence-against-women-cultural problem; there are just a few bad apples, women who make poor decisions, and violent Indigenous, immigrant, and non-Canadian ‘cultures’ that are responsible. The news subsequently focuses on depoliticized state and carceral state responses through ample attention to police, trials, prisons, and punishment. I further argue that that Canadian newspaper framing patterns of domestic violence are constrained, but not predetermined, by neoliberal logics. The reliance on market logics opens the door to strong source influence. Canadian police are able to take advantage of the weakening of newspapers with their increased communications sophistication, while anti-violence organizations receive insufficient funding to match police influence. Drawing together the political-economic realities of both the media and sources exposes the intimate link between neoliberalism and carceral expansion. Neoliberal economic and discursive restructuring, however, does not tell the whole story. Other factors also strongly influence domestic violence framing, including journalism’s ideology, newsroom culture, and women journalists as potential survivors of gendered violence. The implications are clear: Canadian newspapers are also not living up to their ideal role as the fourth estate and the framing patterns are not conducive for the social change needed to reduce and prevent domestic violence in Canada.
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