Protected but exposed: A critique of the right to privacy and reporting of domestic violence cases in the media
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In Zimbabwe, when complainants of domestic violence apply for a protection order from the civil court the cases are reported in the media. Media reports identifies the victims by name. This study seeks to analyse the impact of media reporting of domestic violence that disclose names of litigants and discuss interventions to protect litigants and have sensitive reporting that recognise the right to privacy of litigants. Section 57 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for the right to privacy whereas section 61 provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the media. This is in line with the letter and spirit of international instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party which includes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s rights and the Maputo Declaration. This research was conducted using the qualitative research method in the form of women’s law and human rights approaches. Women’s law approach was used to capture voices and the lived realities of women and the attitudes of society in which women live. Human rights approach interrogated the legal framework that can be used to protect and uphold the rights of both litigants and the media. Methods of data collection included interviews, focus group discussions and desk research. The research findings revealed that being identified in media reports has several negative consequences on the complainants as it humiliates them and degrades their dignity. Further, it deters other complainants from reporting for fear of being exposed to the public, thus defeating the purpose of the Domestic Violence Act. There is therefore need to formulate corrective legislative, social and other measures to ensure that victims of domestic violence enjoy the right to access justice. This can be done by amending the Domestic Violence Act providing for hearing in camera and non disclosure of litigants’ names in any publication. Training of media professionals on gender sensitive reporting is also crucial.