"A desperately sad case, a terrible waste, an act of evil" : a critical discourse analysis of Australian news media constructions of violence against women : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
Violence against women is an enduring social issue upheld by unequal gendered power relations which benefit patriarchy. The primary aim of this research is to contribute to the important work being done to understand how and why violence against women persists by looking at a key site of social understanding – news media. For the general public, news media is a primary source of knowledge on the topic of violence against women. Often constructed through discourse as decontextualised, extreme episodic incidents, gendered violence has come to be understood as an issue of individuals rather than a social one, and many of the explanations for violence rely on gendered social expectations, myths, and stereotypes which not only shift blame to victims, but also allow perpetrators and society to justify violence against women. Much of the research in this area has focused on North American and Western European contexts. To address the Australasian gap, this research analysed discourses used in The Age and Herald Sun online news reports of the public murders of four women in Melbourne, Australia between 2018 and 2019. Two newspapers were selected in order to capture a range of discourses and cover the different social and political perspectives of the publishers. The selection criteria were that the murders occurred during the required timeframe, the names of victims and perpetrators were known, there were psychological disorders reported, the relationship between victim and perpetrator was reported, and that there were an adequate number of articles able to be retrieved for analysis. Forty-six articles were selected, and Critical Discourse Analysis used to explore how discourses were used to construct the victims, perpetrators, and violence. Analysis found a consistent use of depersonalisation and discourses of evil, randomness, and madness in the articles, as well as myths and stereotypes about victims, perpetrators, and violence. Through the use of sensationalism, episodic framing, contradiction, and the voices of powerful social actors, these discourses maintain the social practice of doubting victims, excusing perpetrators, and reinforcing social understandings that violence against women is an issue independent of gender. Overall, the discourses in Australian news media acknowledge that violence against women occurs but remain unable to acknowledge the responsibility of men. As such, Australian news media discourses reinforce distorted understandings of gendered violence which leads to deficit responses to the issue.