How the Media Cover School Violence: Evidence from Five African Countries

School violence—physical, sexual, and psychological—is prevalent in many schools around the world. Because media coverage of current events can play an important role in shaping tolerance for school violence and policy responses, we examine 208 recent news items about school-related violence in the five most populated African countries with major English-speaking populations (Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania). We find significant variation in news coverage across countries, with suggestive evidence that this coverage is driven not by varying levels of underlying violence but rather by differences in societal acceptance of different types of violence. News coverage of school-related violence by African news sources focuses mostly on sexual violence, whereas coverage by non-African sources focuses equally on sexual and physical violence (including but not limited to corporal punishment); this again may reflect differences in levels of acceptance. Most articles report on general trends of school violence rather than particular incidents. Most focus on teacher-on-student violence, followed by student-on-student violence. We find no substantive evidence of placing responsibility on victims of violence in our sample. Solutions to school violence in media coverage tend to focus on increasing coverage, stronger punishments for perpetrators, and increased security at schools, among others, which diverge from the training approaches currently under study by many researchers. We discuss potential ways to leverage media coverage to promote action against school violence more effectively.

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