Media frenzy: The case of Dewani’s sexuality

“Dewani admits he is bisexual.” So what?

“Bisexual Dewani underwent hormone treatment.” Yes, and?

“Revelation: Dewani is bisexual.” Your point?

I am not quoting verbatim but, if you were anywhere near the internet on Tuesday, these were just some of the headlines being thrown around by publications in an effort to report on the Shrien Dewani trial.

If you were nowhere near the internet then you probably saw one of the many headlines on today’s front pages. The media houses went big on the #Bisexual trend that broke out on Twitter yesterday after a two sentence statement from Dewani that said he had sex with men as well as women.


On day one of the proceedings, the court heard a plea document submitted by Dewani, which was read out loud by his lawyer.

The document revealed details about the nature of his relationship with his wife Anni and some about his life in general. Mostly, it contained Dewani’s detailed account of events pertaining to the hijacking, which occurred that fateful night, and led, ultimately, to the death of his wife.

The events detailed in the document are, or should have been, the focus. They are, after all, why Dewani finds himself standing trial, charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances and conspiracy to commit these crimes. (He has pleaded not guilty to all five counts).

Instead, the media went with the one thing that had nothing to do with what makes someone a potential wife killer or not – they led with the fact that he was bisexual.

They handpicked two or three sentences from a document – which was long and more relevant to the trial in many more ways than those sentences – so that they could try a man not only for the murder of his wife but also to invent, so to speak, a motive for having done so: his sexual preferences.

Newspapers bought into the click-bait
That detail was, because of its sensationalism, transformed into the digital thing we all know and love – click-bait. Who cares about the rest of the information that was packed into that document when this is the one thing people will click on?

The bisexuality bait bled into newspapers, which hoped to achieve the same “success” in reporting the story.

Would more people buy newspapers because Dewani is bisexual? Or because being bisexual was being demonised? And what, in fact, did this “revelation”, as it was called by many published stories, have to do with the fact that he might have had his wife murdered?

Ja, êk het seks met mans [Yes, I have sex with men]” read Beeld’s front page, quoting Dewani in big, bold letters.

Why are the media trying to create something contentious out of something that really isn’t? It is irresponsible reporting and, more than that, it does nothing for the causes of sexuality and gender roles, causes that are already fuelled by age-old burdens and misunderstandings.

Should we not be doing a better a job of this?

At first glance, the Beeld headline, for example, is essentially telling the reader, who may or may not be ignorant on the subject and “taboos” of bisexuality, or sexuality at large, that this Indian man participated in sex with men, and so that’s probably why he killed his wife.

Trial by media? I think so.

The ignorance fuelled by homophobia
By the time the trend had gained traction, very few were concerned about the other details of the case. Very few kept their focus on the contentiousness of the subject matter, which is that this is day one of a trial of a man who possibly paid people to kill his wife on their honeymoon.

Instead, many were amused, and very vocal about their amusement, that this man swung both ways, so to speak. Outpourings of ignorance, fuelled by homophobia, were shared at a machine gun rate and, more than that, the cause of sexuality and all those affiliated with participating in positive discourse and the fight for human rights were dragged back by about 400 years.

Luckily, it did start a conversation, and there was backlash from the public who did think critically about this sort of thing.

But it is unfortunate that the media once again forgot how to be leaders in society, and that the backlash was mostly aimed at them.

Here are some examples of headlines and reactions to them as well as the reporting:

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Tweets, race card don’t cut it – JSC

'Analysis' claiming that the judge in the Shrien Dewani trial was biased has been dismissed.

For My sake, please quit the Happy videos

Upon further exploration the Rosetta spacecraft discovered not God, but a lost sermon from the Almighty – and it appears he is pissed off with us.

Justice failed us, says Anni Dewani’s family

The family of slain honeymooner Anni Dewani said they just wanted to know what happened to her, but they only heard half of the story.

Dewani found not guilty of Anni’s murder

Businessperson Shrien Dewani has been acquitted of the murder of his wife Anni while on honeymoon in Cape Town in 2010.

Petition wants Traverso dismissed from Dewani trial

A petition was launched on Friday to have the Western Cape High Court judge in Shrien Dewani's trial recused because of her "biased conduct".

Dewani: ‘Amateurish’ killers lured by money, says state

The co-conspirators in the murder of Anni Dewani were all in financial difficulties and lured by the money on offer, according to the state.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine

Did Botswana execute ‘poachers’ ?

The Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching unit has long been accused of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Over 20 years the unit has killed 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans

Limpopo big-game farmer accused of constant harassment

A family’s struggle against alleged intimidation and failure to act by the authorities mirrors the daily challenges farm dwellers face
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…