Who makes the news?

The Global Media Monitoring Project, or GMMP, shows that very little has changed in the way in which the world’s news media represent women and men. On February 16 2005, 76 countries participated in the Global Media Monitoring Project with hundreds of monitors coding almost 13 000 news stories on television, radio and in print. Monitors came from a wide range of organisations and included gender and media activists, grassroots communication groups, academics and students of communication, media professionals, journalists’ associations, alternative media networks and church groups. The findings of the global monitoring leave much to be desired. Women make up 52 percent of the world’s population yet in 2005 made up only 21 percent of news subjects ‘ the people who are interviewed, or whom the news is about. This figure has barely increased from 1995 when women made up 17 percent of news subjects and 2000 when they were 18 percent. For every woman who appeared in the news in 2005, there were four men. Women are never the majority featured in any news topic and their points of view are least likely to be heard in the topics that dominate the news agenda. In stories on politics and government only 14 percent of news subjects are women; and in economic and business news only 20 percent. Even in stories that affect women profoundly such as gender-based violence, it is the male voice (64 percent of news subjects) that prevails. When women do make the news, it is primarily as “stars” (celebrities or royalty) or as ‘ordinary’ people. Female newsmakers outnumber males in only two occupational categories ‘ homemaker (75 percent) and student (51 percent). Women also barely feature in the news as authorities and experts. Expert opinion is overwhelmingly male. Men are 83 percent of experts and 86 percent of spokespersons. Women in the news are also much more likely to be identified by their marital or family status ‘ as the wife of, mother of or daughter of a man. In 2005, 17 percent of women were described in this way while only five percent of men are described as husband, son, father and so on. So while men are perceived and valued as autonomous individuals, women’s status is deemed to derive primarily from their relationship to others. It is from these relationships rather than from her autonomous being that a woman draws her authority. The GMMP also shows that while in general terms victims are common currency in news, women are more than twice as likely to be identified as victims than men. Nineteen percent of female news subjects compared with eight percent of males are portrayed in this way. News disproportionately focuses on female victims in events that actually affect both sexes ‘ accidents, crime, and war. Topics that specifically involve women ‘ sexual violence for example, are given very little coverage. News is shaped within news organisations by journalists and editors who make decisions about what should be covered, and how. To the extent that gender is a factor in determining those decisions, the GMMP is also concerned with the people who deliver the news. While women are still underrepresented as reporters there has been a steady increase in the percentage of news items reported by women from 28 percent in 1995, to 31 percent in 2000, reaching 37 percent in 2005. Female reporters have gained more ground in radio and TV than in newspapers. The press falls far behind the electronic media, with only 29 percent of stories reported by women in 2005. The GMMP also highlights that there is a gender division of labour in the way that stories are assigned to female and male reporters. Overall, male journalists report at the so-called “hard” or “serious” end of the news spectrum such as politics and government whereas women report only 32 percent of such stories. Female journalists are more likely to report on the so-called “soft” stories such as social and legal issues (40 percent reported by women). Women reporters are often assigned to stories that are downright trivial ‘ celebrity news (50 percent reported by women) or arts and entertainment (48 percent). Female reporters predominate in only two topics: weather reports on TV and radio (52 percent) and stories on poverty, housing and welfare (51 percent). Irrespective of who reports the news, the fundamental concern is that so few women make the news at all. Very little news ‘ just 10 percent of all stories in 2000 and 2005 ‘ focuses specifically on women. Equally, news on gender equality is almost non-existent. Only four percent of stories in 2005 highlighted equality issues and they are concentrated in areas such as human rights, family relations or women’s activism ‘ topics which are barely visible in the overall output. Stories with a gender equality angle are almost completely absent from the major news topics of politics (three percent and the economy one percent). When women do appear in the news it is frequently in stereotyped ways. The GMMP 2005 shows that blatant stereotyping is present in news around the world and extends to a wide range of stories including sport, crime, violence and even politics. While only small gains in changing media representation of gender have resulted from the GMMP so far, if these gains spring from awareness that current representations of gender in the news is something to be questioned, rather than taken for granted, they have the potential to be transformative. Ultimately, what is actually required is a wide-scale social and political transformation, in which women’s rights ‘ and particularly women’s communication rights ‘ are truly understood, respected and implemented both in society at large and by the media. While this will not happen overnight, the GMMP brings us one step closer to such a transformation. l Anna Turley is the coordinator of the Global Media Monitoring Project. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

March 2006
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