Make it happen for women: Start with the media

Josefina Maria Bentz

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This year’s theme for the International Women’s Day was “Make it happen”. It was a day to spread awareness of women’s equality. So if we are to make it happen, why not start with facing the sexism in the news media?

There are still fundamental issues in the media industry that suggests that the voices, experiences and perspectives of women are regarded as less important than men’s. The continuous underrepresentation of women in the news media undermines women’s capabilities in a cultural as well as socio-economical context.

Media is one of our society’s most influential institutions. It, news media in particular, has the power to affect people’s perception of social movements, and selectively emphasise certain agendas while ignoring others.

Female Journalists

Image Credit: Alex Eylar (Flickr)

Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) stated that 24% of all the people we see in the news media are women. Problematically, the underrepresentation and absence of women’s voices in the global news media consequently leaves the news consumer with stories that arguably represent a male-dominated worldview.

If the media is to act out is role as a mirror of society, it needs to improve its coverage and representation of women, as gender equality is a fundamental human right.

– International Federation of Journalists

Women are continuously excluded in the newsroom, news and as sources, which implies that in the public sphere women are not equal to men. By using sexist terms and gender stereotypes, news media disempower women and initially weaken their socio-political position in society.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) states that the fundamental practises of journalism that are built around a male perspective need to change in order to achieve gender equality. And, although we have more gender equality today than 25 years ago, research argues that we still have to wait another 75 years for equality in the media.

If what we see and read and hear are men’s voices, men’s perspectives, men’s news, then women continue to be framed as passive observers rather than active citizens.

– Karen Ross

Women's right to equal pay

Image Credit: Charis Tsevis (Flickr)

Female journalists and news media workers still suffer from an equal pay gap. The Gender Pay Gap in Journalism report in 2012 showed that female journalists around the world suffer from discrimination in terms of wages and benefits. The report also states that female journalists in Europe were paid 17% less than their male colleagues, and that the gap increases with age.

Overlooking the significant number of women working in the newsroom, the top positions and managerial posts are predominantly occupied by men.

There is an old notion that women and men report differently on news. Female journalists are often assigned to write ‘soft’ news, such as art, human interest stories and entertainment , which generally make up 28% of news topics. Women are least present in the production of ‘hard’ and ‘masculine’ news stories that involve politics, government, war and economy. A global study by GMMP in 2005 showed that 57% of news presenters are women, but only 29% of news items were written by women.

Female news anchor

Image Credit: Shavar Ross.com (Flickr)

There has been research done on gender and journalism discussing whether gender affects the way journalists practice their occupation. Thomas Hanitzsch and Folker Hanusch conclude in their extensive comparative study ‘Does gender determine journalists’ professional views? A reassessment based on cross-national evidence‘ that men and women do not differ in how they approach their jobs, not on an individual level nor in the newsroom. Another study conducted by Karen Ross in 2005, came to the same conclusion that there was no notable difference in the practices of male and female journalists when covering news stories .

Sources, for example, give news stories their orientation and point of view. The majority of sources used in traditional news media today are male, which means that most of the news we consume comes from a male perspective. Scholars have been questioning the press’ ability to serve democracy, when it repetitiously excludes women and other minorities in its news agenda.

Even though the world might drift towards a more equal perspective, there are fundamental changes that need to happen in the news media realm in terms of its routines and official practices if we are ever to achieve gender equality, not just in the media but also in our society.

To find out more  read Caoimhe Rooney’s article ‘Gender pay gap in Ireland widens‘.

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Josefina Maria Bentz