Bangladesh: Media bias against women and rural areas uncovered

  on December 16, 2014

Source: Executive summary of the report "Women and Rural Areas in Bangladesh News: Ensuring Fair Representation". Media monitoring research by Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha.*

Women and Rural areas are two often repeated terms in the development discourses of Bangladesh. However, very little attention has been directed to the role of the news media in presenting issues related to rural areas in general, and rural women in particular. Since mass media have a significant role in achieving equality and human rights, this monitoring study examines the engagement of Bangladesh news media in representing women in rural areas.

The statistical data in this study was drawn from ten national and local newspapers, five public and private television channels and one radio channel. After finding out from a pre-test that rural news had rarely appeared on the first-page and prime-time broadcasts, only special pages and news programs that included rural areas were monitored from the mainstream media. Two monitoring weeks were spread over July and August of 2013. A total of 3,361 news stories were monitored.

The population of Bangladesh is predominantly rural. News stories revolve around the urban area that comprises only 8% of Bangladesh. Only 12% of the newspaper stories, 7% of the television and 5% of the radio news items focused on rural and remote areas.

The bias against rural/remote area was similarly reflected in the limited coverage of women in the print and broadcast media. Only 16% newspaper stories, 14% of television news, and 20 % of radio news considered women as subjects or interviewed them.  Less than 8% of the news stories have women as the central focus. Women are more often seen than heard. In newspapers, women are portrayed more in photographs but quoted less in new stories compared to men.

Moreover, less than one percent of these news stories across news media directly mentioned gender equality/inequality.  Out of 3361, monitors find only 11 news stories that challenge the prevailing gender stereotypes. Quite a few legislative measures and national policy uphold women’s rights in Bangladesh including the National Women Development Policy (2011). Even mention of these policies and legislations were few and far between.

Women are marginalized in the newsroom as well. The overwhelming majority (97%) of women seen on the television screen were reading out the news, while only 3% of them were reporters. Women’s names appear in less than 1% (only 0.03%) of bylines in newspaper stories.

The monitoring findings suggest that by giving meager recognition, media are reinforcing the systemic gender and urban-rural disparity. Mass media thus are not the voice of the mass people in Bangladesh.

To seek more visibility of rural women in the news media and greater participation of women in news making, this report recommends steps to be taken by the government, media houses, journalism education institutions, journalist unions and the civil society. Formulation of gender sensitive media policy and monitoring its implementation through an independent commission are emphasized in the recommendations.

View the report here and the advocacy briefs here.

*Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) is an activist women's organization, working since 1986 to establish equal rights of women from the family level to the State. BNPS works at the national level for policy and legal reforms and at the community level organizing and mobilizing grassroots people. The media monitoring project was funded by WACC under the "Gender and Communication" initiative.

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Beijing +20: In my opinion...

The most important contribution that the Beijing Platform for Action has made to advancing gender equality in and through the media is:

Setting global standards to which governments and the media can be held accountable
Bringing coherence to and greater understanding of civil society initiatives on gender, women and media
Raising the profile of work on 'women and media' as important for addressing gender inequalities in women's lived experiences.

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