Informing a New Generation of Media Practitioners

  on January 21, 2014

by Sharon Bhagwan Rolls*

(Adapted from a presentation made at the University of the South Pacific (USP) Journalism Awards, November 4 2010)


This was an opportunity to place a challenge to the graduating class of 2010 by drawing on the essay “A Room of One’s Own” - an extended essay by Virginia Woolf,(1) first published in 24 October 1929 .The title of the essay comes from Woolf's conception that, 'a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction'.


Woolf’s statement still resonates in our Pacific Island region today, where access to education is still a privilege rather than a right if one is born female particularly in the case of the girl child in rural Fiji, the young woman with a disability, or the woman who has no choice but to enter the work force after high school so that her younger siblings have an opportunity to attend school.  

For a new generation of journalists preparing to depart from this regional educational institutional which has indeed been catalytic for the women and civil society movement in the Pacific, it is important to analyse the investment in women’s education. In addition to increasing women's capacity for economic production, investing in women's education also enables women to contribute to the public spaces of discussion, debate and dialogue.

It is important to recognise and reaffirm that as women we are not a homogenous group, that indeed as we talk about gender equality we cannot simply dismiss this in a simplistic bi-polar notion, but must acknowledge and respect our diversities.

As a new generation of media practitioners you have an immense responsibility to “represent” not only the facts from a singular notion of power, but give consideration, seek out the ways so that the diversity of our realities – whether they are political views, social and cultural identities and economic power or lack of, find a way into the public spaces or discourse.

When we talk about public spaces for women’s communication we also need to critically analyse whether within the new spaces, women are encouraged or whether instead patriarchal power still remains the privilege of a few.

The analysis I refer to is in the context of the adoption of the “global policy agenda on gender equality” the Beijing Platform for Action which was the outcomes document adopted by the then 189 member states of the United Nations, including Pacific Governments. The Platform for Action includes 2 specific objectives, relating to Women and Media (2) i.e. to increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication, and to promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Add to this litany of commitments – UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on 'Women, Peace and Security,' the 'Millennium Development Goal's and regional statements and commitments by Pacific Island leaders. We need to question whether there has been any marked increase to national fiscal investment in gender equality since a member state adopts the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. How would we know if there have been any significant changes if not through the media – which can provide the perspectives of the state, women’s civil society and the participants of such projects or programmes?

This brings me back to the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), the world’s longest-running and most extensive research on gender in the news media. The GMMP is about more than just collecting data. It provides both the quantitative and qualitative basis for our collective advocacy on enhancing the implementation of gender equality commitments in our region – whether it is about health, education, peace and security. The GMMP considers the issues raised by and about women.

The GMMP is also about addressing the role of women in newsrooms and identifying the types of media-based collaborations that can inform and advance our women’s human rights goals and commitments so that they can be better understood by journalists and other media producers.

The GMMP began in 1995 when volunteers in 71 countries around the world monitored women’s presence in their regional radio, television and print news. The research revealed at that time - that:

  • Only 17% of news subjects – the people who are interviewed or whom the news is about – were women. 
  • It found that gender parity was ‘a distant prospect in any region of the world.
  • News [was] more often being presented by women but it [was] still rarely about women.

     Read more of the GMMP 1995 report here.

And so to the findings of the 4th GMMP based on media monitoring data (2009) from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tonga.Monitoring media for the GMMP in Fiji, 2009

It is clear that when women are not present in formal structures of decision making and power, including within the public service, there is a link to the unequal presence of women in the news. In the Pacific/Oceania region:

  • less than 30 % of the subjects of the news are women (28% in newspapers, and 22% for radio and television news).This was comparable to the percentages of female announcers or reporters producing the news on the day: 28% of stories in newspapers and 22% for radio and television featured female news staff.

The key topics in Pacific/Oceania News in the 2010 GMMP were:

  • Crime and Violence: 22% of Print stories, 24% of Radio, and 21% of Television news items
  • Celebrity, Arts & Media: 29% of Television, 20% of Radio and 11% of Newspaper news items
  • Social and Legal Issues: 25% of Print, 16% of Radio and 10% of Television news stories
  • Politics and Government issues: 19% each in Print and Radio and 11% of Television also featured prominently in the news.

Overall the categories of news where women featured the highest or as the central focus of topics include:

  • Celebrity, Arts and Media: 29% in television news relating to celebrity, arts and media;
  • Crime and violence: 24% of radio news, and
  • Social and legal issues 25% of newspaper reports

The highest percentage of topics featuring women included women:

  • as 63% of the victims of domestic violence featured in the news;
  • as 79% as victims of non domestic and sexual violence/abuse;
  • as 51% of victims of discrimination based on gender, race and ethnicity, and were 59% of those news subjects who were portrayed as “other” types of victims.


Read more of the Pacific/Oceania region report here.

The findings of GMMP 2010 have many uses:

  1. They are a reminder that as the women’s movement we have to strengthen our advocacy and communication through the media – through the news, as well as through programmes and also using our own media forms
  2. They are a reminder that women remain under-represented in senior positions across all sectors including the economy which is one of the reasons why women are not featured as expert opinions e.g. if you consider the number of women who hold senior government positions, aside from elected officials, we still are not meeting the minimum 30% standard
  3. They are also a reminder that media organisations also need to consider their role in addressing the gap raised by the GMMP and identify their contribution to enabling a society where men and women, in all our diversities are represented through media content

In conclusion, Putting Section J – “Women in the Media” into the context of women in a Pacific region requires us to take into account a diverse media environment.

This ranges from the hub of major global news and media corporations in Australia to a mobile women’s radio station in Fiji, as well as several women’s media networks including femLINKPACIFIC’S own regional women’s media network on UNSCR1325.

The Pacific is a region where inter-personal communication is just as relevant as the reality of dual governance structures in Pacific Island societies.

And so to the graduating class of USP Journalism, especially those who will be working in media organisations and newsrooms across our Pacific region, first of all congratulations to your commitment to this industry which offers you an opportunity to be a writer, an investigator, a voice, a channel for those who have not had the privilege you have had here in Suva.

As you step up to take your place in the world of powerful medium for information and communication, because we all know, today, that:

  • The news media remain the major and most influential source of information, ideas and opinion for most people around the world.
  • It is a key element of the public and private space in which people, nations and societies live.
  • A nation or society that does not fully know itself cannot respond to its citizens’ aspirations.
  • Who and what appears in the news and how people and events are portrayed matters.
  • Who is left out and what is not covered are equally important.
  • Across the world, the cultural underpinnings of gender inequality and discrimination against women are too often reinforced through the media.

And so in the context of my own work today – in the context of advocating for public spaces for women to contribute to gender equality and women’s human rights – and the theme of “women’s spaces” – don’t let this just be for the women’s groups or only women in newsrooms – let be relevant to you - because if you don’t peel away at the layers to address the root causes of gender inequalities you will not be assisting in making the change that is so much needed.

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* Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is the Executive Director of femLINKPACIFIC Media Initiatives for Women, Fiji. femLINKPACIFIC has coordinated the Pacific region's participation in the Global Media Monitoring Project since 2005. Web address:

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January 21, 2014
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