(London) 20 February 2006 - Media censorshipof women, the journalist’s role in society as reflector or reformer ofsociety and a call for a code of conduct for the press by Jon Snow werejust some of the topics raised during a discussion between top rankinginternational journalists, editors and members of an audience ofmedia management and non-governmental organisation representatives at amedia roundtable held 15 February.
The roundtable and press conferencewere part of the launch event of both “Who Makes The News?," the reportof the 2005 WACC Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), and the launchof “Who Makes The News? Three Weeks of Global Action,” an internationalcampaign to raise awareness of the imbalance in representation of womenand men in news and newsrooms around the world confirmed by the GMMPreport to run 16 February – 8 March.
The press conference and media roundtable outlinedthe findings of the third WACC Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP),which analysed television, radio and newspaper coverage on one day in76 countries around the world. The data gathering resulted in more than13,000 articles being reviewed by hundreds of volunteer monitors.
In his wrap-up statement at the close of the roundtable, Jon Snowexpressed surprise at the level of intensity and passion and the keyissues that had been raised during the two hours’ discussion with anaudience he supposed would be fully in support of gender equality. Healso noted that “Who Makes The News?”was a tool that he planned to useback in Channel 4’s newsroom and in conversation with media management,encouraging his fellow journalists to do the same.
Snow also called for regulation in the media and a code of conduct for the presssimilar to what broadcasters are bound to follow, because at presentthere are no obligations for the print media to comply to. “Theself-regulatory structure in the printed press is a scandal,” he said,“and it is not a way to make media better for citizens.”
The GMMP findings show that women don’t “make thenews” as often as men, either in categories of news subject, newscontent or as those reporting on the news. “While 51% of the populationis female, women make up only 21% of news stories,” observed AnnaTurley, WACC Women’s Programme Coordinator at the press conference heldto release the report. Margaret Gallagher, “Who Makes The News?”author, said the findings show the media as a “mirror on the world is astrangely distorted one.” Part of the distortion, she said, arisesbecause only 10% of news stories worldwide have women as the centralfocus and many news stories reinforce rather than dispel stereotypes ofwomen. In the newsrooms, the gender divide continues, where hard newsremains the territory of male journalists while women journalists arerelegated to soft news. At the same time as women are increasing asnews presenters (57%), only 29% of newspaper stories are written byfemale reporters.
The experience of the GMMPvolunteer media monitorwas reflected upon by Loveness Jambaya of Zimbabwe, and MuhammadJanhangir of Bangladesh.
The media roundtable moderator, Jon Snow ofChannel 4 in London, was introduced by WACC General Secretary RandyNaylor. Panellists included Lesley Abdela fromEyecatcher/Shevolution,Ferial Haffajee, Mail & Guardian South Africa Editor; LindseyHilsum, Channel 4 International Editor; Bob Jobbins, former BBC WorldService News head and now at the Rory Peck Trust; and StephenPritchard, Organisation of News Ombudsmen and Readers' Editor at theObserver.
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Panellist Yosri Fouda from Al-Jazeera was unableto attend the event at the last moment. Snow posed the question fordiscussion: “Good journalism involves a search for diversity andbalance in subject matter, perspectives and points of view. Fairrepresentation of women is simply a matter of good journalism. The GMMP2005 report shows that this is currently not the case.” The mediaroundtable was structured like the popular BBC Radio 4 program “TheCommission,” with “witnesses” confronting the panel with provocativestatements related to the discussion question.
Witness Agnes Callamard from Article 19 suggestedthat the deficiency in coverage of women amounts to “gender censorshipby the media.” Callamard also suggested that women’s news is censoredby the media through denial of the leadership and expertise of women(GMMP 2005 showed that 83% of experts quoted in the media are male),reducing women’s point of view in the news and news content. “Women areonly symbols of glamour and beauty when presented” this way, she said.
Challenged by the charge of censorship, Snow andother panellists pointed out that tight deadlines force journalists torely on known sources and decrease journalists’ interest ingender-balanced news. “Don’t assume an order in the media that isn’tthere,” said Snow. “Up against a deadline, you take what you can—wewill use anyone [as a source].”
The need to train journalists to have female andmale sources on hand was also discussed. It was noted that concertedefforts by media can and do change balance of coverage. A Swedishtelevision station was identified that increased their coverage ofwomen to 44%, increasing viewership with female viewers as a result.Training and evaluation should be provided to both journalism studentsand mainstream reporters, suggested Abdela, and “it is good to pushgovernment to put money into training journalists.”
Panellist Pritchard, The Observer’s Reader’sEditor, agreed with Callamard, since his experience is that womenreaders send letters and e-mails to The Observer often as a reaction tothe misrepresentation of women.
Speaking on behalf of WACC, Witness Dr. DafnaLemish, Chair of Communications at the University of Tel Aviv, outlinedthe practice of reporting on women around the world identified by GMMP2005. She made four points: 1) Who are the women presented in newsreports?; 2) How are women portrayed when interviewed?; 3) Language isoften male-oriented; 4) Women are often relegated to soft news, andsoft news is not as highly valued as hard news. All of this leads, inLemish’s view, to “symbolic annihilation of women by excluding theirlives and trivializing their experiences.”
Panellist Jobbins observed that both women and menare socialized by society and to succeed in the profession, journalistsmust work according to social norms of journalism; both male and femalejournalists are part of the same system.Noting that while mediareflects society, Lemish said that media can play a major role inchanging society. An example of this is the media’s role in the civilrights movement in the United States. “We need you [the media] to helpsociety change,” she charged.
The challenges faced in the newsroom by womenjournalists was explored with the panel by witness Mindy Ran of theInternational Federation of Journalists. Lack of training (especiallyfor War zone reporting or for freelancers), high pressure and stress,gender pay gap, sexual intimidation, pregnancy discrimination, andbeing stuck with ‘soft subjects.’
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Were problems identified by IFJ members around theworld. Sexual stereotypes regarding women journalists need to be brokendown, noted Ran, to end editors assigning soft subjects to womenjournalists. “I would like to read a text written by a male journalistabout breast feeding,” she suggested. Panellist Haffajee agreed withRan’s assessment, noting these issues should be address by journalistunions.
Who is setting the agenda? “Those controlling thefinancing and not the journalists themselves,” observed panellistAbdela, talking about her experience in Kosovo, and the problems inbudgeting to cover women's stories. “What do you want the media to looklike?,” asks Jobbins. “Media are not fair and not even good.” Jobbinssuggested to take action against what we do not like in themedia.
Panellist Pritchard noted the value of the “WhoMakes The News?” report in is its ability via its data to show thereality behind gender biases and, by the level of debate in the room,showed that the issue of gender bias was not "solved" for progressivemedia.Back To Top