(London) 16 February 2006 - Media censorship of women, thejournalist’s role in society as reflector or reformer of society and acall for a code of conduct for the press by Jon Snow were just some ofthe topics raised during a discussion between top ranking internationaljournalists, editors and members of the audience at a media roundtableheld 15 February. The roundtable and press conference were part of thelaunch event of both “Who Makes The News?," the report of the 2005 WACCGlobal Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), and the launch of “Who MakesThe News? Three Weeks of Global Action,” an international campaign toraise awareness of the imbalance in representation of women and men innews and newsrooms around the world confirmed by the GMMP report to run16 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.
The findings show that women don’t “make the news”as often as men, either in categories of news subject, news content oras those reporting on the news. “While 51% of the population is female,women make up only 21% of news stories,” observed Anna Turley,international GMMP coordinator and WACC Women’s Programme Coordinator.
As news subjects, women who do make the news tendto fall into two categories —celebrities or ordinary people — whileprofessional women are only reported on marginally: an example fromRwanda, which has the world’s highest percentage offemale politicians -49%-only 13% of the politicians in Rwandan news stories were women,according to the GMMP 2005.
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 news remains the territory of male journalists while womenjournalists are relegated to soft news. At the same time as women areincreasing as news presenters (57%), only 29% of newspaper stories arewritten by female reporters. Coupled with the statistic that womenpresenters “disappear” from television when they reach the age of 35raises the question if the female journalists’ value is for appearancerather than reporting.
The experience of the volunteer media monitor wasreflected upon by Loveness Jambaya of Zimbabwe, and Muhammad Janhangirof Bangladesh.
- MORE –
The media roundtable moderator, Jon Snow ofChannel 4 in London, was introduced by the Rev. Randy Naylor, WACCGeneral Secretary. Snow then introduced the panel: Lesley Abdela fromEyecatcher/Shevolution, and Chief Executive of Project Parity;
Ferial Haffajee, editor of the Mail & GuardianSouth Africa; Lindsey Hilsum, international editor at Channel 4; BobJobbins, former BBC World Service News head and now at the Rory PeckTrust; and Stephen Pritchard, Organisation of News Ombudsmen andReaders' Editor at the Observer.Panellist Yosri Fouda from Al-Jazeerawas unable to attend the event at the last moment.
Snow posed the question for discussion: “Goodjournalism involves a search for diversity and balance in subjectmatter, perspectives and points of view. Fair representation of womenis simply a matter of good journalism. The GMMP 2005 report shows thatthis is currently not the case.” The media roundtable was structuredlike the popular BBC Radio 4 program “The Commission,” with “witnesses”confronting the panel with provocative statements related to thediscussion question.
Witness Agnes Callamard from Article 19 suggestedthat the deficiency in coverage of women amounts to “gender censorshipby the media” which prevents the media from fulfilling the moral andsocial responsibilities afforded to them by their powerful role insociety and the mandate of public broadcasting. Panellist Abdelaoffered that it is by “making women voices invisible that media performthe censorship.” 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 monitored its own reporting.They were able to increase their coverage of women by 44%, increasingviewership with female viewers as a result. Training and evaluationshould be provided to both journalism students and mainstreamreporters, suggested Abdela, and “it is good to push government to putmoney into training journalists.”
While panellist Hilsum felt “censorship is a bigword” to describe what journalists are doing, panellist Pritchard, TheObserver’s Reader’s Editor, agreed with Callamard that women arerepresented in the media as being “glamorous rather than smart.” Hisexperience is that women readers send letters and e-mails to TheObserver often as a reaction to the misrepresentation of women.Panellist Haffajee suggested “ignorance
instead of censorship” is at the heart of the problem and that
media reflect the system in one country or society.
- MORE -
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? (their personality, presence only in the private sphere,lacking authority, not having an autonomous voice, reinforcingstereotypes, women being represented as sex objects); 2) How are womenportrayed when interviewed? (women are often identified by theirprivate life and family status; they gain authority in being a wife,daughter or mother; women are valuable for dependency, appearance andfamily status); 3) Language is often male-oriented, i.e. terms such as“mankind,” or by labelling female issues with general terms such asdomestic violence; 4) Women are often relegated to soft news, and softnews is not as highly valued as hard news (such as politics andeconomics). All of this leads, in Lemish’s view, to “symbolicannihilation of women by excluding their lives and trivializing theirexperiences”
Panellist Jobbins asked “Why do women read ‘TheSun?,” infamous in the United Kingdom for its ‘Page 3’ pinup girl. Heobserved that both women and men are socialized by society and tosucceed in the profession, journalists must work according to socialnorms of journalism; both male and female journalists are part of thesame system. “With such a recognizable status quo, isn’t it time to askwhy there has been a consistent failure to engage the media to makeyour case?”has asked women’s organisations represented in the audience.
Lemish said the gender equality issue “touches onthe deepest inequality of all social groups in society…to make asignificant change, society and media can’t be separated.” Noting thatwhile media reflects society, Lemish said that media can play a majorrole in changing society. An example of this is the media’s role in thecivil rights movement in the United States. “We need you [the media] tohelp society change,” she charged.
Hilsum suggested that “therules are put in one way, and if you want to succeed you have to obeyby the rules no matter the gender” in the news business. She alsoquestioned “Are women not their own worst enemies?,” remarking on womenjournalists who produce “drivel” and “write for tabloids aboutcelebrities’ husbands and similar themes.”Panellist Jobbins alsopointed out that news defines what news is – he questioned” Will you bedisappointed if this event doesn’t show up in media news today?”
Lemish suggests that to succeed in gender sensitive reporting requires“the right frame…a need for a difference of perception not gender.”
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’ were problems identified by IFJmembers around the world. Sexual stereotypes regarding womenjournalists need to be broken down, noted Ran, to end editors assigningsoft subjects to women journalists. “I would like to read a textwritten by a male journalist about breast feeding,” she suggested.Panellist Haffajee agreed with Ran’s assessment, noting these issuesshould be address by journalist unions.
- MORE -
Witness Gita Sahgal, Head of AmnestyInternational’s Gender Unit, suggests media re-victimize ‘thevictim’when women are over represented as victims in the media, asvictims of natural disasters and other kinds of violence. AmnestyInternational. regards this as a major human rights violation. Victimstories are often reported as "random incidents", with no space forcontextualisation, where background, culture and other elements can beprovided.
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 look like?,” asksJobbins. “Media are not fair and not even good.” Jobbins suggested totake action against what we do not like of media.
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.
Comments and questions came from both members ofthe audience and the live blog that ran during the media roundtable.Marta, a journalist and media consultant in the audience, felt thatpeople are confusing the role of advocates and journalists. Journalistsare catalysts for change but by reporting the news rather than takingsides. Another women noted how far women have come in the past 100years, and that gender balance in the media might be another issue thatwill take time “maybe not in my time or my daughter’s time, but maybein my grandaughter’s time.”
In his wrap-up statement at the close of theroundtable, Snow expressed surprise at the level of intensity andpassion and the key issues that had been raised during the two hours’discussion with an audience he supposed would be fully in support ofgender equality. He also noted that “Who Makes The News?”was a toolthat he planned to use back in Channel 4’s newsroom and in conversationwith media management, encouraging his fellow journalists to do thesame.
Snow also called for regulation in the media and acode of conduct for the press similar to what broadcasters are bound tofollow, because at present there are no obligations for the print mediato comply to. “The self-regulatory structure in the printed press is ascandal,” he said, “and it is not a way to make media better forcitizens.”
For more information on the GMMP or the Three Weeks of Global Action, go to www.whomakesthenews.org or contact Sheila George, WACC, +44(0)207-587-3000.Back To Top