The gender of the news

gmmp drawing buono

On 10 November 2009, an ‘ordinary’ day of almost one year ago, teams of volunteers belonging to universities, media research centers and civil society organizations in 108 countries around the world monitored 1,365 newspapers, radio and television newscasts and internet news websites with the objective to find out what was the world portrayed in the media from a gender perspective point of view. They analyzed 17,795 news stories and 38,253 people in those stories.

“The idea of the Global Media Monitoring Project was mooted at the conference ‘Women empowering communication’ the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) organized in Bangkok in 1994 in collaboration with the International Women’s Tribune Centre (based in New York) and Isis-Manila conference”, remembers Sarah Macharia, Programme Manager for Media and Gender Justice at WACC. “Several months after the first Gender Media Monitoring Project (February 1995), coordinated by the Canadian NGO Media Watch, media monitoring was officially recognized as a tool for change towards gender equality in the Beijing Platform for Action. WACC took up the challenge to coordinate all subsequent GMMPs, which fall well within the organisation’s overall goal to promote communication rights, in particular the rights of marginalized groups”.

The 2010 GMMP, which covered 55% of the world’s countries with 82% of the world’s population and whose results were published recently, shows that only 24% of news subjects – people who are interviewed or whom the news is about – in the traditional media are women. In the internet news, monitored as a pilot basis in what was the forth edition of the project, females turn out to be even less present (23%).

Three out of four of the people in the news are therefore males.

It might seem impossible but that’s good news if compared to 1995, when the first report was published. Only 17% of the people in the news were women then.

But who delivers these news? For stories reported on television, radio and newspapers, the proportion is 63% by male and 37% by female reporters, while for those on the internet it is 64% to 36% (only political and social/legal stories are covered online by more women than in traditional mainstream media: 42 % compared to 33% in traditional media for politics and 47% compared to 43% for social/legal stories).

Both at reporters and news content level the percentage of transgender, transsexuals and intersex appearing in the worldwide news on November the 10th was so small that the results could not even be analysed.

What could be done, especially since the number of countries participating had never been as big as in this last report (in the previous one, dated 2005, they amounted to 65), was to analyse the regional breakdown, which shows progress in some areas (such as Latin America, which currently has the highest percentage of female news subjects, 29%) and stagnation in others (such as the Middle East, which has the lowest, 16%).

The report has found relatively little change over the past 5 years in the hierarchy of priorities of the news media agenda. Stories on politics and government, crime and violence and economy still dominate it. Although an overall increase in female news, the percentage is more pronounced in topics of low priority on the news agenda such as science and health (32% female news in 2010 compared to 22% in 2005) than in high priority ones such as economy (the 20% female news hasn’t changed from 2005).

The sex and gender gap remains high especially in the professions as depicted in the news. Out of 25 occupational categories women outnumber men only in two: homemakers (72%) and students (54%), remaining so lodged to the ‘ordinary’ people categories. Expert commentary, on the other hand, remains overwhelmingly male, with only one female in every five experts interviewed in the news.

Female news subjects are also identified by family status (as mothers and daughters for instance) 4 times more than male news subjects and tend to appear in photographs much more than men (26% compared to 17% of male portrayed in the news). “Women are often sexualized, pictured as passive, domesticated, as victims or as subordinate to men”, the report points out.

Even when not portrayed, women tend to be victimized in the news twice as much as men. According to the report’s results 18% of female news is portrayed as victim in traditional media (16% online) in comparison to 8% of male subjects (5% online). In contrast, women are now twice as likely to be portrayed as survivors than men.

Another relatively positive result is that women are now central in 13% of stories, a statistically significant change from the 10% found in the 2005 research. What is surprising is the lack of a preponderance of women as news subjects in topics where this would be expected. For instance, only 37% of news subjects in stories on the women’s movement are female. Women are disturbingly underrepresented also in story sub-topics that impact them more disproportionately than men. For instance, only 42% of news subjects on stories regarding HIV and AIDS and 40% on those regarding gender-based violence (40%) are women.

For what to gender equality (inequality) is concerned the report has found that only 6% of the stories monitored highlighted issues related to it. This is a slight positive change from 2005, when only 4% of stories were found to contain discussion or evoke the issue of gender (in) equality. The results show impressive change in Latin America where such stories have tripled since 2005. Here, the incidence of stories that raise (in) equality issues is higher for female than for male reporters. By contrast, stories by male reporters in the Caribbean are twice as likely to highlight (in) equality as those by female reporters. The GMMP has also found that 46% of the stories (especially those on crime, celebrity and politics but also those on peace,64%, development, 59%, war, 56%, and even gender-based violence, 56%) in traditional media reinforce gender stereotypes (42% online), while only 6% challenge them (4% online).

The inclusion for the first time of the online news monitoring shows that, somehow surprisingly, gender biases become in the internet not only more visible but even more concentrated than in traditional media.

“Before the report we did some previews research on how internet works and found out some characteristics which might explain the results”,  Sarah Macharia says. ” Online readers are impatient, therefore editors have to make the stories short, sharp and catchy and probably some of the compromises that are made, like who’s left out and who’s recognized, affect negatively women reporters and female content. But this is not something that we actually tested”.

“I think in traditional media there’s in general a higher level of awareness with respect to ethical issues than in the internet”, says William Bird, Director of Media Monitoring Africa, the organization that analysed both this year’s and 2005 data.Anyways I believe that what we should do in the future reports is to diversify media content, adding blogs and citizen journalism for instance and see if the results change”.

Another need that was found after the 2005 GMMP was to train on advocacy. We then held a series of training for media and gender civil society around the world with the objective to build a capacity for advocacy for gender responsive media”, Sarah Macharia says. These meetings brought to a series of agreements such as the Nairobi Declaration on Gender and Media Advocacy, 2007, The Caribbean Region Gender and Media Advocacy Plan Of Action, (Kingston, 2008), the Declaration from the international consultation on ‘gender and media’, Cape Town, 2008 whose plan of action, reported on the GMMP, goes from create ‘gender and media’ curricula and modules in schools and journalism training centres and propose amendments of the media codes of practice to make them more gender responsive to adopt and apply policies on gender parity in the media.

At the current rate of change shown by the last GMMP, the report concludes, “it will take more than 40 years to reach parity”.

“Even if the fundamental result is that media by large still perpetuate inequality in our world, almost all the indicators are going toward a greater level of equality”, William Bird points out. “The challenge is to speed up the change and I think that using tools as the GMMP can help achieve it”.

In fact among the initiatives that emerged out of the GMMP many consist in adapting the monitoring methodology used to monitor specific issues from a gender perspective such as media reportage on HIV & AIDS – like The Southern African Media and Gender Institute (SAMGI) is doing – or the portrayal of women in advertising on TV, radio and the press – done by the Bolivian women’s communication network RED-ADA-.

“I also think that the feminist movements have a big role in addressing issues on gender and media, and when I refer to feminism I am not talking only about women. I am a feminist myself”, William Bird says. “I think there’s a significant need for civil society to make sure that gender issues are pushed and to make sure that the way they do it is fresh and inclusive whatever the country situation and by inclusive I mean that far too long issues on gender equality have been seen as women’s issues when in fact they clearly aren’t”.


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