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Reality check

ajosephs Icon Posted by Ammu Joseph

March 20th, 2010

Less than a quarter of the people heard, seen or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news worldwide is female, according to the preliminary findings of a new study released just a week before the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The preliminary report of the fourth Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP 2009-2010), the world’s largest and longest-running longitudinal research and action initiative on gender in the news media, was released in New York on 2 March.

The overarching purpose of the GMMP, coordinated by the Canada-based World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), is to promote fair and balanced gender representation in and through the news media on the basis of information and insights gathered through systematic, periodic media monitoring. The GMMP research process is unique in involving participants ranging from grassroots community organisations to university students and researchers to media practitioners, all of whom participate in the monitoring on a voluntary basis.

On Tuesday, 10 November 2009, volunteers in 130 countries across the world spent much of the day poring over national newspapers, listening to radio newscasts and watching television news (online media were included only in a few chosen locations). As GMMP monitors, they were engaged in observing and analysing the day’s news and recording their findings on a number of selected indicators.

The new report on the preliminary findings of the 4th GMMP provides a snapshot of the representation and portrayal of women and men in news media around the world, based on a sample of 42 out of the 130 participating countries. The findings in the report are based on an analysis of 6,902 news items containing 14,044 news subjects, including people interviewed for/about the news, in 42 countries spread across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean region, the Pacific Islands and Europe. North American data is missing from the preliminary report. However, the complete, definitive results of the 4th GMMP will be presented in the final report, expected to be published in September 2010.

The report reveals that, despite recent changes in the media landscape in many countries of the world, the agenda of the news media during the international day of monitoring in November 2009 was not very different from what was recorded by the last GMMP, conducted in 2005. Politics/government continues to dominate the biggest chunk of coverage (27% of the total number of stories), crime/violence comes second at 20%, and the economy third at 18%.

The latest edition of the GMMP has revealed that less than a quarter (24%) of the people heard, seen or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news worldwide is female. This represents just a 7% increase in 15 years: the first GMMP report in 1995 recorded that only 17% of the people in the news were women. The increase in women as news subjects was even smaller in topics that rank high on the agenda of the news media – 4% in stories on ‘politics & government’ and just 1% in stories on the economy.

To make matters worse, a significant component of the 3% increase in women in the news between 2005 and 2010 is apparently due to the notable increase in women as providers of popular opinion, rather than as experts. Women have achieved near parity among those supposedly reflecting the view of ordinary citizens in news stories (47% female, 53% male). However, they continue to be under-represented as experts providing comment based on specialist knowledge or experience (19%) and spokespersons speaking on behalf of organisations (18%). In other words, less than one out of every five authoritative sources interviewed by news media is female.

The latest round of GMMP monitoring found some improvement in the ratio of women to men who are central in news stories, with 16% of all stories focusing specifically on women. This marks an overall increase from the 10% recorded in the 2005 report. Nevertheless, the percentage of stories in which women are not central far outweighs the percentage of those in which they are. In addition, the preliminary results show that women are not at all central in several news topics that are of vital importance to them, such as labour (employment, unemployment) and poverty (housing, social welfare, financial assistance/aid).

It appears that women are still five times as likely as men to be portrayed in their roles as wives, mothers, and so on: 19% of women appearing in the news are identified by their family status while only 4% of men in the news are described in that way. Similarly, with regard to the occupations of news subjects, the categories in which women make it over the 50% mark are home-maker/parent and student/pupil/school child. The next few categories in which women are reasonably well-represented (just below 50%) are: villager or resident engaged in unspecified occupation; office or service worker/non-management worker in office, store, restaurant/catering; and unemployed. The only other categories in which women make a respectable showing are: celebrity, artist, actor, writer, singer, radio or television personality; and child, young person (below 18 years).

According to the preliminary report of the GMMP 2010, “The picture painted through the news on the occupations of news subjects is discordant with the reality. The news presents a world in which men outnumber women in almost all occupational categories, with the highest disparity being in the professions – for instance, health (62% are men), legal (83%), science (80%) and government (83%). In reality, women’s share in all professions is much higher than depicted. The news presents a skewed picture of a world in which women are almost absent in positions of authority or responsibility outside the home.”

What’s worse, almost half (48%) of all news stories were found to reinforce gender stereotypes, while only 8% challenge such stereotypes. In other words, ten years into the new millennium, news stories are six times more likely to reinforce gender stereotypes than to challenge them.

It is not surprising, then, that only 12% of news stories were found to highlight issues of gender equality or inequality. The good news is that the percentage of stories that shed light on an aspect of gender equality or inequality has tripled in the last five years. The bad news is that stories that miss the opportunity to highlight such issues are still far more numerous.

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