Women representation in media piteously under dark room

Nation Media Group staff pose for a photo during the company’s International Women’s Day celebration at a Nairobi hotel on March 11, 2020. 
 

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A survey in six countries – India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, UK and the US – on women's representation in newsrooms, news-gathering and news coverage established cross-sectional biases disfavouring women.
  • The Missing Perspectives of Women in News survey commissioned by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that less than one per cent of the of news stories cover gender equality issues.
  • Women are given a blackout in news stories – they are not featured as either protagonists or experts, the report explains.

Women's representation in media is piteously under the dark room with their numbers in governance circle close to zero and reportage on gender equality almost invisible.

A survey in six countries – India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, UK and the US – on women's representation in newsrooms, news-gathering and news coverage established cross-sectional biases disfavouring women in the industry's segmented value chains.

The Missing Perspectives of Women in News survey commissioned by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and whose findings were launched yesterday, found that less than one per cent of the of news stories cover gender equality issues.

Further, in 2019, for instance, women’s share of protagonists or of quoted experts or sources in the news ranged between 14 per cent and 30 per cent.

At the heart of creating an invisible barrier to a blooming and active participation of women in the media are patriarchal norms, found the survey authored by Luba Kassova director and co-founder of AKAS, an international audience strategy consultancy and team.

Gender equality

"These norms inhibit the impact of gender equality legislation in news organisations; enable the continuing dominance of men’s perspectives in news-making," reads the report in part.

And with an overriding male leadership, news production is out-rightly blind to the female perspectives.

As a result, women are given a blackout in news stories – they are not featured as either protagonists or experts, the report explains.

The survey looked into gender diversity in the workplace and in leadership, women as sources of news expertise, news stories leading with women protagonists and coverage of gender equality issues, as the four indicators to establish women's presence in media's diverse spaces.

It involved literature review of 2,286 academic articles, spanning academic arguments and conclusions from recent decades; news content analysis of 11,913 publications and 56.9 million stories from 2019.

Research methods

Eighty publications for the protagonists and experts were also analysed alongside 74 single-question public facing surveys, survey data and reports about journalists and from opinion leaders, among other research methods utilised.

The proponents of the report hope that news providers globally will use it to drive gender equality within their institutions at the level of organisational resources, news-gathering and news coverage.

There is no ‘winning’ country among the six when it comes to improving the gender representation of women in news organisations or their visibility in the news.

In the 20th Century, progress was, however, made in promotion of diversity in the workplace although it has substantially slowed in the last decade, with a halt in some countries.

Between 2005 and 2015, for instance, progress in news reporting and presenting by women halted across both agenda-setting and lower profile news beats.

Senior leadership

Regarding inclusion of women in leadership roles, South Africa leads as the most progressive, achieving near-parity, followed by the UK and US, where women are relatively well-represented in newsrooms.

The report says: "gender diversity in newsrooms seems to be improving slightly...albeit from a lower base," in Kenya and India. It is, however, declining in Nigeria

In terms of proportion of women in senior leadership roles, again, South Africa leads in the pack followed by US and the UK respectively.

In Kenya and India, the progress is nevertheless encouraging. The report notes that the women who had entered into journalism careers in these countries although minority, progressed to senior leadership levels.

Nevertheless, even with improved representation of women in leadership roles, their portrayal and visibility in news has not improved in decades.

Balanced perspectives

Thus, the near achievement of gender parity in newsrooms, as is the case in South Africa, UK and US or having a third of women in top level leadership positions in countries such as South Africa, US and Kenya, has been a progress in futility in terms of changing the shape of news gathering into a gender balanced perspectives, the survey implies.

On women as sources of news expertise, their representation is almost insignificant.

Between 2005 and 2015, fewer than one in five experts globally in the news were women, states the report.

In India, men are quoted in online news six times more frequently than women. It is five times in Nigeria and four times in Kenya. It reduces to three times in South Africa and US. And two times in UK.

When it comes to women as leading protagonists in news stories, their dominance is relegated to lower profile news genres such as arts and media and not the agenda-setting genres such as politics and the economy.

Single angles

In this case, men feature as story protagonists six times more frequently in Nigeria. It is four times more in India, South Africa and the US. While in Kenya and UK, they feature three times more.

Further, the survey found that in 2019, less than half a per cent of all news coverage in India, UK,  US and Nigeria and less than one per cent in South Africa and Kenya, constituted gender equality issues.

Of greater concern is the biased manner of reporting this beat. On one hand, the men are the protagonists in these stories, taking a 56 to 84 per cent proportion. On the other, journalists apply limited and single angles that do not fully reflect audiences’ concerns.

To improve women’s representation and balance in the news, the report proposes three strategic recommendations.

First, more behavioural science-based interventions should be developed to influence the behaviour of journalists and improve women’s visibility.

Women’s needs

Second, introduction of more persuasive narrative frames to galvanise journalists to champion gender equality in news.

These "powerful overarching narratives lie at the heart of what spurs humans into action on important issues because they integrate different parts of the brain and generate activating emotions," recommends the report.

The report proposes the crafting of news stories with an understanding of what women’s needs, worries and aspirations are, as well as of how news coverage impacts their self-image.

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