National Initiatives to Reduce Gender Bias in News Media

Hari Krishna Behera*
Sunil Kanta Behera**

INTRODUCTION

A gender study is a field of interdisciplinary study which analysis race, ethnicity, sexuality and location. Gender study has many different forms. One view exposed by the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said: “One is not born a woman, one becomes one”. This view proposes that in gender studies, the term “Gender” should be used to refer to the social and cultural constructions of masculinities and femininities, not to the state of being male or female in its entirety. However, this view is not held by all gender theorists. Other areas of gender study closely examine the role that the biological states of being male or female have on social constructs of gender. Specifically, in what way gender roles are defined by biology and how they are defined by cultural trends.

GENDER ROLE

Gender roles refer to the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex in the context of a specific culture, which differ widely between cultures and over time. There are differences of opinion as to whether observed gender differences in behavior and personality characteristics are, at least in part, due to cultural or social factors, and therefore, the product of socialization experiences, or to what extent gender differences are due to biological and physiological differences.

Views on gender-based differentiation in the media workplace and in interpersonal relationships have often undergone profound changes as a result of feminist and / or economic influences, but there are still considerable differences in gender roles in almost all societies. It is also true that in times of necessity, such as during a war or other emergency, women are permitted to perform functions which in “normal times would be considered a male role, or vice versa.The media do this by providing information that is collected and edited based on the media guiding principles of accuracy, fairness and balanced representation. The media also see their key role in any society as a “watchdog” of the government and all entities to ensure accountability in a society in the public’s interest. The media’s ability to carry out this role depends greatly on whether the media operate within political and legal environments which enable free speech, reasonably unfettered access to information, free media, and economic and political environments which encourage and promote the development of a diversity of media.

Women in electronic media

The discussion moved onto women in specific sections of the media during the current period. The discussion on women in the broadcast media by pointing out that the electronic media-both entertainment and news – had witnessed spectacular growth over the past decade, with regional language television channels in particular emerging as major employers of women. The large number of women in the visual media is indicative of women coming into their own in the media. In this context, the roles to which women tend to be assigned, and even confined, within television (e.g., presenters rather than directors/producers), as well as about the representation of women in the news (e.g., victims/celebrities versus news or policy makers).

Women in regional media

Among the many points discussed was the huge disparity between journalists’ wages in the regional and English press, as well as print and broadcast media. Another issue was the tendency to replace experienced journalists with fresh recruits. The preferred age group of journalists today is 20-25, possibly because they are inexperienced and can be paid low wages (Rs. 2500-4000 per month). Even through the language skills of many in the younger generation of journalists is quite poor, managements prefer to hire them to present news, cover lifestyle and so on.

Once an experienced journalist reaches a level where she can claim the salary scales recommended by the Wage Board, she often finds herself transferred to distant places where it is not practical for her to move (on account of family responsibilities, etc.) and she is, thereby, forced to resign. This suits the management, which can replace her with a younger journalist who can be paid less. According to some participants, as a result of this trend there are no journalists above 50 in one of the leading Telugu Newspapers. With experienced hands being shown the door in one way or another, quality obviously suffers.

Most media houses still do not offer transport and/or dormitory facilities for women working on the night shift. Although many in the older generation of women journalists who were determined to make it in the profession worked on night shifts, getting around the problem of transport by renting accommodation near their offices, this does not appear to be the case with the youngsters joining the profession now. They seem reluctant to do night shifts, preferring to work in features sections, where there are more jobs and certainly more regular working hours.

Yet another issue raised by several participants was the discrepancy in the respect accorded to English and regional language journalists, with the former enjoying far greater status even within a media house publishing in both English and regional language. This is despite the fact that the latter actually have to work much harder, with multiple editions being brought out every day. Unlike their counterparts in the English press, they also have to handle multiple task (including translation, composition and pagellation).

Gender and Media Activism

Critiquing and challenging the media to change the way it portrays and represents women in its editorial content and programming; the way it also confines women to the lowest positions in newsrooms; the way it uses women, sex and violence against women to attract audiences; and the way it ignores discrimination against women in all sectors of society in the main news pages and broadcasts have been core concerns of gender activists.

In their recently released study on feminist media activism worldwide, feminist communications and media scholars Carolyn Byerly and Karen Ross pose a Model of “Women’s Media Action”. Based on interviews with some 90 women worldwide, the scholars identify four paths that characterize women’s activism and engagement with the media:

  1. Politics to Media – Feminists decide to begin to use media as part of some part of their feminist political work. These women move from being “feminist activities” to producing media products of some kind.
  2. Media Profession to Politics – Women employed in media industries decide to use their vantage women’s professional status. These women are trained media professionals, and at some point in their career, they develop a strong identity with feminism and begin to explore ways of increasing information about women in media content. Some also seek to make company policies more egalitarian.
  3. Advocate Change Agent – Women who pressure media to improve treatment of women in one or more ways. The outside advocate’s path often entails research and analysis about women and media, including publication of reports or articles, or they may mobilize a constituency to write letter or take some action.
  4. Women-owned Media – This path allows women the maximum control over message production and distribution. Examples of this include book and magazine publishing, syndicated radio programming, women’s news agencies and independent film and video companies.

The fight to free the media of gender biases and inequalities has come largely from gender activities who have identified the media as a key institution in the struggle for gender equality. Gender and feminist activists are see the media as:

  • The mediums through which messages are transmitted (through editorial content, images and adverts) about the gender roles of women and men in any society. The messages can either reinforce, or challenge gender stereotypes and sex-based discrimination;
  • As news and communications channels that can put women’s rights and gender equality on the agenda of public policy makers. One way the media can do this is by holding governments accountable to many of the international and regional women’s rights conventions and instruments they have signed in the same way the media holds governments accountable to conventions on torture, political rights, labour rights, etc.

Key decisions and actions

It is devoted to planning for the future in addition to the ideas for action – at the local and national levels – listed above under the various subject areas covered by the meeting, the following decisions were taken:

  • A national NWMI list serve would be set up in the interest of easier communication within the network across the country. In view of the communication bottle-necks and stumbling blocks that have been surfacing over the past couple of years, the need for such a step had been discussed at last year’s meeting too. But this time a volunteer stepped up to act on the idea. It was felt that people with unsatisfactory Internet connectivity and limited access to the Internet would benefit from such a channel for communication across the country. Local list serves will, of course continue to operate and the NWMI website will remain a hub for the dissemination and exchange of information and ideas, sources and resources.
  • In view of past experience with the time-consuming and cumbersome procedure involved in getting approval for/consensus on NWMI responses to event/issues related to gender media, it was decided that a committee of volunteers would take responsibility for promptly drafting, circulating and sending protest letters about such matters the idea is that network members from different parts of the country who wish to call attention to developments in their areas that, in their opinion, call for a nation-wide response from media women can contact members of the committee to set the ball rolling.
  • Local networks, and their coordinators, need to be encouraged to be more proactive about sending reports to the NWMI website on activities, especially since it turned out that a number of such activities over the past years, including some success stories, have not made their way to the website.

Gender stereotypes

When women do appear in the media, they most often are portrayed as sex objects, beauty objects, as homemakers, as victims (of violence, poverty, natural disasters, war and conflict, etc.); or they become front-page and headline (main story) news when they engage in activities which are not in line with societies prescription of what women “should” and “should not” do (e.g., Mothers who kill or abuse their children are often portrayed as “unlawful” women and these stories often are given lots of prominence in news pages and broadcasts).

Gender and Media Advocacy

Gender and media advocacy included lobbying, campaigning, research, training, media monitoring, communication and alliance-building activities which seek to advance women’s rights and gender equality in and through the media.

Its roots are firmly grounded within the women’s movement, but the forms that gender and media advocacy may take are grounded in and connected to local struggles, and take direction from those who are experiencing injustices and inequalities, within our communities (women within the media, for example, have been the catalysts of advocacy to change how women are systematically marginalized within the media).

The impact of globalization

The spread of satellite communications and the opening up of the airwaves and other forms of media to less state-regulation in favour of free markets and commercial interests creates new gender and media challenges for activists. These include:

  • Corporate ownership of media that has forged powerful political and business links and sets limits on freedom of expression.
  • Foreign ownership of media that has implications for accountability issues.
  • The creation and interpretation of news that are shaped and influenced by factors associated with the control of media by governments, advertisers and business groups.
  • Existing media codes that do not have a gender concern or address issues such as the portrayal of violence against women.
  • The presence of transnational media corporations and the consequent becoming of homogenous media images and perceptions of women.
  • Influx of computer and video games that violate women’s images and reinforce violence against women.

DELIVERING THE NEWS

For stories reported on television, radio and newspapers, the percentage of those by female reporter is exactly similar to that registered in 2005 that is 37%.

The percentage of stories by female reporters across all three mediums combined rose until 2005. The statistics for radio are noteworthy for the sharp rise between 2000 and 2005 (from 27% to 45% of stories reported by women), followed by a dramatic 8 percentage point drop 5 years later. The negative change on radio between 2005 and 2010 account for the stagnation in the overall average statistic found in 2010.

52% of stories on television and 45% of those on radio are presented by women. The average total stories on television and radio presented by women is 49%, less than half of the total number of stories on both mediums combined, a 4 percentage point drop since 2005 and lower than in 1995 when the static was 51%.

More stories on television are presented by older women now than 5 years ago. Five years ago, only 7% of stories by presenters between 50 and 64 years old had female newscasters. Currently 51% of stories by presenters in this age bracket are presented by women, suggesting a possible achievement of numerical parity with male presenters of the same age. Supplementary research is necessary in order to confirm whether this is indeed the case.

As well the percentage of stories by female reporters in the older age brackets has increased. Five years ago 34% of stories by reporters between 35 and 49 years old were field by women. The statistic has risen to 42% in 2010. The proportion of stories by women in cluster of reporters between 50-64 years old has also risen remarkably, from 17% in 2005 to 40% currently. Again supplementary research is essential to conclusively confirm this possible trend.

Since the year 2000 the percentage of stories reported by women compared to those reported by men has increased in all major topics except ‘science/health’. Nonetheless, stories by male reporters continue to exceed those by female reporters in all topics.

The changes range from 3 to 11 percentage points, the highest increase being in stories on ‘celebrity/arts’. Men report 67% of stories on politics/ government, 65% of stories on crime/ violence and 60% of stories on the economy. The percentage of stories on science/health reported by women declined sharply between 2000 and 2005 from 46% to 38%, a decline that was followed by an increase to 44% in 2010 that nevertheless has not been sufficient to bring the proportion back up to the level noted a decade ago.

The statistics strongly suggest that stories accorded high news value by newsroom decision makers are least likely to be assigned to female reporters, while those accorded lowest priority will most likely be assigned to female reporters.

13% of all stories focus specifically on women. This is statistically significant change from the 10% found in the 2005 research. In 3 of the major topics there is no improvement since 2005 in how likely stories are to focus centrally on women. The exceptions are ‘politics/government’ where women are now central in 13% of stories compared to 8% in 2005; in ‘science/health’ from 6% in 2005 to 16% in 2010, and in stories on ‘economy’, from 3% to 11%.

Only 6% of stories highlight issues of gender equality or inequality. However this is slight positive change from 2005 when 4% of stories were found to contain discussion or evoke issues of gender (in)equality. The results show impressive change in Latin America where such stories have tripled since 2005.

In Africa, Europe and Latin America, 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.

Scrutiny of the list of stories reveals that the major topics ‘science/health’ and ‘social/legal’ contain higher proportions of stories that highlight (in)equality issues, than topic in which women have historically been marginalized, namely those on politics and the economy. The latter are topics that dominate the news agenda.

The low incidence of discussions or mentions of gender (in)equality issues in stories that dominate the news agenda implies enormous missed opportunities in the news to contribute to raising public awareness and stirring to raising public awareness and stirring debate on inequality.

GENDER AND PROGRESS AT THE MARGINS

Only 24% of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news are female. In contrast, 76%-more than 3 out of 4 – of the people in the news are male. This is a significant improvement from 1995 when only 17% of the people in the news were women. However, despite a slow but overall steady increase in women’s presence in the news over the past 10 years, the world depicted in the news remains predominantly male. This picture is incongruent with a reality in which at least one half of the world’s population is female.

On the one hand the pace of increase in women’s visibility in the news has been maintained over the past decade. In 2005 women’s presence in the news had risen to 21% – a change of 3 percentage points from the research carried out in 2000. From 2005 to 2010 there is a second change of 3 percentage points, evidencing a persistently slow but constant pace of progress over the last ten years.

The rise in women’s visibility in stories on ‘science and health’ (from 22% of news subjects in 2005 to 32% in 2010) to a large measure accounts for women’s increased presence in the news increased presence in the news. This topic in reality occupies the least space on the news agenda when compared to the other major topics. The percentage increase in female news subjects is less pronounced in female news subjects is less pronounced in topics of high priority on the news agenda: Women’s presence in stories on politics and government increased from 14% to 19% during the period while in stories on the economy there was no change, remaining at 20%.

Women’s presence in foreign news has increased to match their presence in local news. Between 1995 and 2005 women were most visible in local stories in comparison to those of a national or foreign scope. This trend is disrupted in the fourth GMMP where women’s visibility in foreign stories has increased to match their visibility in local stories.

Further, the rate of increase of women’s presence in foreign stories during the past 5 years corresponds to the rate noted in the preceding period 2000 to 2005. This trend may be synchrony with women’s increasing prominence at the global level although the extent to which increases in media portrayal accurately reflect real world changes is questionable, if we are to apply lesions from GMMP findings on the under representation of women in several fronts.

News continues to portray a world in which men outnumber women in almost all occupational categories, the highest disparity being in the professions. The proportion of female news subjects identified, represented or portrayed as workers or professionals over the past 10 years has risen in some occupational categories.

Notwithstanding this the sex gap remains high especially in the professions as depicted in the news. 69% of news subjects portrayed as educators are male, 69% of health professionals, 83% of legal professionals and 90% of scientists.

Out of 25 occupational categories, women outnumber men in only 2: news subjects presented as homemakers (72%) and those presented as students (54%).

The picture seen through the news becomes one of a world where women are of a world where women are virtually invisible as active participants in work outside the home.

18% of female news subjects are portrayed as victims in comparison to 8% of male subjects. In contrast, women are now twice as likely to be portrayed as survivors than men.

While the gap between the percentage of women and the percentage of men depicted as victims remains large it has been narrowing gradually since 1995. Remarkably, in 2010, 6% of females in contrast to 3% of males are portrayed as survivors. This is a reversal of the situation in 2005 when 4% of females compared to 8% of males were portrayed as survivors.

Female news subjects are identified by their family status 4 times more than male news subjects. This finding taken in contrast to the statistics on representation of news subjects in their various occupations as well as their functions in the news is revealing. Identifying women by their family status and at the same time playing down their roles in their communities masks women’s other identities as independent, autonomous beings, active participants in the wider society beyond the home.

Subjects in stories by female reports are equally as likely as subjects in stories by male reporters to be identified by their family status. In the case of both female and male reporters the propensity to identify female news subjects by family status is between 3 to 4 times higher than for male news subjects.

CONCLUSION

The need of gender studies is the building of a positive man-woman relationship based on equality, dignity and mutual respect. The often ‘neglected women’s dimension’ should be taken note of and made an inherent part of all media content. Media must play a significant role in bringing huge reformations in women’s life. Since long, women have been portrayed as traditional housewives, sacrificing her life for the sake of the family. Its stereotyped images, which is often found in television serials and films. Media can empower women by portraying vividly the real sufferings in a woman’s life and finding solution for it. In fact, media possess great power to influence the orthodox mindset of the male gender and can propel them to offer equal status to women which they themselves enjoy. The gender bias in news media, not only in India but also in other developing countries occupies an important place in the agenda for development

Reference

  1. Dash Jyotirmayee, A Study on Perceptions and Attitudes of Readers Towards Oriya Language Newspapers, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Berhampur Univeristy, 2010.
  2. Fleming Carole, Hemmingway Emma, Moore Gilian, Welford Dave, An Introduction to Journalism, Vistaar Publications, New Delhi, 2009.
  3. Gallagher Margaret, Global Media Monitoring Project 2010.
  4. Ghadially Rehana, Urban Women in Contemporary India, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd. B1/11, Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, New Delhi – 110044, 2007.
  5. Vilanilam, J.V., Growth and Development of Mass Communication in India, National book Trust, India, Nehru Bhawan, 5 Institutional area, Phase – II, Vasant Kunj, Delhi- 110070, 2009.
  6. http://www.nwmindia./org/articles/more-women-in-the-media-but-gender-bias-persists
  7. http://hindu.com/2010/09/30/stirues/2010093062430400.htm
  8. http://www.york.cuny.edu/~washton/pool/alt_gen_05.html
  9. http://www.whomakesthenews.org
  10. http://www.nwmindia.org/articles/who-makes-the-news–2

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