Female Journalist vs. Media Industry: A Fight Against Discrimination

 Dr. Neha Nigam*
Dr Ravi Suryavanshi**


This paper, based on theoretical study, focuses on the role and power of women journalists, the matter of glass ceiling at the higher position  and also provides baseline information on the status of women in the media industry (both print and electronic) worldwide. The status of women journalists is loaded with day to day struggles and gender inequalities remain in each and every dimension of life. For their acceptance in media and to acquire equal rights and opportunities, they have challenged the organizations in various ways. To show their ability and obtain equality women had entered the labour force, bringing changes in the status of women in the labour workforce in general and media in particular. The number of females in media, mostly in important positions and decision making posts in newspapers, radio, TV, film and even in advertising, is negligible (Press Institute of India, 2004). Females are often assigned less serious duties and given pages concerned with cooking or interviewing film stars and flamboyant personalities (Gupta, 1997). The key reason is that journalism is predominantly a man’s world (Gallagher, 2002; Djerf-Pierre, 2007). It is found from various studies that in the hierarchy of media organizations involvement of females as journalists/reporters are not clearly visible. In India, the condition of female participation does not have any great essence. Though many organizations and NGOs are running programmes for empowering female journalists and some of them impart training regarding the same. Unfortunately, the situation does not make any drastic change for female participation in the media industry. It can be seen that the participation of female journalists is increasing in China and the US, which indicates that gender does not play an important role to media chores. But despite this fact most of the countries do not even have an equal ratio of female journalists at par with males. Media which is considered a male dominated profession still has much to do for women. This study also indicates that the fight between the media industry and women is still going on because there are fewer female journalists as compared to male journalists.

Many studies of liberal feminism focus on existing inequalities in numbers and opportunities for females in news media professions (Steeves, 1987). However, they fail to give a definite basic physical or ideological explanation that confines females in media professions (Van Zoonen, 1991). Both in organized and unorganized sectors, the capacity and potential of women are not fully utilized. They are often given low paid jobs and the nature of job is also predetermined (Tom, 1989). The findings of ‘United Nations Development Programme’ (UNDP) which were published as Human Development Report concerning gender equality, says, “Women’s work is greatly undervalued in economic terms. The value of household and community work transcends market value” (Ray, 2008).

There are a lot of inequalities in the media industry. Journalism continues to be a male domain, even though more and more females stake out a career in journalism (Dorer, 2005). It is recognized that many female journalists earned less than their male counterparts. Various studies indicate a lack of appropriate representation in senior positions also in western news media (UNESCO, 1987; Van Zoonen, 1988; Wilson, 1988; Beasley, 1993; Weaver and Wilhoit, 1996; Lavie, 1997). Thus, regardless of the significant boost in the number of females holding journalistic positions in the media, and notwithstanding the detonation in the number of mass media channels, senior management and editing positions remain in the hands of males (Beasley, 1993), similar to what is found in teaching, social work and other professions marked by a majority of female workers. There is still need for increasing the representation and participation of females in media. And in this regard, addition of more females to hard beats and editorial positions would be a first positive step in the development of opportunities for women in journalism.

Basically, journalism has been traditionally a male dominated profession and there is no space for females. There is a belief that male members would overpower this profession. Ware (1982) found that for female journalists “any weakness is likely to be considered feminine” but with the passage of time, the notions have changed and this profession gives space for female journalists. L.K. Advani, the then Deputy Prime Minister, stated at a National Conference on Women and Media (2000), “Women are coming into media and journalism in large numbers. There is immense potential for the combination of media and voluntary sector as a force for bringing about the empowerment of women. This would bring women’s power and media together as a formidable weapon” (Joshi et al., 2006, p. 41).

Women’s contribution as media personnel

The participation of female journalists in the media industry is increasing day by day, even though they are not treated at par with men around the world. The main reason for this disparity is the mind set of the society and men who used to treat women as poor on the domestic front and found it difficult to accept the higher position enjoyed by women in journalism. This is generally true in offices where there are fewer female employees (Prasad, 2010). Manjari (2002) criticizes editors and proprietors “who make no bones about their skepticism regarding the capabilities of women in their editorial departments” (Cited in Prasad, 2010, p. 210). The small visibility of Indian women journalists is considered in the study of Joseph and Manjari. Gallagher (1995) also found that women formed only 12 per cent of the workforce in the media in India.

Many organizations and NGOs are working to transform gender inequality and improve the condition of women in the world. ‘Getting the balance right’ (2009) is a report towards gender equality in journalism prepared in collaboration with UNESCO. According to this report the media organizations, professional associations and journalists’ unions are working for gender equality. This report will help working people in the media to evaluate improvement in gender equality, recognize challenges, and contribute to local, regional and international debates leading to the formulation of actual policies to endorse gender equality and the advancement of female worldwide.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNESCO and other agencies all promote these values. However, so far nowhere in the world has total gender equality been accomplished (“Getting the Balance Right”, 2009). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon states, “We still have a long way to go, women are still severely hampered by discrimination and gender-based violence; lack resources and economic opportunities; and have limited access to decision-making.” (“Getting the Balance Right”, 2009, p. 1). The Chief Minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy said, “The large number of women working in the media here represents Kerala’s culture. The representation of women in the visual media in Kerala is more than in the print media”. In this regard, the chairperson of Kerala Press Academy, N. P. Rajendran also said, “The representation of women in press clubs, council and media associations are far less in the state though many are active in the profession. The visual media channels are not governed by the wage board rules and working media journalists’ rules. Many visual media channels are registered under the Shops and Establishment Act and pay low wages to their employees” (“CM Promises”, 2012).

Despite these endeavours regarding women emancipation, the situation does not look any better. The statements quoted above make it obvious that the small representation of women in journalism is a big concern not only in India but also in other countries. In preparing the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media, 17 Indian news companies participated (ten newspapers, six television stations, and one radio station). In this report, Byerly (2011) writes that in India all the participating companies (in the study) together employ approximately 30,000 employees, of which 2,405 are female journalists and 10,518 are male journalists. This is a ratio of 4:1, as men outnumber women in these companies, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Participation of journalists by gender in India
Data from: Byerly, 2011, p. 233

Another study, ‘Status of Women Journalists in India’ undertaken by the Press Institute of India (2004), concerns the role and participation of working female journalists in print media organizations. The purpose of this study was to inspect the obstruction and issues confronting female journalists in the organization and to determine the amount of direct and indirect discrimination in the workplace. This study was conducted in 19 states and it was estimated that the total number of female journalists was 3500.

A study by Murthy and Anita (2009), ‘Working Media Women’ deliberates on the working condition and job satisfaction of female journalists in India. The study was based on three cities: Hyderabad, Vishakahapatnam and Vijayawala. This survey included three mass communication media, newspapers, TV and radio networks. The study found that 145 women are working as journalist in these three organizations. The numbers of female journalists was small, considering that the survey was conducted in the major cities like Hyderabad, Vishakahapatnam and Vijayawala. Another survey conducted by Media Studies Group shows that the number of female journalists in media organizations at the district level is as low as 2.7 per cent (Mohammad, 2012).

On the other hand, big Oriya newspapers like Dharitri and Sambad have considerable number of female journalists. Furthermore, few of them are members of the journalists associations or any press clubs in Orissa. Until now, some female journalists hold the view that even though the number of female journalists is increasing, they are not easily accepted in the male dominated media. The list of accredited journalists also shows that the number of female journalists in Orissa is low. Their participation has improved, but the appreciation of their talents and involvement in media is still not acknowledged. (Chatterjee, 2011).

The study of Aram and Menon (2010, p. 202) found that “the number of women journalists, inclusive of electronic media, in the national capital of Delhi is around 900 and even in a city like Chennai it is an impressive 200. The preceding era saw a boom for entry of women as journalists. Now women in this profession count not only in terms of numbers but also visibility, by means of the positions they hold. Journalism is no more a male sphere. This novel development has also led to a change in the portrayal of women in media in general and newspapers in particular”.  

Veteran Media Women Worldwide

Probably China has the longest history of female writers in the world. Since the early 17th century, the collection and publication of female writers’ works have been regular and organized (Ko, 1994). According to a report in The Times of India (“More Young”, 2005), more women are taking up journalism as a career in China where female journalists account for 41 per cent of the total media workforce. According to a 2005 survey by the General Administration of Press and Publication of China (GAPP), 29 per cent of women journalists are under 30 years of age. The survey reports that 53.8 per cent or 700 out of 1,300 certified journalists in periodicals are women. According to the report on Chinese women working in media presented to the Non-governmental Organization Forum of the Fourth World Women’s Conference held in Beijing women accounted for only 20 to 25 per cent of the country’s total media staff in 1995. (“More Young”, 2005). The data shows that the participation of women journalists is increasing day by day after 1990.

The study of Reinardy (2009), based on a survey of 715 U.S. newspaper journalists, illustrates that women report higher levels of exhaustion and lower levels of professional effectiveness than do male. Among women, 27 per cent said that they wanted to leave the media field.  In 2008, Newsroom Employment Census Report revealed that female accounted for 37 per cent of U.S. journalists (“Newsroom Employment Census”, 2008). On the other hand, the number of female journalists and their working conditions in the United State’s media industry have improved. According to the study of Hemlinger (2001), in 1970, 30 per cent of the American newspaper workforce was female. By 1980, this had improved to 40 per cent and by 2001 it has increased at 48 per cent.

In Southern African media a study was conducted to gauge the condition of female and male personnel. It presented findings from 126 media organizations in 14 Southern African Development Corporation (SADC) countries, representing 23,678 employees. The study found that female comprise 41 per cent of all employees in Southern African media organizations, compared to 59 per cent male. The figure differs from country to country. Lesotho has the largest number of women in the media at 78 per cent, followed by South Africa and Seychelles that have attained gender equality. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe drop below the one third mark. At 13 per cent Zimbabwe has the lowest representation of women in the media (“Women Still Hitting”, 2009).

The proportion of female journalists in the news media has improved in a number of advanced nations. According to the study of International Federation of Journalists, (Figure 2) Asia-Pacific has 12 per cent of female journalists whereas Africa has 25 per cent female journalists in the media, followed by Europe and America which have 40 and 41 per cent respectively (Peters, 2001).

Figure 2: Percentages of female journalists within continents
Source: Peters, 2001, p. 4


It is found from various studies that in the hierarchy of media organizations involvement of women as journalists/reporters is not clearly visible. In India, the condition of female participation does not have any great essence. Though, many organizations and NGOs are working for empowering female journalists and some of them provide training in this area. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed drastically with a larger female participation in the media industry. It can be seen that the participation of female journalists is increasing in China and the US, which indicates that gender does not play an important role in media chores. But despite this fact most of the countries do not even have an equal ratio of female journalists at par with males. In the male-dominated media profession there is still much to be done for women. This study also indicates that the fight between the media industry and women is still going on as the number of female journalists is less as compare to male journalists.


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