Report tracks women’s role in global media

At the present rate, it’s going to take nearly seven decades to close the gender gap

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo courtesy of the World Association for Christian Communication

LOUISVILLE — The most recent Global Media Monitoring Project report indicates that all things remaining equal, it will take 67 years to close the gender equity gap in traditional news media around the world.

No country, the sixth edition of the report said, has attained gender equity, either in its newsrooms nor among the sources it relies on for its stories.

UN Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called for more stories that “reflect the diversity of women’s expertise and perspectives.”

“By hearing more women’s voices in the news as experts and leaders, and by seeing their stories featured centrally in ways that push against simplistic stereotypical gender roles, the media can create the more accurate, inclusive and empowering representation we need as the world rebuilds,” she said.

The report has been issued every five years since 1995 by the World Association for Christian Communication, which describes itself as “a nongovernmental organization that builds on communication rights in order to promote social justice.”

WACC has members in 120 countries, which are divided into eight regions. Read a summary of the preliminary findings in the GMMP report, which were released in April, here.

Among the findings in the GMMP report, issued last week:

  • Women were only 13% of subjects and sources in the television newscasts monitored and 21% in the digital news stories and tweets. “While the results have improved,” the report notes, “women’s invisibility remains even more marked in influential international media that serve formidable audiences.”
  • The pattern of underrepresentation of women even in stories that concern them, such as #MeToo stories, more than spills over in news content on gender-based violence. “That girls and women are underrepresented in stories about sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault particularly now, during COVID-19 ties when such acts have reached epidemic proportions, signals a serious deficit in news media accountability to women.” The failure to represent the diversity of people and opinion present in society “not only has implications for public discourse in decision-making, but it also plays a role in eroding trust in news journalism.”
  • Women’s voices as spokespersons have increased by eight points since 2005, and as experts by seven points in the same period. Currently, 24% of expert voices in the news are women.
  • Gender equality in the world depicted in the news still lags behind gender equality in the physical world. In addition, people older than 80 rarely get attention in the news: only 3% of the subjects of newspaper news stories were in that category, and less than 1% in television news. “Women 80+ were even more invisible than the men in that age group,” the report states.
  • Compared to the most recent previous report in 2015, women’s visibility as reporters has increased by three percentage points overall across print and broadcast news. The reporter gender gap is exactly the same in Asia, Europe and Latin America. Pacific media have progressed slower than the rest of the world, but they are currently the second-best performers after their Caribbean counterparts.
  • The sex of the reporter matters for the gender dimensions of the story. GMMP findings across time indicate that women reporters are more likely than men to turn to women subjects and sources. Currently, 31% of the people in traditional news covered by women reporters are female, in contrast to 24% of subjects and sources in stories by men reporters.

Dr. Susan Jackson Dowd, executive director of Presbyterian Women, Inc.  and a member of the North American board of the WACC, said Monday that even though the report shows “an overall trajectory of gender representation in the media is improving in some areas of the world, results of the research are concerning.”

Dr. Susan Jackson Dowd

An example, Jackson Dowd said, is that the rise in stories about the pandemic in the category of science and health was accompanied by “a fall in women’s voice and visibility in stories.”

GMMP findings related to gender stereotypes “show that news media may be contributing to the persistence of gender-based violence,” Jackson Dowd said. Between 7 in 10 and 9 in 10 stories on gender-based violence or inequality “reinforce or do nothing to challenge gender stereotypes,” Jackson Dowd said, quoting the report, which indicates “that the quality of the news across research measures is stagnant or in decline.”

Jackson Dowd said that Presbyterian Women, Inc., in partnership with the World Council of Churches, women’s organizations, and other partners nationally and around the world, “consistently work toward eradicating gender-based violence.”

“The 2020 UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) revisited the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action’s Millennium Development Goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women,” Jackson Dowd said. “This goal became a UN Sustainable Development Goal in 2015.”

“The 2021 UN Commission on the Status of Women focused on women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,” Jackson Dowd said. “Yet, the research shows that news reporting works against these efforts and any sustainable progress.”

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