sexta-feira, fevereiro 17, 2006


'Where are the women?' is the burning question

Stephen Pritchard
Readers' Editor
The Observer, London
Thursday February 16, 2006

Women - half the world's population - are barely present in the faces seen, the voices heard and the opinions expressed in the world's media. Don't believe me? Then look at Who Makes the News?, a report published in London this week. It makes shaming reading.

Right around the world, for every woman who appears in the news there are four men: only 21% of news subjects - the people the news is about - are female. In not one major news topic do women outnumber men as newsmakers. In politics, the subject that dominates the news agenda internationally, the picture is even grimmer - only 14% of news subjects are women.
When women do make the news it is primarily as celebrities (42%) homemakers (75%) or students (51%).

We know this - and a lot more - thanks to the Global Media Monitoring Project. Teams in 76 countries watched television, read the papers and listened to the radio on one random day - February 16 last year - the most extensive global research of gender in news media ever undertaken. They monitored 12,893 stories; items which included 25,671 news sources and were reported or presented by 14,273 news personnel.

Their findings - weighted to take account of cultural differences worldwide - make depressing reading. Expert opinion in the news is overwhelmingly male. Men represent 83% of experts, and 86% of spokespeople. By contrast, women appear most in a personal capacity: as eyewitnesses (30%), giving personal views (31%) or representing popular opinion (34%).

Age is crucial. Men go on making news into their 50s and 60s; indeed, nearly half of all male news subjects are over 50. But older women are almost invisible: nearly three-quarters of female news subjects are under 50.

And the media disproportionately focuses on women as victims - often in accidents, crime and war stories that actually affect both sexes. Indeed, women are more than twice as likely as men to be portrayed as victims: 19% of female news subjects, compared with 8% of males are portrayed in this way.

The story is - unsurprisingly - the other way around when it comes to photographs. Women are much more likely to appear in pictures than men. In crime, violence or disaster stories, pictures of women are frequently employed for dramatic effect (think of the Asian tsunami) and to "decorate" pages.

In newsrooms around the world, 37% of journalists are women, and yet newspapers are lagging behind broadcasting, with only 29% of female staff worldwide.

Female reporters predominate in only two topics - weather reports on TV and radio (52%) and stories on poverty, housing and welfare (51%). Half of all celebrity news is written or presented by women, and yet only 32% of political news is reported by women. Men predominate when it comes to "hard" or "serious" news.

So, what's to be done? It's sobering to think that this is the third report - the first monitoring took place in 1995, and the headline figures have hardly changed: back then, 17% of those heard and seen in the news were women.

At the launch of Who Makes the News?, I joined a panel, chaired by Channel 4 News' Jon Snow, to discuss this issue with 100 representatives from women's groups, NGOs and the world's press. It was quickly pointed out that if the increase in women's representation continued at the current rate it would take 160 years to reach 50%.

There are many factors at work here. The women's movement has largely failed to influence media managers around the world, and the near collapse of trade unionism within the media has allowed women journalists to often feel under-represented, marginalised and exploited, working on short-term contracts, or no contract at all. Over the next five years the project aims to get more muscular - increasing its lobbying of press and broadcasters and urging change in the training of journalists.

The choice of story angle, the choice of interviewee, the use of language and the choice of images - all have a bearing on the messages that emerge in the news. Often is not a sin of commission, but omission. "Where are the women?" is the burning question, and 50% of the world's population is waiting for the answer.

For top ten highlights of Who Makes the News? in English, French, Spanish,
and Portuguese, click here

Full report in English (French and Spanish to follow)

·Stephen Pritchard is the Observer's readers' editor