The Male Voice Choir Still Dominates Media Coverage

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Oona Solberg

A survey covering media in eight countries on four continents shows that it’s still a males’ world in public radio and television. The survey reveals that on audiovisual networks, male voices will be heard 66 percent of the time on public radio and 60 percent in public television.

The survey Gender Equality and Social Justice in Public Media Across Eight Countries on Four Continents was conducted by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) whose president, Racheal Nakitare, a broadcaster from Kenya, presented the preliminary findings together with one of the researchers, Greta Gober from Poland, in Oslo on June 3.

IAWRT chapters in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Cambodia, Poland, Moldova and the United States analysed employment by gender, age, occupation, ethnicity, ability and sexual orientation in their national media.

The survey used content analysis to examine 560 hours of programming during the second week of January 2015. The aim was to contribute towards a better understanding of gender equality in non-news programming, with a focus on prime time entertainment, public interest and educational programmes.

The main findings are that men outnumbered women in all roles examined in public radio and television. There is little diversity in terms of producers, or formats and topics approached, or in regard to language spoken and subtitles provided for programmes.

The male voice dominates across public media in all countries and continents: the best of the case studies covered Moldova (radio/television), South Africa (television) and Cambodia (radio), the worst countries were Tanzania (radio/television), Poland (television) and Kenya (radio).

The findings confirms an unequal distribution of narrative resources for non-news programming and reinforces what other studies have revealed for news programming.

Additionally, there is little to no diversity in terms of sexuality, age, ethnicity and ability – what the researchers call a deep denial of voices. For example, the transgender voice is virtually non-existent and everywhere diversity is missing.

Professor Elisabeth Eide, from Oslo and Akershus University College for Applied Sciences, and among the authors of a book on gender and media to be published this autumn asks how one can ensure women a more equal position in news journalism. She poses a challenging questions – are there male definitions of what constitutes a “good story”, which characterise what makes the news?

However, she is optimistic. In Norway, women have gained more space in the country’s media. Nevertheless, inequalities remain. She says the media world is still dominated by men, with seven out of ten oral sources in the media are men, only three out of ten are women, according to research done last year. The fact that 60 percent of cases still have male bias shows that not much has changed since the first available Norwegian numbers from 1979, in a country known for gender equality.

What caused this imbalance and inertia? Why are women not more visible? Eide points to a range of factors – dominant male leadership; top heavy journalism; women’s refusal to take on leading roles; a male defined news tradition; sportification/footballization of news and men who select men – as possible explanations. She says it’s a slow process to create gender equality.

The Norwegian Broadcasting did pioneering work in this field more than 40 years ago, with the counting of male and female heads in programming. News Director Per Arne Kalbakk is proud to see that the percentage of female contributions has increased, as the broadcasting aims to have at least 40 percent female sources and also more women leaders. His advice is to be aware and discuss, set targets and evaluate.

The IAWRT report was first presented at the UN women’s conference in New York in March 2015. The Beijing platform for action on gender rights from September 1995 called for increased women’s participation in the broadcast media, both at the operational and the decision-making levels. The survey shows that two decades on the scourge of inequality remains in place. The report repeats the call for women’s greater participation in broadcast media.

In the words of Carmine Amaro, South African team leader and IAWRT member:

“This project opened up my eyes to how different programmes send messages to society about gender. All of our team members work in the media and we have all walked away from this project feeling an acute responsibility to portray gender roles in a different way.”


Photo: Flickr CC Clark Stoeckley

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