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Women: Half the Population, A Fifth of the News
Published on Wednesday, February 15, 2006 by the Inter Press Service
Half the Population, A Fifth of the News
by Sanjay Suri

LONDON - ''What we see in news subjects is that whilst women make up 52 percent of the world's population, they make up only 21 percent of news subjects,'' Anna Turley from the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) told IPS. WACC is a non-governmental organisation that promotes communication for social change.

But the number of women behind the news is rising, she said. ''Encouragingly, when we look at the men and women who report the news, we see a steady increase in the number of news stories reported by women,'' she said. That has gone up from 31 to 37 percent from 2000 to 2005.

The findings are based on news items appearing on a single day (Feb. 16, 2005). Almost 13,000 news items were surveyed on that day in 76 countries.

But through the five years, the number of women as subjects remained more or less the same. Does that mean that more women are behind news reports but still not writing about women?

''I think that is one possible conclusion but global data shows that in stories reported by women, there is a greater chance that there will be more women news subjects in those stories,'' said Turley.

Within the 21 percent space they get as subjects, they do not always appear for the best reasons. ''They are more likely to be found in what is referred to as the soft end of the news spectrum, celebrity stories, social and legal issues,'' said Turley. ''They are much less present in the politics and economics stories which of course make up the bulk of the news agenda.''

Within media ''what we are seeing is that print media lags far behind radio and television,'' Turley said. Only 29 percent of the women behind the news in print are women, relative to the average of 37 percent.

In television news reporting women outnumber men. The study says in the reports scrutinised from the 76 countries, 58 percent were by women.

But that is not necessarily pleasing WACC. ''What we see is that the number of women below the age of 35 in television is far greater,'' Turley said. ''Interestingly, past the age of 35 we see far more men reporting the news than women. That of course suggests that appearance and age are a criteria for women journalists and not for men.''

The Global Media Monitoring Project as it is called was first conducted in 1995 and then again in 2000 and 2005. Besides finding little improvement in representation of women as news subjects, the survey showed also that the pattern can be similar in countries as dissimilar as Britain and Zimbabwe.

Some other findings:

  • Women are least represented in radio where they are only 17 percent of the subjects compared to 22 percent in television and 21 percent in newspapers.

  • As many as 86 percent of people featured as spokespersons were men.

  • Women are more than twice as likely to be portrayed as victims than men.

  • Female reporters are more likely to cover the 'soft' news.

  • Only 10 percent of the stories have women as a central focus.

  • Only 3 percent of stories challenge stereotypes, compared to 6 percent that reinforce them.
As many as 96 percent of stories do not highlight gender equality or inequality.

The imbalance might just be worse than this report suggests. ''I think the survey was slightly urban-based because that is where women are working in the news media,'' Arul Aram from The Hindu newspaper in India, who was associated with the study told IPS. ''In rural areas women are yet to come up.''

Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service


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