What reality does media reflect?
By Dafne Sabanes Plou
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA, 03 March 2006
Media should be the main source of information on what is really happening in the world. But, is it? If it neglects to make 52% of the population visible, what reality are we talking about?
These and other questions were asked and addressed by hundred of activists that participated in the Global Media Monitoring. Having taken place the 16th of February of 2005, and every 5 years since 1995 under the sponsorship of the World Association for Christian Communication. A year later, and with the results of the third monitoring in hand, its results reflect repeatedly the invisibility of women in the news world.
Only one in five news stories has women as the main actors. In other words, scarcely 21% of the information that circulates throughout the globe 24 hours a day makes women the subjects of information. This is either because they are spoken of or because they are direct sources of information. Although this is an advance in comparison with 1995 (17%) and 2000 (18%), we have to consider that there are males for every woman in the news. The gender inequality is evident.
This fact is aggravated by another piece of evidence, there is no subject in which women outnumber men as actresses or references. Even when it comes to informing about subjects in which there are as many female as male experts, like gender violence, the prevailing voice is male (64%).
The women that are the most spoken of work in show business, they are the so-called ‘celebrities’ (42%) or Thomson Gale Legal Encyclopedia on Answers.com">royalty(33%). In the appearances in which women are stating their opinions in the media, they do so as witnesses (30%), or giving their personal opinion (31%) or as representatives of popular opinion (34%). On the other hand, men constitute 83% of the experts consulted and 86% of governmental, political or economic spokespeople.
Another interesting detail is that women over 50 ‘disappear’ in the media. Almost 50% of news subjects are men over 50 whereas women of that age and older become inescapably invisible and their opinion seem to lack importance. 75% of women who are actors of the information are younger than that age.
The difference is also noticeable among presenters and journalists. Up until the age of 35 they outnumber men in said positions, especially in front of television cameras. After this age, their number gradually diminishes until they practically disappear. There are few that survive this discrimination, and when they do it is generally with the help of silicone and face lifts that wind up being worth much more than experience or grey matter in media.
Another surprising fact is the image of women as victims double that of men in the same position. Even when faced with accidents or natural disasters, where both men and women are equally affected, it is the images of women crying or suffering that dominate information. This reinforces the stereotype of the ‘weaker sex’, of beings unable to manage their own or to face adversity.
What about content?
Regarding content, things are no better when it comes to women. Only 10% of the news is centred on women and the language used tends to reinforce stereotypes rather than challenge them. News written from the gender perspective is rarely found. Also, for the most part, the language used subtly reinforces traditional roles.
One needs not be excessively descriptive when speaking of sexism in the handling of images and information. Women presented as consumer objects still plague media, especially though commercials or ‘decorating’ various news stories. Sexism also invades sport, police, and even political information.
Nevertheless, there is also room for hope. There are a considerable number of editors, male and female, that work on the gender and equity perspective. Despite this there is still much left to go for the treatment of ‘difficult’ subjects, such as politics and economy, to be permeated by this view.
All the same, it is encouraging to hear that there are men that have begun to commit themselves to this type of analysis. This is particularly important, because women are not the only ones entitled to analyse them. It is vital for men to get involved in the subject. 2005’s monitoring confirmed that 53% of the news with a gender or equity perspective has been written/transmitted by men.
Seeking change The result of the global monitoring has just been made public. It will probably be followed by a deeper analysis of its results. However, with these initial facts, we can begin to think of how we can attain changes to the prevailing information presentation style.
One of the assets of this monitoring is that women and men of different ages and countries enthusiastically participate in this activity. They follow the data recollection guidelines determined by the organisers. In this participative manner, it was possible to carry out the monitoring of 76 countries and recollect 12,893 news stories from both radio and television, in 2005. This sample is important in order to maintain proposals for change.
In its report, the WACC proposes other measures and awareness among journalists on gender issues. Let us begin, therefore, at home. Let us sincerely consider the measure in which we avoid keeping the gender equity and equal opportunity perspective in mind when we carry out our work as communicators. The transformations that we may make in our day-to-day activities, language, and the treatment of information will be essential to question the power relationships that have so deeply subjugated women and imprisoned men. Only then will we be able to set the base for liberating methods of relating, without hierarchies and with equity.
Source: Global Media Monitoring Report 2005, www.whomakesthenews.org