Women's Feature Service
Gender equality in the media has been an important goal, yet one that has remained elusive. But things may be slowly changing if we are to go by the findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 (GMMP 2010), which reveals that the presence of women in the media is gradually improving. Progress, however, is slow and stereotypical images remain firmly entrenched. Overall, women are still read less, seen less, heard less, and quite clearly matter less, than men.
The GMMP is the world’s largest and longest running research and advocacy initiative on fair and balanced gender representation in the news media. This year’s report, ‘Who Makes the News? The Global Media Monitoring Project 2010’, was released recently in English, Arabic, French and Spanish, along with numerous regional and national reports. This exercise, which has been conducted once in five years since 1995, is coordinated by WACC, a global network of communicators promoting communication for social change, in collaboration with data analysts Media Monitoring Africa, and with support from the United Nations Development Fund for Women.
The GMMP 2010 monitored 1,365 newspapers, television and radio stations and Internet news sites; 17,795 news stories; and 38,253 persons in the news in 108 countries, comprising 82 per cent of the world’s population. In India, the report was based on data gathered from a sample of 20 dailies, 11 TV news bulletins, and five radio bulletins, together representing nine languages.
What is interesting to note about the report is that in the 15 years since the project began there have been significant changes. Now, female reporters are responsible for 37 per cent of stories compared to 28 per cent 15 years ago, and their stories challenge gender stereotypes twice as often as stories filed by male reporters. Arguably the most important finding then is that there has been definite progress in terms of gender representation in the media. Today, women run newspapers, television channels and radio stations all over the world, and India is no exception.
However this does not seem to have caused much change in the nature of the content. The world, as seen in the news media, remains largely a male-dominated one, with 76 per cent of the people heard or read about in the news being male. Here India does slightly worse at 78 per cent though this is a tad better than earlier. In 2005, which was the last time the GMMP monitored the media, it was found that 17 per cent of the people in the news were female as compared to 24 per cent in 2010. Similarly, the latest Report shows that there has been a heartening increase in female persons providing popular opinion in news stories – 44 per cent as compared to 34 per cent in 2005.
Among other interesting tid-bits thrown up by the GMMP 2010 were that only 13 per cent of news stories focused centrally on women; women in occupations outside the home were not represented in proportion to their real presence; the age of women in the news has been mentioned twice as often and family status almost four times as often as for men; and that gender biases were similar and in some respects even more intense in the new media than in the traditional media.
The findings for India followed global trends: Only 12 per cent of news stories had women as their central focus – this was marginally less than the global figure of 13 per cent; only five per cent of the news stories highlighted gender equality or inequality, again slightly less than the global average of six per cent.
One of the questions raised was whether female reporters challenged gender stereotypes more than men? It seems they did. In India, for example, 12 per cent of stories filed by female reporters challenged gender stereotypes, while only seven per cent of stories by male reporters did so. But the overall picture is far from encouraging. Nearly two thirds (63 per cent), of the news stories from the Indian media that were analysed were found to reinforce gender stereotypes, while only nine per cent challenged them, with 71 per cent of stories by male reporters reinforcing such stereotyping.
Among the subjects, the coverage of which tended to reinforce gender stereotypes were religion, culture and tradition – the GMMP 2010 found that as many as 87 per cent of stories on these three topics did this. Predictably, crime stories and subjects such as health and science performed poorly as well: 73 per cent of the stories on crime and violence reinforced gender stereotypes as did 72 per cent of those on health and science. The figures for stories on the economy were 62 per cent; celebrities, arts, media and sports 60 per cent; and social and legal issues, 59 per cent.
In India, the study was conducted by 22 volunteers in a day long exercise on November 10, 2009. In accordance with the GMMP methodology, only the main news pages within daily newspapers and regular news bulletins in the broadcast media were covered in the survey. Business, sports pages and sections and programmes and opinion pages were not included.
The methodology did invite some criticism. Mrinal Pande, the head of Prasar Bharati, and former editor of the widely circulated Hindi newspaper ‘Hindustan’, was dissatisfied with the selection of the Hindi newspapers and the places from where they were monitored. “The study monitored just two Hindi papers – ‘Hindustan’ from Delhi and ‘Navbharat Times’ from Mumbai. The papers that have the largest circulation like ‘Dainik Jagran’ and ‘Dainik Bhaskar’ should have been selected and the monitoring should have been done from the heart of the Hindi belt instead of from Delhi and Mumbai,” she observed. It was also felt that the Report could have benefited if it had provided case studies and examples.
Ammu Joseph of the Network of Women in Media, India, the organisation that had coordinated the GMMP 2010 in India, pointed out that the methodology for the project was wholly designed by WACC and was used for all the surveys it conducted globally. “We have pointed out the limitations of the methodology in the national report. This survey was totally dependent on volunteers so the selection of newspapers and television channels also depended on the people who had volunteered,” she said.
The 2010 report contains a plan of action for media professionals and others committed to gender-ethical news media.