Women On Air But Still Not Calling The Shots On TV

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Men hold the power at the top of Australian commercial TV, while there are almost equal numbers of women and men in presenting roles. The majority of reporters in free to air television in both commercial and public broadcasting TV are still men, especially among foreign correspondents.

These are some of the results of a survey of executive producer, presenter and reporter roles in news and current affairs on free to air television. The survey is part of New Matilda’s Women in the Media series that began in March. Not all producers have been included, as complete lists were not available at the time of publication.

Power is concentrated in the hands of men at the higher ranks of commercial free-to-air television stations while women are breaking through into senior roles in the public broadcasters ABC and SBS. 

Nine Entertainment Co has one woman on its nine-member board. Channel Nine lawyer Amanda Laing is the only woman on its senior management team. Seven West Media, which owns Channel 7, has only one woman on its board.

Channel Ten does slightly better, with three out of 10 directors, one of whom is Gina Rinehart, the richest women in Australia. Its 14-member executive team has four women. Channel Ten holdings’ corporate culture is on display on its front page that currently features a male adventurer, three male presenters and a male presenter flanked by two female presenters.

The male dominated for-profit company boards contrast with the public broadcasting boards. The ABC has nine board members of which four are women. Both the Board Chair and CEO Mark Scott are men, but six of of its 11 member executive directors team are women, including the head of news Kate Torney.

SBS is the only media organisation that has a board with a majority of women. Five of nine members are women. All CEOs of free to air television stations in Australia are men.

Executive Producers and Directors

We retrieved the names of executive producers and news directors by using web and Factiva searches for shows on ABC, SBS, NITV (National Indigenous TV), Channel 7, Channel 10 and Channel Nine. These included:

  • ABC: Four Corners, 7.30, Media Watch, Foreign Correspondent, The Drum, Insiders, News, Lateline, Lateline Business, Q & A and Australian Story.
  • SBS: Dateline, Insiders, World News.
  • NITV: News & Awaken.
  • Channel Seven: Sunrise, Today Tonight, Sunday Night, News.
  • Channel Nine: News, Current Affair, Sixty Minutes and Today.
  • Channel Ten: The Project and News.

21 of 27 executive producers were men, 16 of these are with the public broadcasters, ABC, SBS and NITV and 13 are with commercial television programs. We did not identify any female executive producer or news director of a whole show in commercial television. There are many producers but these are often not listed on shows and a full tally of these requires further research.

The biggest breakthroughs at executive producer level have been made in ABC and in NITV, where five of 16, or a little less than a third, of executive producers are women. Angela Bates is the executive producer of News. Four Corners (Sue Spencer), 7.30 (Sally Neighbour), Media Watch (Lin Buckfield), Australian Story ( Deborah Fleming) and Insiders (Kellie Mayo) all have female executive producers.

We retrieved the names of presenters of shows by web searches. Some shows have more than one presenter.

We identified a total of 69 presenters, including 35 men and 34 women. Unlike almost every other finding in our Women in the Media series, there are almost equal numbers of male and female presenters. This tendency to equal numbers occurs across both commercial and public television. There were 22 female and 21 men presenting commercial television shows and 12 women and 14 men presenting public broadcasting shows. 

The largest public broadcaster the ABC has less female presenters, with 12 male presenters and eight women (40 per cent) while at NITV and SBS we identified two men and four women. 

Equal numbers of presenters does not necessarily indicate an absence of gender discrimination. Tracey Spicer, SKY news anchor, Fairfax columnist and convenor of a Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance Women and Media initiative launching this evening, told New Matilda that:

"This research reinforces what I have thought for quite some time: there is an illusion of equality in Australian television. Viewers see a similar number of men and women in presenting roles, and believe the power is equally balanced. But the real power, in the choice of stories and the angles pursued, lies behind the scenes. There are too few female executive producers and news directors, especially in commercial television. Meanwhile, in the presenting roles, men are still seen as the 'lynchpin' while their female co-hosts are replaced if a show needs 'freshening up'."

Jenna Price, a member of the New Matilda Women in the Media research team, Destroy the Joint coordinator and senior lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney, also believes that equal numbers are not unadulterated good news for those who want to see an end to sexism and more cultural and age diversity in the media:

"On the face of it, this looks like good news from a gender equity point of view. But with any breakdown such as this, it's important to examine whether women get the same licence as men, to be as old, or as dominant during the broadcast, or allowed as much input to program structure. It's very important to have gender equity but from what pool of women are we choosing? Age is one factor, but what about cultural diversity? SBS is home to older women from culturally diverse backgrounds — but will we ever see those women on commercial television or even on the ABC, which specialises in the anglo look? Television presenters should look like the — neater, tidier —  rest of us. It's also important to recognise the importance of power — great to be on television, but much more important to be influential in terms of the news agenda."

Current Affairs Reporters

Women are not as well represented among current affairs reporters in the field. (News reporters were not included in this part of the analysis as not all data is available.)

We identified 162 reporters and regular contributors to shows of which 98 are men and 64 are women — only 40 per cent. These include a wide range of reporters on current affairs shows, from regular contributors on morning shows to reporters on in-depth current affairs shows such as Four Corners.

Once again on the face of it, commercial broadcasting appears to be more equal with 46 male reporters and 40 females, compared to public broadcasters with 52 men and 24 women, which is less than 50 per cent. This difference is partly accounted for by lower numbers of women reporters among foreign correspondents reporting for ABC’s Foreign Correspondent and Dateline’s SBS.

This does not mean there are not very successful female reporters on these shows, such as the ABC’s Ginny Stein and SBS’s Yaara Bou Melhem.

More research is needed to explain the patterns that have emerged from this research. There will be some answers in our second report on television, in which we will analyse four days of stories according to gender of reporter, field of reporting and gender of interviewees.

In the meantime, what you think of these findings? Why are the numbers of women in commercial television reporting more equal than in public broadcasting? Is this positive news? How does gender work in the media? Why are the upper levels of the ABC moving more quickly towards gender equity than other television organisations? The Women in the Media team would love to know your thoughts.

Read more stories in our Women in the Media series.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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