Have We Achieved Gender Equality In The Media?


2013 was a great year for women in the Walkleys.

The Newcastle Herald’s Joanne McCarthy deservedly won the top award, the Gold Walkley, for her portfolio of 350 stories on child abuse that helped trigger a Royal Commission. She also won the Melbourne Press Club award for Journalist of the Year in 2012.

Women won Walkleys for best cartoonist, best press photographer, best non-fiction book, best interview, best long-form feature, best indigenous affairs reporting, best radio documentary, best sports story, best all media commentary. Women shared in eight other awards.

So is it time to move on from the topic of media and gender? Well for a start, if there was gender equity in the Australian media, would we even notice, as The Conversation put it, that it was “Ladies’ Night”?

There is no doubt women have come a long way in journalism since this year’s winner of best contribution to journalism, Carolyn Jones, joined the ABC in the early 60s. As she told the recent launch event for the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance Women in Media project, back then she was a rare presence.

These days there is no shortage of strong role models for women wanting to enter the media. The majority of media workers are women. They excel in all fields of journalism. And yet, women made up 39 per cent of Walkleys judges this year, 35 per cent of finalists but 42 per cent of winners. But concentrating on the top journalists who receive the awards can hide deep systemic discrimination in the media.

A 2012 University of the Sunshine Coast survey of 605 journalists found that women now outnumber men in the media but still have significantly lower salaries than men.

Only one-third of them (35.6 per cent) earn more than $72,000 a year, compared with around half (53.1 per cent) of male journalists. This is even more pronounced at the top end of the scale. A mere 1.2 per cent of female journalists reported an income of more than $144,000 a year. By contrast, 9.8 per cent of men fell into this category.

Preliminary results of a 822-strong online survey, released this week by the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and International Women's Media Foundation, shows that more than two-thirds of female media workers who participated experienced abuse and harassment at work.

The research found almost 60 per cent of sexual harassment happened in the office, with 49 per cent occurring in the field.

The Insi Report was released at the first UNESCO Global Forum on Gender and Media, staged in Bangkok this week.

“Gender disparities remain stark and stereotyping the norm” in Asia and Oceania media, UNESCO reported. “Successes are often isolated and lack the concerted international push necessary to have a meaningful impact on mainstream media practices.”

Journalism academic Julie Posetti, who presented a case study on New Matilda’s Women in the Media project, said, “if you think it is time to move on from this issue internationally, you’re very wrong”. (For more on the forum follow the Twitter hashtag #GFMG.)

In Australia, researcher Louise North’s survey of 577 female journalists working across all media found sexism and sexual harassment towards women is a systemic problem, with 57.3 per cent of female journalists having experienced some form of sexual harassment, up from 51.6 per cent in a 1996 survey. Most sexual harassment had happened in the last five years.

One clear finding from our Women in Media series is that men dominate the top ranks of corporate media.

The boards of the public broadcasters and executive teams are far more evenly gender balanced in public broadcasting. As in parliamentary politics, improved levels of gender equity are the result of deliberate policies.

But while supporting women to break through the “glass ceiling” is equitable, it will not necessarily change the way women are represented and how gender power relations are reproduced through the media.

For example, German media mogul Yvonne Bauer, whose family company took over most of Australia’s women’s magazine market from the Packer family, including The Women’s Weekly, makes big money out of playing on gender stereotypes to attract readers and advertisers.

Does more women presenters mean less discrimination?

Our survey of media roles in an earlier story showed that the majority of reporters in free to air television in both commercial and public broadcasting TV, as in print media, are still men — especially among foreign correspondents. But when it comes to presenting roles, there was near gender balance.

As Tracey Spicer, coordinator of the Women in Media alliance, and Jenna Price, Destroy the Joint coordinator, both explained, gender equity in presenting roles does not mean much if women can be pushed aside when the show needs “freshening up” and men set the agenda behind the scenes.

Our latest study allows us to delve deeper into this issue.

Gender in Current Affairs TV

We analysed current affairs stories over five days on the public broadcasters ABC and SBS, and commercial television stations, Channel 7 and 9. Morning and evening current affairs shows and some weekly shows, including ABC’s Four Corners and SBS’s Dateline, were included.

The selected dates were 25 and 26 March and 14-16 October 2013.We chose the beginning of those weeks because there are more current affairs shows on during these days.

In considering these results, readers need to keep in mind that that the sample is small and that we have not included news bulletins. With a different sample, the patterns may change. The results should be regarded as a pilot study throwing up some intriguing results and possibilities for further research.

In all there were 242 stories. Of these, 176 stories were broadcast on Channel 7 and 9 and 66 stories were broadcast on the ABC and SBS. The ABC broadcast the lion's share of the publicly broadcast stories, with 63 all up. There are more, shorter stories on commercial television.

For each story we recorded the gender of executive producer, presenter, reporter (if there was one) and interviewees. (We did not have the data to code for background producers, who are often not named). We also coded the topic of the story — eg politics, education, sport etc.

Like everywhere else in the Australian media, men exercise power at top ranks of television. 91 per cent of stories had a male executive producer behind the scenes. Between them and on air journalists, there are producers — but we did not have the information to analyse the gender of these.

For the 9 per cent of stories for which there was a female executive producer, all were broadcast on the ABC. The ABC plays a key role in providing Australian women journalists with opportunities to exercise decision making power in setting priorities and story agenda.

Presenting roles: a surprising finding?

Some current affairs shows use a single presenter and others have joint presenters. Of 242 stories, 146 stories (60 per cent) were presented by a women alone. 34 stories (14 per cent) were presented by combinations of men and women. 59 stories (24 per cent) were presented by a man alone. In other words, 74 per cent of stories had a women on screen as presenter, compared to 38 per cent that included a man.

This stands out from other findings in our series of articles on women in the media. (In our newspaper study, only 31 per cent of 665 bylines were female).

In some stories, a presenter introduces a story reporter while in others the presenters report the story themselves.

One hundred and seventeen of 242 stories had a reporter. Of these 65 (56 per cent) were reported by men and 52 (44 per cent) by women. So while there are more female presenters, there were more male reporters — although the gap is not great.

There were 125 stories that did not have a reporter. These were equally divided, with 49 (39 per cent) being presented by woman alone, 51 (41 per cent) by a man alone, and 25 with combinations, including at least one man and one woman.

So while there are more female presenters, they are less likely to do the actually reporting than the male presenters. They are more likely to cross to a reporter, who is more likely to be a man.

Nearly all "hard" stories about politics, economics and international affairs were broadcast on the ABC and nearly all "softer" topics of human interest, entertainment, celebrity, health and fitness were broadcast on commercial television. We found there was little differences between whether a story was reported by a male or female across different story topics.

Note: We did not include Channel Ten’s The Project in this study. There is no archive. There are two male and one female presenter. The personalities listed on the website include 10 men and 10 women. The Project does tackle a broad range of topics in an accessible way. Any follow up studies will include this show.

Who was interviewed?

A crucial aspect of reporting is journalists’ selection of their sources. Through this process, reporters and editors exercise power over who will get a voice and who will remain silent, who will be visually represented in particular roles on television and who will not.

Of 242 stories, 190 included interviews. We coded only the first three people interviewed.

Forty-one per cent of interviewees were women and 58 per cent were men. One per cent of shows interviewed men and women at the same time.

While men were still preferenced, the gender split on television was far more evenly balanced than in our newspaper study of nine Australian metropolitan and regional newspapers in which male sources were three times more likely to be quoted than females.

On the public broadcasters, over 66 stories, 134 people were interviewed. Twenty per cent were women and 79 per cent were men. Again, 1 per cent of shows interviewed a man and a woman at the same time. So the ABC, which did nearly all the stories around politics, economics and international affairs was far more likely to interview men.

This again reflects our newspaper study in which business stories had 90 per cent male sources and men also far outweighed women in politics and international news.

Of 66 stories broadcast by public broadcasters, one third (33 per cent) were on shows executive produced by women and nearly 90 per cent were presented by women. Of those that had a reporter, 43 per cent were reported by women and 57 per cent by men. Yet nearly all the sources were male.

Two hundred and forty-eight people were interviewed on commercial television. Fifty two per cent were women and 47 per cent were men. One per cent of interviews featured both. There was a far higher proportion of female sources on commercial television which broadcast more stories in areas of human interest, entertainment, celebrity and other general topics.

A more detailed study over time would reflect whether increased numbers of women in television is affecting the gender of sources. At the moment, the strongest influence on the choice of story would appear to be the type of story rather than whether a woman or man is involved in the production of the story.

After these results were presented at the Journalism Education Association of Australia Conference in Queensland yesterday, Jenna Price, who is also a member of New Matilda’s Women in the Media team, commented:

“The key thing for women journalists is to recognise the changes we want to see are structural. It's important to get the jobs — but it's not enough. It's what you do with that job when you work in the media that will make the difference. It's also very important to recognise that when we report, we also gate-keep. We have the opportunity to choose sources — and with that opportunity, comes the responsibly to choose female sources.

"It's when you can change the reporting — make women an equal partner in the conversation — that you begin to be able to challenge the structures.”

Research by Alex Holder and Arunn Jegan for the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.