Gender equality in the news media lags behind rest of society, says new book

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Gender equality in the news media lags behind rest of society, says new book

The news media “misrepresents reality when it comes to the actual progress of gender equality in the world,” according to a new book which draws on data from the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), the International Women’s Media Foundation and the European Institute for Gender Equality. 
“Gender equality in the news media is lagging behind the rest of society, making the media world less gender equal than the “real world,” notes the book, Comparing Gender and Media Across the Globe, which presents the results of a research project at the University of Gothenburg. The book cites the example of how women politicians are “under-represented in relation to their actual numbers,” and how “a persistent under- and misrepresentation of women is a structural feature of business and economic journalism worldwide.”  Download the book, or pre-order a print version, here.
International scholars, including WACC program manager and GMMP Global Coordinator Sarah Macharia, reached this conclusion through an analysis of data from countries around the world between 1995 and 2015. The book is edited by Monika Djerf-Pierre, Professor in Journalism, Media and Communication at the University of Gothenburg, and Maria Edström, Associate Professor in Journalism, Media and Communication at the University of Gothenburg. Both were also involved in the research. 
Researchers behind the study have also developed a new way of measuring gender equality in news content – the Gender Equality in the News Media Index (GEM-I) – which “measures women’s presence, roles and positions in the news.” Djerf-Pierre says this new gender equality index is “so user-friendly that any news organisation could use it and then compare with global statistics we have compiled.” The Index is included in the freely available GEM dataset, published alongside the book.
Based on data from the 20-year period, the GEM-I shows that the news media will not reach gender equality for another 70 years, the book states. “However, there are significant differences between countries and regions when it comes to the representation of women and men in the news media. The largest increase in gender equality in the news is seen in Latin America and the US, while countries in the Middle East and Asia have seen only marginal progress away from news dominated by men.
By examining the data to explain the causes and consequences of women’s underrepresentation in the media, the book also concludes, among other things, that: 

  • “Gender equality in the news media reflects that journalism is a semi-autonomous fieldWithin the global setting of systemic under- representation of women in the news, there are still variations in gender equality, both between countries and over time. These variations are related both to the societies in which news journalism operates and the specific conditions and structures of the media fields in different countries.” 
  • Gender equality in the news media is lacking in most countries in the world. “Women are, to various degrees, marginalised in news content in almost every country in the world. Although the size of the gender gap varies, only a few countries have yet attained gender equality in the way women and men are represented in the news,” the authors conclude. “The news organisations are faring somewhat better, with women reaching parity in reporting roles in many countries. There are, however, fewer women in positions of power – top-level management and governance roles – in the news media industry.” The authors noted that while these observations have been stated numerous times before, it nonetheless needs to be restated.  
  • “The news media logic operates as a global homogeniser. The variations in gender equality between countries also appear to be smaller in the media world than in the “real world.” The way the news media operate thus contributes to a homogenisation of the representation of women and men across news cultures. While some countries perform better than others and some appear to be catching up, there seems to be an “attention ceiling” at one-third of the space or voice allotted to women in the news in most countries in the world. This also means that once a country has hit the attention ceiling, further development seems to be harder to achieve.”  
  • Progress is both fast and slow. The slow progress manifests itself in the meagre increase of women as subjects or sources in the news, from 17 to 24 per cent in 20 years. Other indicators of gender equality in news content display similar sluggish trends. Greatest progress is seen in Latin America, followed by North America and the Caribbean. In other regions, progress is slower or stagnating. 


“The eight chapters in the book engage with different aspects of media gender equality and each provides new and important knowledge about the specific topic in focus,” says a press statement issued by the University of Gothenburg. “Taken together, they also offer new insights into the qualities, causes, and consequences of gender equality in the news media on a general level.” 

Ulla Carlsson, UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression, Media Development and Global Policy and professor at the University of Gothenburg describes the book as “a trailblazing collection of first-rate studies by leading researchers in all parts of the world.” She adds: “This is without doubt required reading for all who negotiate with this issue – not least from an Agenda 2030 perspective.”