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MEDIA: It’s Still a Man’s World, Especially at the Top

Andrea Lunt

NEW YORK, Mar 23 2011 (IPS) - Long known as a “boy’s club”, the worldwide media industry continues to struggle with gender equality, with new research showing women are still underrepresented in the majority of newsrooms across the globe.

The study, conducted over a two-year period for the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), covered 170,000 people in the news media and involved interviews with 500 companies in 59 countries.

On average women are underrepresented in all media positions, in sectors ranging from news media ownership, publishing, governance, reporting, editing, photojournalism, and broadcast production.

Among the ranks of reporters, men hold nearly two-thirds of the jobs, compared with 36 percent held by women. However, in senior professional positions, women are nearing parity with 41 percent of the news-gathering, editing and writing roles.

And despite increasing numbers of women in top jobs in journalism over the past two decades, men still dominate executive level positions.

Researchers found 73 percent of the top media jobs were occupied by men and that women faced invisible barriers, or “glass ceilings” to management in 20 of the nations studied, including the UK.

According to IWMF executive director Liza Gross, the report has served to highlight continued inequalities for the media to address.

Gross said although the study was descriptive, not prescriptive, researchers had been able to identify patterns between regions.

“There is a correlation of high representation of women in newsrooms and broad gender legislation in countries, not only in what we would call advanced countries such as the Scandinavian nations but for example in African countries that have written into law issues of gender parity,” she told IPS.

“We see if it’s institutionalised at a societal level it reflects the number of women in the newsroom.”

The report, released Wednesday, comes as top media executives from around the world gather in Washington this week, for the International Women Media Leaders Conference.

The four-day event will provide an opportunity for representatives from different countries to identify priorities in achieving gender equality, using data from the report.

As expected, IWMF’s study showed progressive nations in Nordic Europe were high performers in terms of gender parity, however there were inequalities in both the global north and south.

In Japanese newsrooms, men outnumber women six to one, while in South Africa females are 79.5 percent of those in senior management.

Margaretha Geertsema Sligh, an associate professor in journalism at Indianapolis’s Butler University, pointed to lack of family-friendly policies as a driver of gender inequality in the media.

“News organisations need to adjust the way they operate to ensure that both men and women can participate equally in news-making,” she told IPS.

“If the media are simply functioning to gain profit without a public service mission, this concern may not be addressed at all. Newsroom cultures have to change and that typically doesn’t happen by itself. In countries where women have reached parity, it is often as a result of quotas or other employment legislation,” Sligh said.

She said the continued under-representation of women had the potential to influence everything we see, hear or read in the news, with past studies showing females report differently to males.

“Research on this aspect is inconclusive, but the assumption is that women will interview more women and that women will select story topics that would be of more interest to women readers,” she said.

“Some studies have confirmed this but others have found no correlation. Since women are underrepresented in all the employment categories studied, it may explain why they are also underrepresented as people heard or read about in print, radio and television news.”

According to a 2010 study by the Global Media Monitoring Project, there are three times as many men used as sources in news media, compared with women.

Acknowledging this imbalance, organisations such as IWMF are hoping that gender parity in the newsroom will be a precursor to increasing the way women are reported in the media.

“We hope in the future we will be able to focus our research to draw very clear direct lines between the professionals who put together the product and the type of end product,” Gross said.

“Our hypothesis is that this does have some impact. Journalism is all about choices; we make choices every day, about what stories we focus on, what we don’t focus on, how we organise a story and what sources we use,” she added. “We feel that the presence of women in newsrooms enriches a final product and that’s why we feel it’s an issue we need to focus on.”

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