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How are women represented in the mainstream media?

Broadcast magazine article - Oct 17th 2013 

Period covers week beginning 9 Sept  *monitored between 6am and 7am

By Lis Howel


BBC News At Ten seems to have suddenly changed for the better. The editions we looked at had only twice as many male experts as females – an astonishing 2.5:1 male to female authority figures. Though as they keep telling us, our figures are just a snapshot. Looking at the amount of time women spoke for gives us a ratio of 4:1 males to females. The reasons for this discrepancy can be found in the detail. On Wednesday 11 September, a two-minute feature on the German elections featured Angela Merkel in a soundbite as well as two other female German politicians, who were counted as experts but spoke for only 31 seconds between them.

The German elections cropped up again on Friday 13 September, with Merkel again boosting the number of women experts, though she was only featured in a short clip. When items feature pooled material or clips from international press conferences, the experts aren’t selected by the in-house journalists so the programme featured more authoritative women despite itself. But credit where it’s due.

The ratio was also boosted the previous day by a two-minute and 45-second piece on veils, with three Asian women experts, though an item on nurses by Dominic Hughes featured two male experts and no women – aren’t the majority of nurses women? Still, the item on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka featured a female former Tamil Tiger. This was all much better from BBC News At Ten. It will be brilliant if this continues – though only five reports came from women compared with 38 from men. How can that be? Where are the women reporters? Count them yourself next time you are watching BBC coverage. You’ll only need one hand.

Radio 4’s Today programme had a good week, improving to a ratio of nearly 3.5:1 male to female experts. We monitored between 6am and 7am and this welcome change can be almost entirely explained by the absence of the British parliamentary slot. On Tuesday 10 September, Today had an equal number of men and women in this hour, including a female expert on arms sales, and the non-executive chairman of Gasol, Cornelia Mayer. Great news – now let’s see this happen between 7am and 8am. Fast forward to 10 October, meanwhile, and there’s the small matter of Today’s first all-female presenting line-up. Next month’s figures will be interesting.

Sky News At 10pm was really disappointing this month with seven men to every woman expert, one of Sky’s worst scores. Friday 13 September really was an unlucky day for women. There were no female experts at all on the Sky News programme, compared with 17 men. So why was it that it failed to engage representatives of 51% of the population? The stories covered were Syria, the fatal fire in Leicester, cyber bank fraud, house prices, rape in India and the Twitter flotation.Male-dominated stories? I don’t think so. There was just one woman correspondent, who talked about charges for plastic bags. Shame on you, Sky News.

Channel 4 News was also disappointing, with a ratio of 5:1. On Tuesday 10 September, a 10-minute item on Syria featured eight interviewees, none of them women. That day, there was a shocking ratio of 11:1 male to female experts.Luckily, on Wednesday 10 September, it had a series of interviews about the NHS, featuring three women, while correspondent Sarah Smith interviewed a woman in her HS2 package.

Overall then, a better score for the BBC. But let’s hope it continues with real interviews with real experts, not just soundbites with politicians. And please could we have more women journalists? We really do seem to be seeing evidence that when more women experts are used, the number of women journalists goes down. What sort of improvement is that?