Report warns of ‘dire picture’ of women’s under-representation in news

The research was commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Women’s representation in the news has “flatlined” in the 21st century, with three times as many men featuring as leading figures in UK stories, a report suggests.

The study found that women’s share of central roles or sources in the news was between 14% and 30% across India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the US last year, with less than 1% of stories covering gender inequality issues.

The UK performed best in terms of women’s share of quoted voice (29%) and the proportion of women protagonists (30%), but men were still around three times more likely to feature, according to the research, which was commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The report reveals a dire picture of women’s under-representation in the news,” said the 178-page paper, Missing Perspectives Of Women In News, published on Thursday.

“It shows that women’s representation in the news has flatlined (if not reversed) in the 21st century and that women are marginalised in governance/leadership roles in news organisations.”

The research included a review of 2,286 articles, analysis of 11,913 publications and 56.9 million stories, along with examinations of Google trends and surveys.

It found “men are still in the driving seat” in news organisations, while women “form a minority of leaders, governors and top managers” in each of the six countries, making up 30% of top management roles in the UK.

South Africa leads the way with gender parity in the newsroom, where 49% of journalists are women, followed by the UK (47%) and the US (42%-45%), compared with 28% in India.

But the report said: “A male-dominated culture is one of the leading reasons suggested by academic research as to why we have observed no positive relationship between newsrooms which have more women and news coverage which features higher numbers of women protagonists or women having a greater share of quoted voice.

“This parity in newsrooms (as in e.g. South Africa, the UK and the US) is not enough to improve the gender balance of news outputs.

“Having a third of women in top-level leadership or governance positions (as in e.g. South Africa, the US and Kenya) has not provided the ‘critical mass’ previously thought necessary to improve women’s visibility in the news.

“The relationship between the number of women in organisations, in newsgathering and in news outputs is clearly not linear, despite well-established change theories hypothesising so.”

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