Yesterday, I had the real pleasure to attend a ‘stakeholders launch’ of the Regional Report on the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) 2015. The event was held at the wonderfully beautiful Alhambra Inn, in ‘famous’ Tucker Avenue, in Kingston–a great place for reflective thinking and discussions. The GMMP has been going on since 1995, and has moved from covering 71 to 114 countries.
About 30 people were attended, and Marcia Moriah Skevrin was the MC (‘mistress of ceremony’, I presume); Hilary Nicholson, of WMW Jamaica, walked us through the data; Judith Wedderburn (WMW Jamaica) held our discussion together. The focus was really about how genders are presented differently in media reports, and how that presentation may differ if ‘reporters’ are male or female. What we learnt was that many of our gender stereotypes are reinforced, and only modified a little if women handle the reporting.
What kind of gender disparities are evident? Men predominate as newsmakers and voices in the news. Women tend to be interviewed less than men (ratio of 1:4). Women are often portrayed as ‘victims’; their social status is often devoid of reference to a skill or trade or profession, ie women are likely to be referred to as ‘mother’ or ‘wife’, rather than teacher or engineer, while men tend to be referred to by titles/profession. That seems to reflect that men have had and retain the positions of control, and those require identification in media reporting. This global view is reflected in the Caribbean, and Jamaica, too, with a few slight differences; for instance, women featured much more in news in Jamaica in 2015 than in the rest of the region, and we can assume that our female PM explains much of that.
Government ministers and national politicians feature far more than other groups in news reports. That’s not surprising, to me, given that public officials are often duty bound to report on their activities, and are more accessible and seeking to ‘make’ news. But, politics and economics are also deemed more ‘newsworthy’.
Some of the disparities are subtle, while others are glaring. Women get close to ‘parity’ in news in coverage of crime and violence, though are still less featured than men (40/60 percent). Women feature proportionately least in politics and government stories (20/80 percent).
The data don’t allow one to draw conclusions about motives, but we know that ‘sex’ sells, and if the stereotypes of women get more eyes peering then it wont be set aside.
What’s also interesting is that perception matters a lot. Men and women don’t see things the same way and dont react the same way to portrayals of themselves. Oddly, perhaps, women can be as ‘bad’ at portraying themselves unfavourably.
Would things change much if the leadership in newsrooms changed? Would it change if those women in positions of national power forced or demanded more changes? We’ve not seen enough of either situation to know much, though it seems that so far it doesn’t lead to dramatic change. As Jamaica moves from having its female PM and Britain heralds its second female PM, we can look and see how they have and will change gender coverage in the news. For a start, the Jamaica Gleaner didnt waste time focusing on Theresa May’s shoe selections yesterday.
Admittedly, this feature was not part of ‘news’, but on a ‘social’ page, but I ask you, did we get to find out if David Cameron wore Bruno Magli or Cole Haan or was a simple Church brogues man?