Media’s role in the society is quite crucial – setting the agenda, shaping public opinion and mobilizing citizens by covering and reporting on issues of importance. This makes it essential for the media to reflect the views, issues and subjects important to its diverse audiences. However, a report called ‘Gender Inequality in Indian Media’ has uncovered the extremely skewed proportion of male-female writers and anchors in print and television media. While there is more diversity in digital media, overall the male dominance in newsrooms continues there as well.
An initiative of Media Rumble in collaboration with UN Women, the report released on Friday found that there were no women in leadership positions in the six English and seven Hindi newspapers it surveyed for six months till March 2019. The situation was not more promising in magazines, TV channels and digital portals either, where only 13.6%, 20.9% and 26.3% women were found in leadership roles viz. editor-in-chief, managing editor, executive editor, bureau chief, or input/output editor.
The study also found that women continue to be given what are essentially “soft” beats like lifestyle and fashion, leaving the “hard” beats like politics, economy, and sports. “By thus marginalising women’s voices and perspectives, the Indian media essentially denies nearly a half of the population a chance to influence public opinion. This runs counter to the principles of fairness, equality, and democracy,” the report said.
Among English dailies, of nearly 3000 writers whose articles were surveyed, only 1/4th of them were women, and only 20% of the articles surveyed were found to be published by women. While Economic Times had the most bylines of women, it was only at a low 28.2% compared to 71.8% men’s bylines. The Telegraph and The Hindu fared worst, with only 15.5% and 11.8% published articles being authored by women.
The numbers were worse for Hindi papers. Of the 6,806 articles surveyed, only 11% were authored by women. And only 17% of the writers of 2084 articles studied were women. Further, “women made up nearly 20% of the top decile in Amar Ujala but less than 7% in Hindustan and around 5% each in Rajasthan Patrika and Punjab Kesari,” the report found.
Further, women got to write less on topics like politics, defense, national security and sports, with the latter topic having 94.1% articles written by men in English dailies, and 90.2% written by men in the Hindi papers.
In Hindi papers, “save for International Affairs and Environment and Energy, women wrote no more than 15% of the articles on all topics, with their share of bylines dropping below 5% in case of Crime and Accident, Defence and National Security, and Sports.”
When it came to coverage of gender issues, all of the seven Hindi newspapers had carried such articles on their front pages. However, only about 3% of all articles were written on gender issues in both English and Hindi dailies. Even so, The Hindu and Telegraph only had 17.9% and 24.1% of articles written on gender bylined by women. Overall, over half of all articles on gender issues had been written by women.
Among the 1967 people who participated in debates on English channels, only 15.7% were women. Hindi channels fared slightly worse with only 12% being women from the 1252 individuals who participated.
Of the seven English TV channels chosen, while Mirror Now had the highest number of female panelists (25.7%), and their appearance on debates (23%), Rajya Sabha TV had the lowest numbers in both respects with only 12.3% women panelists. In Hindi channels, Aaj Tak had the highest number of women panelists but at a measly 10.4%.
Further, several channels were guilty of having manels, or all-male panels, for half or more of their debates. These include CNN News18, Republic TV, Times Now, India Today and Rajya Sabha TV, which the latter have the proportion of manels being 82% on its debates. In Hindi channels, “over half of the debates across these channels featured all-male panels, with the figure rising to nearly 75% in case of India TV and NDTV India.”
“Representation of woman panellists who were bureaucrats, defence experts, financial experts, or think tank representatives was particularly low,” the report observed, on English channels. And on Hindi channels, “women’s representation rose to about a quarter in panels debating matters related to Culture and Entertainment or Public Life, and to a third in panels debating Science and Technology matters,” and not one woman panelist was a bureaucrat, defence or financial expert, or represented a think tank.
Even when it came to debates on gender issues, there were times where women were inadequately represented in the panels. For instance, Aaj Tak and Zee News had less than 40% women panelists on gender debates. English channels fared slightly better with only Rajya Sabha TV having less than 50% women on panels discussing gender issues. India Today and NDTV had the most favourable proportion women on these panels at 71.4% and 64% respectively.
The only area in English channels where women enjoyed fair representation was anchoring.
The internet has given voice to many alternative and marginalized narratives including that of women. In that sense, while digital media organisations fare slightly better, with some newsrooms being comprised of almost or over 50% women journalists, the disparity still exists.
Among the digital newsrooms that had half or over half of their journalists being women were The News Minute (55.6% women contributors) and Scroll.in (50.6% women contributors). Others like Newslaundry (Hindi) and Swarajya had 88.6% and 79.7% male contributors – the lowest number of women in the digital newsrooms surveyed.
Despite trends of greater and better representation of gender in the number of articles published, the coverage of gender issues among digital media was still found to be low. “While women contributed many more articles on gender issues than men on average, Newslaundry (Hindi) and Swarajya again trailed. In all, though, only 3.7% of the around 21,000 articles discussed gender issues,” the study said.
Compared to traditional media, more women were found to be contributing to conventional “hard beats” like crime, environment, politics, and state and policy.
In terms of gender representation of contributors and articles on gender issues, The Print fared best with 72.3% female contributors and 84.7% articles on gender written by women. It was followed by The News Minute, with 71.4% women contributors and 82.9% articles written on gender being authored by women.
Magazines and radio
All 12 magazines surveyed followed the broad trend of men predominating, Femina being the exception with 90.6% women contributors and 96.7% articles written by women. Of the 982 articles reviewed, only 25.8% were authored by women.
Interestingly, Sarita, a Hindi magazine catered mostly to women, was found to have more male writers authoring articles during the six-month period of the study.
Only nine magazines carried articles on gender issues, however, not one of the 12 magazines had a cover page article that could be classified as based on a gender issue. “Moreover, most of the articles on gender issues published by these magazines were in October and November of last year when the MeToo allegations started surfacing, including in the media industry,” the study says.
Among the five private radio networks reviewed, it was found that there are fewer women radio jockeys than men, overall, with some the stations based in some cities being an exception.