86% of panellists were men, a little less than 14% were women and transgender panellists constituted a tiny sliver at 0.2%

Whopping 86 of panellists on news channels are men finds study Vasanthi Hariprakash/Twitter
news Media Saturday, February 02, 2019 - 07:55

On Budget Day 2019, heated discussions were held on news channels across the country. And one thing was conspicuously missing — representation. Barring the anchor, panellists were rarely women. This is also representative of the state of Indian news television, which seems to be unchanged even as conversation around women’s issues and representation has become louder.

In 2017 for instance, men constituted a whopping 86% of panels on Indian news channels, while women constitute a little less than 14% and transgender panellists constituted a tiny sliver at 0.2%. These dismal findings were published in a study by the Network of Women in Media (NWMI), released on Friday.

The report, titled Panels or Manels? Desperately seeking women In Indian TV news debates, studied the representation of women in news channels on prime-time debates and a weekly talk show in India. 11 volunteers studied six channels in English, four in Hindi and 18 other channels in Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bangla, Odiya, Asamiya and Marathi, for a month from April 22, 2017 to May 21, 2017. 69% of the programs viewed were prime-time news programmes and the rest were talk shows, both daily and weekly.

On English channels, while the number of men and women anchors was equal in most cases, representation of women panellists lagged at 17%. On an average, women panellists had 10% representation in panels on Tamil channels, and Punjabi channels had just 5% women panellists. Women panellists on Bangla and Telugu stood at 11%, and at 10% on Malayalam channels.

Apart from the dismal numbers, the study revealed that no panel featured women sportspersons, religious leaders, police officers and/or farmers, even when the discussion itself on topics related to these. NWMI found that women constituted 50% of the panels where the discussion was about women’s issues and 30% when the discussions were regarding religion or crime. For finance and defence, the number is at 5%, and at 6% for agriculture. And while politics formed the largest chunk of discussions, only 8% of panellists here were women.

“Only 5% of the professional and independent analysts featured on panels were women; the corresponding figures for party spokespersons and subject experts were 8% and 11% respectively,” the report said.

As many as 65% of the programmes surveyed – 328 out of 506 – had not a single woman panellist. “Less than a quarter of the discussions (24%) had a lone woman panellist, while only 7% of programmes had two women. Even fewer had three women on the panel (2%), the report stated.

When representation of women panellists was looked at region-wise -- in the north, representation in Hindi and Punjabi channels stood at 15.4%. In the south, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam had the lowest representation of women at 9.2%. Western India saw 14.5% representation, and eastern India saw 11.2%.

One of the observations in the report was that it is “important to know the caste and religious distribution of panellists and anchors since surveys/studies have revealed that Dalits, Bahujans, Adivasis, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, persons from the North-East region and various other minorities (religious, ethnic, linguistic, racial, et al) and issues of particular relevance to them are highly under-represented and/or mis-represented in almost all media”.

Recommendations made by the authors said that news channels must make a conscious effort to ensure more representation of women from different subject areas, backgrounds and regions. Women must not be restricted to specific subjects and that the anchor must ensure that their voices aren’t drowned out, and that senior female anchors must be retained on air, just like male anchors are.

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