Women?s Day Special Report: Mirror on the media reflects gender gaps

Date: January 1, 1970
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?Mirror on the Media?, a follow up monitoring project to the GMBS spearheaded by the South African Gender and Media (SAGEM) Network, found there has been some improvement in the gender balance and sensitivity in the South African media.
Although there has been some improvement in the gender balance and sensitivity of the South African media since the Gender and Media Baseline Study (GMBS), there are still significant gaps, according to a new study.

“Mirror on the Media”, a follow up monitoring project to the GMBS spearheaded by the South African Gender and Media (SAGEM) Network, found that women in the twelve media monitored over the month of July constituted 25 percent of news sources, compared to 19 percent in the GMBS that took place in September 2002.

However, the study found that women are still much more likely to be represented as pictures than as voices (overall, women accounted for thirty percent of the images in the study). Gender specific stories accounted for a mere seven percent of the top ten news items monitored in each of the media over the one month period.

SAGEM is a network of over twenty five individuals and organizations that promote gender equality in and through the media. Monitors included representatives of Gender Links, the NISAA Institute for Women’s Development, Tswaranang, the Reproductive Rights Alliance and the Media Monitoring Project.

The full report will be released at Constitutional Hill on 9 August- Women’s Day- as part of activities celebrating the successes and challenges of South African women during the first ten years of democracy. It will also form part of the discussion at the Gender and Media Summit being organized by Gender Links and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Johannesburg from 12 to 14 September, that will include the first ever gender and media awards.

According to GL executive director Colleen Lowe Morna who edited the report, “giving equal voice to women and men is a central tenet of free speech and of democracy. As we assess the progress made by South African women over the last ten years, it is critical that the performance of the media also be put under the spotlight. While there is very significant progress in some instances, and visible signs of deliberate efforts to achieve greater balance, the overall picture is still patchy.”

Media monitored included: the Cape Times; the Daily News, ETV, Kaya FM, the Mail and Guardian, Metro FM, SABC 3, the Sowetan, the Star, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Times and This Day.

With 44 percent women sources, the Star led the way followed by Kaya FM at 30 percent and the Mail and Guardian at 28 percent. All three media houses have made a conscious effort to diversify their news sources and give greater voice to women in their coverage. With 11 percent, 15 percent and 17 percent women sources respectively, the Cape Times, This Day and the Sowetan scored lowest.

Of the eight media houses in the study that were also monitored during the GMBS, three (the Cape Times, Sunday Independent and Sunday Times) registered a decline in women’s sources while the other five registered increases. This increase has been particularly marked in the case of the Star that went up from 26 percent to 44 percent women sources.

The study cautions, however, that gender sensitivity is much more that getting the numbers right. Women’s voices still tend to be heard in a limited number of areas. Their voices are especially under represented in sports, politics and economics.

Headlines and stories such as “Bring beer, come naked,” “Madonna, the sex predator” and “Wham, Pam, thank you mam” continue to adorn mainstream news pages, while the Burkina Faso soccer team that “struggled” its way into the red light district are referred to as “stallions”. On the sports front, the rise and rise of Maria Sharapova received considerable attention during this period. Yet coverage and images focused extensively on the tennis “babe’s” looks rather than on her ability, with one news media captioning a story about her and Serena Williams as the “Beauty and the Beast.”

The study found, however, that increasingly it is not so much the blatant stereotypes, as the more subtle forms of gender stereotypes that are of concern. During the period under review, the kidnapping of Leigh Matthews dominated the news pages. She was referred to in several headlines as an MD’s daughter, with no mention of her mother’s occupation. Almost all the family commentary in this case came from Rob rather than Sharon Matthews. Many of the headlines concerning the naked state in which she was found were in poor taste and insensitive.

The report classifies many stories in the media as “gender blind”, in other words they fail to see and take up interesting gender dimensions. For example, in the analysis of whether kidnapping is a new trend and crime in South Africa, there was little attempt to question the gender dimensions of this development, and its implications for already high levels of gender violence.

Many of the observations made by monitors concern not just the need to improve gender awareness by the media, but also professional standards generally. The report notes that news stories continue to lack context and depth, and rely on single sources – often only the voices of those who make decisions, rather than those who are affected by them.

For example, in the other story that dominated the headlines during this period- the controversy over whether or not nevirapine can be taken in single doses, women whose lives are at stake and who have been thrown into confusion were treated as mere recipients of the programme, with their voices, views and feelings hardly featuring.

However, the report highlights many examples of gender aware reporting such as a front page story on the class action by women on Wall Street against sexual harassment; coverage of the gender dimensions of the conflict in Sudan, and the woman who is set to lead a 150-strong Olympic team.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Colleen Lowe Morna on 082-651-6995

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