Published September 5, 2021
A journalist from a local tv channel reports live from a political rally in Islamabad, 2020 | AP
A journalist from a local tv channel reports live from a political rally in Islamabad, 2020 | AP

The world’s leading researcher on gender representation in news media The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) and Pakistan’s Uks Resource Centre have published a report on their findings for 2020. Uks, dedicated to gender equality and women’s development, is part of GMMP and, together, the two research centres have measured gender representation in mainstream media for over two decades.

The preface of the 2020 report lays out a realistic picture, which journalists at least would mostly agree with: independent journalism faces oppression by the state and in the shrinking space of freedom of speech and expression, the space for women in the news media, too, is closing in.

“[C]hanges to how women are reporting and being reported remain marginal,” the report states. Increased positive representation of women in print media is a success but the change is still too little and too slow to meet the yawning gender gap.

For the 2020 media report, Pakistan monitored a total of 29 media on monitoring day (September 29) which included nine daily newspapers (six English-language papers and three Urdu dailies), 11 television news channels, a state-owned radio broadcast, four news websites and Twitter handles of four news media.

“A total of 382 news items were analyzed based on monitoring tools provided by the GMMP. To be precise, 117 news items were monitored from nine dailies, 143 news items from 11 news channels, 12 reports from a national radio channel, 53 stories from four news websites and 57 tweets from four news-based Twitter handles.”

As the report measures gender equality in the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, it notes that the incidence of the pandemic has had no tangible change on the way women are reported in the news.

This gives pause to consider the way our national news cycle works: consider that women comprise half of Pakistan’s population, but the news media cannot put on a lens to see how global change affects women. Thus the GMMP-Uks report shines a light on the missed opportunity.

There has been little change to close the yawning gender gap in the way women are reporting and being reported

“The pandemic has had grave consequences on all forms of activity in the country, but one of the root causes of gender-blindness in reportage has been the removal of women from their jobs and the newsroom,” the report points out. “[T]he situation hasn’t improved enough to truthfully report the cost of the pandemic on women and the extra burdens they have had to bear — both in terms of lack of reportage on reported crime and in the stories left untold.”

The GMMP monitoring day, September 29, 2020, was the day that PMLN leader Shahbaz Sharif was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), on charges of accumulation of wealth beyond legitimate means, as well as money laundering. The primary content of debate and reports in mainstream media, therefore, had more to do about the events of the arrest, government involvement, the opposition’s response, the legitimacy of NAB, etc.

Earlier in the same month, before this story made headlines, the media closely followed the story of the gang-rape of a woman on the Lahore Motorway on September 9. By September 29, though, “This story seemed to have lost momentum on the day since the men were now talking politics,” the report states.

So, on monitoring day, the focus shifted to news items relating to politics (more than 47 percent of total stories). 51 percent of television stories were related to the same topic and 58 percent on radio. The print media, in comparison, provided 40 percent of its coverage to politics. “Internet and Twitter also had high margins of coverage of this topic at 38 and 47 per cent respectively.”

Men dominated the news stories on all the major topics. Gender and related news categories were the only one where women news subjects contributed 68 percent. Women news subjects’ presence in economy-related topics was only seven percent. This low ratio again indicates the persistence of gender inequality as “economy-related news in Pakistan are considered to be a male-dominant area of expertise.”

Women’s voice and agency

Thirty-eight percent of stories with women news subjects portrayed them as “victims” of “non-domestic sexual violence, rape, murder etc.”, 31 percent of women were portrayed as victims of “domestic violence”, followed by 25 percent as victims of “war, terrorism, state violence etc.” In comparison, 64 percent of men “were portrayed as victims in news stories on war, terrorism, state violence etc., and 14 percent in stories on violence due to gender, race-based discrimination.”

When gauging whether the language of reporting news is creating gender bias, “the reporting language in six percent of the news stories was monitored to be biased.” A majority of these biased reports were reported by men, while women journalists reported 32 percent of such stories. Futhermore, only 26 percent of the news subjects of these stories were women, and 74 percent were men. “21 percent of news stories from Twitter (highest among all media) were monitored to have biased language.”

When journalism in Pakistan is discussed abroad, the first question posed is, do women have equal representation in the industry? On face value, most of us feel confident to say yes, as there are many more women journalists active in the field in various roles. However, the GMMP-Uks report presents interesting data in this regard:

“Only 18 per cent of the women journalists were monitored as ‘Reporters’ (whose bylines were mentioned). While 82 percent were recorded as news presenters/ announcers. In comparison, 60 per cent of the men journalists were reporters and 37 percent were presenters.

“Only 10 percent of news stories on television were reported by women reporters whereas not a single news item was monitored to be reported by women reporters in print and radio. Surprisingly, Twitter had the highest number of reports by women reporters at 45 percent, followed by 25 per cent of stories from the internet.”

It is interesting to note that in the Twitter sphere, “the occupation of 31 percent of women news subjects was mentioned as “politician,” compared to 64 percent of men. The function of 76 percent women in these news items was covered as “Subject”, with 12 percent as “Spokesperson”. Only six percent each was noted as “Expert or Commenter” and “Eyewitness”. “11 per cent of the stories from the internet challenged stereotypes, while Twitter had nine percent of these stories.”

The report puts forward simple recommendations to support gender equality across news media. This includes encouraging developing subject-specialists, encouraging women to develop more than one specialisation, encouraging and creating master classes that help journalists gain sociological and anthropological understanding of the current world scenario post-pandemic, and developing and placing gender-aware and consumable content in news organisations.

The key word here is “encourage” and one cannot disagree that women in Pakistan, whether those in homes or at the workplace, have the drive to succeed with only a little bit of it.

The writer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 5th, 2021



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