The reveal-all about women in the media anticipated from the forthcoming release of the International Women’s Media Foundation’s report at the end of March this year may be somewhat outdated even as it is launched.
Touted as ‘the first-ever comprehensive global report on the status of women in the news media,’ it is expected to release analysis and data from print and broadcast companies in 59 countries. It will be launched at the IWMF conference in Washington. The conference promises to bring together ‘top women media executives to discuss gender barriers in the sector.’
The report is envisaged to be ‘the first detailed research that closely examines the challenges facing women news professionals everywhere.’ Its focus will be on salaries, opportunities, career advancement and training for women in the news industry. Based on the report’s findings, participants in the conference will help craft a plan to improve gender representation in media.
Certainly this is information that has been long in coming, and its data may help to transform the conventional media environment and level the playing field towards greater gender equity in the media. Or would it? Perhaps the IWMF study will give clues to the story-behind-the story of UNESCO’s Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP). Or would it?
In all its reports, including the most recent of 2010, GMMP tells that larger numbers of women in the media have not significantly impacted gender stereotyping and in fact have been replicating skewed representation of women to the public in news reports. GMMP found sources of information remain largely male, and female reporters were more likely to seek male sources than male reporters. The counter argument to that has been that training, ownership, decision-making and power structure are still discriminatory towards women and restrict female journalists and media managers from exercising the kind of leverage they should have over their working environments.
Those of us who have functioned in that environment at junior and senior levels know the unequal challenges and opportunities that became part of daily functioning within that sphere. The IWMF report may finally present data to support those experiences.
Yet the IWMF data may be a wee bit too late in coming, and a whole lot short of the ‘true’ picture which it is aiming. Even before it is presented, given its focus on conventional media – radio, print and television – one can safely assume that the report could only offer a limited view of the current media environment.
While there has been some introspection on the changes being effected on various institutions by new media, particularly political systems, and business operations, there has been little indepth examination of how the conventional media landscape is itself being altered by new media.
Conventional media is already standing on precariously shifting sands. As with political and other institutions, conventional media structures of ownership, control, management and operations are being challenged, not only by the competition being offered by new media. It is also being confronted by a truly open information environment that is not only changing the ways in which we live, eat, interact, dress, and think; but also indelibly altering global and local media as we know it.
In today’s world, no definition of media can stop at radio, print and television which are themselves acquiring fluidity. Print media is being forced to re-educate and reinvent itself. To survive, newspapers must establish electronic audio and video-based identities as well. All three forms are been forced to rethink structures, forms and even standards of journalism to compete for the spaces citizen media is carving, while citizen media is functioning without the inhibiting systems, structures of ownership and control, decision-making and remuneration methods of conventional media.
The notion of ‘mass’ media is itself begging for redefinition. Mass media, as large conglomerate-type media establishments, are giving way to the mass appeal and mass reach of citizen-based media with its capacity to leverage larger populations with smaller capital and resource outlay. New media allows individual journalists and establishments-of-one editorial operations to reach hundreds of thousands of readers and viewers without the restrictions of organisational structure, salary schemes, office hierarchy and the modes of conventional media structures. Certainly no interpretation of ‘mass’ media can justifiably stop at conventional media which is also strongly being challenged by new media for the ‘mass’ title.
Conventional media is in a state of flux; and its traditional centres are showing signs of exploding at the seams, and through new fissures hitherto unanticipated. Its power centres are changing. Its modus operandi is being eroded by the news revolution that allows consumers of news to choose what news they want, from whom they want to hear/see it, in what forms or formats they would like it delivered, and how they would like to participate in or respond to it.
It is also clear that many women of the media have been participating in and effecting changes to this dynamic global media environment, and many of them outside of the conventional media environment, through the opportunities of lower overhead costs, wider reach and access new media affords. They are taking charge of their environments, perhaps for lower financial remuneration or security, but compensation in the autonomy, self affirmation, self-expression and other freedoms that new media makes possible. In seizing the opportunities afforded by new media and gaining more direct control of their profession; to become news servers and media institutions in their own right; women in new media are inevitable having repercussions for the conventional media environment and impacting on the issues of interest to the IWMF - salaries, opportunities, career advancement and training for women in the news industry.
In this milieu of change, any report that focuses on women in conventional media is hardly likely to unearth these new dynamics and changing dimensions to the equation of gender balance.
Senior media executives at the IWMF conference who sit down to craft a plan to improve gender representation in media would benefit from having such data on the way new media is already changing the conventional media environment; changing the options available to women journalists, photographers, editors, and managers.
Specifics in terms of numbers of women in the new media environment, how are they changing and altering the landscape of journalism through new media; for how many is this a main source of income; what kinds of journalistic standards and quality do they uphold are all missing gaps in data that require further study. Such data can then provide the basis for comparative analyses of the conventional vis-a-vis new media environments. Adequate research can help fit these new developments into the full panorama of the media landscape and present a more balanced picture.
Both the reports of the Global Media Monitoring Project and that of the International Women’s Media Foundation would benefit from closer examination of the impact of new media and women in new media on gender representation in media. Sporadic surveys and sectoral reports indicate that women outnumber by far the numbers of male users on various social media, but these new developments need to be quantified in degree and extent, and concurrent with analyses of the conventional media environment, if we are to arrive at a ‘more real’ picture of the current media environment in which we function.