NOT THERE YET:
COVERAGE OF WOMEN IN FOREIGN NEWS: A 1995 MULTI-NATIONAL STUDY
By Anat First and Donald L. Shaw
The most prominent institution that creates "the pictures in
our head" about the public sphere is the news media (Shaw and McCombs, 1993). In
media news, women are mostly absent (Steeves, 1993). According to Gallagher, no
country with available data reported that more than 20% of the news was about
women, and in most cases, the figure was much lower (1981). Steeves (1993)
argues that little has changed since 1981. She claims that "Most existing news
about women is trivial - related to family status or appearance. Where important
women's activities are covered, they are often simultaneously undermined or
demeaned" (Steeves 1993, p. 41).
Walter Lippmann, a pioneer in developing the ideas about
different realities, was also one of the first to apply those notions to the
field of mass communication. In Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann discussed the
role of the media in the process of the social construction of an individual's
reality. Lippmann distinguished between the world that actually exists out
there, and the "pseudo" environment - that is, our private perception of the
world, often influenced by the media. Although he planted the seeds of the
theory, the broader systematic work on the social construction of reality began
in the 1960's with Schutz (1967), Berger and Luckmann (1967), and others. This
line of research has implications for women. This study summarizes how women are
portrayed in the press in a sample of 41 countries.
WOMEN AND THE NEWS AGENDA
Some feminist approaches to coverage of women, based on
critical thinking, see the media's power originating from cultural domination
(Williams, 1977). These approaches attempt to expose the primary assumptions
that construct the governing political and social order. From a feminist point
of view, the separation between the two spheres, public and private - a
separation that reflects unequal distribution by gender - creates a dichotomous
world of images, roles and expectations for men and women (Herzog, 1994). In
this, press is important.
According to the traditional, libertarian theory, democracy
requires that the mass media represent the full range of views in society.
Today, the mass media, especially the news broadcasts, are the major forces in
creating and maintaining the public sphere. Thus, one important function of the
news is to retain a public sphere - open and accessible to all - as a key
component of modern, participatory democratic life.
Women's access to the public sphere can be measured by
analyzing the content of the news. For instance, researchers might ask how
women in the news are portrayed or how many stories on the network news
highlight women. As an illustration, in the United States of America, the
percentage of stories focusing on women as the main "actor" was: 13.7% of ABC's
news stories, 10.2% of CBS's stories, and 8.9% of NBC's stories (Lont, 1995). In
general, "women were rarely the subject or focus of interviews on the nightly
news." (Lont, 1995, pp. 221) In India, until few years ago, women were never
mentioned in the press. Today there is more coverage of women, but most of it is
negative, such as when women are victims in rape cases (Media Report To Women,
Another way to assess the representation of women in the
public sphere is to look at the production of the news. Until recently,
television news, much like radio news, was relatively closed to most women in
the United States of America This began to change in 1991 when "Not only were
there more women reporting, but the majority of women by 1992 had moved into the
ranks of the top 100 correspondents." (Foote, 1995) In general, there are still
fewer women than men in high-powered positions in American television news, and
women reporters are outnumbered by male reporters by almost 4 to 1 (Lont, 1995).
In the body of research dealing with women and the public
sphere, we find literature about the hegemonic model, which excludes women from
many "public" domains and reproduces gender inequality, in both theory and
everyday life. Women frame their existence in a reality dominated by this
ideology - or so goes the argument. The private sphere refers to the "closed"
worlds of the personal, biographical and domestic, whereas the public sphere
relates to the "open" spaces of work, politics, mass media and international
affairs. (O'Sullivan et al., 1994) In the simplest terms, the public sphere is
the "realm of our social life in which citizens confer about matters of general
interest." (Hallin, 1994, p. 20)
We accept the notion that the existing social order
distinguishes between the public and private spheres. This order has as a
premise that politics, by its nature, is part of the public sphere, and power,
as traditionally defined, is control over the institutions and organizations
that are practicing politics (Hezog, 1994). Liberal political theories see the
political system as an arena in which various groups compete in order to
represent different interests. Believing that equal rights and opportunities
have to be preserved, liberal theory maintains that women should have equal
opportunity to be part of the public sphere.
CONSTRUCTING REALITY: THE "SECOND DIMENSION" OF AGENDA SETTING
Agenda-setting research has argued that the press seems to tell
people what to think about, although not what to think. But recently, McCombs
has found that the way messages are framed does, in fact, seem to tell people
somewhat how to think about news topics ( McCombs, 1995).
The idea of the second dimension of agenda-setting is that
"beyond the agenda of objects there is also another dimension to consider. Each
of these objects has numerous attributes, those characteristics and properties
that fill out the picture of each object. Just as objects vary in salience, so
do the attributes of each object." (McCombs, 1995, p.6) Thus "How news frames
impact the public agenda is the emerging second dimension of agenda setting."
(McCombs, 1995, p.6) The interesting question about the second dimension of
agenda setting concerns the transmission of attributes; specifically, through
what process does the transmission of attributes occur? We suggest that the
second dimension of agenda-setting can be understood best as a process of
reality construction - that is, how news messages frame the women they cover.
Here, we use the second dimension to analyze the appearance
of women in newspapers and international broadcasts news. The second dimension
argument enables us to explore the perspectives and frames in which women are
presented in news broadcasts. First we ask how often the are women in the news?
Then, how are they presented? Through salient attributes of women's
presentation in the news, the media constructs the "pictures in our head" about
women in the public sphere.
We ask, using a sample of the world press: 1) are women more
likely to be presented on issues about the private sphere than the public
sphere; 2) do more women appear in news stories in "yWestern" countries than in
news stories from "Patriarchal" countries; and 3) finally, are women
journalists more likely to write about women's issues?
The "Foreign News and International News Flow" project* sample
consisted of 7,474 international news stories taken from 143 newspapers or
broadcasts (both television and radio) from 41 countries (see list in appendix
1). These data were collected for two days Sunday, May 7, 1995, and Saturday ,
May 8 - the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War ((.
Data collectors in each participating country** were asked to
choose not more than ten media sources, and to emphasize stories from
newspapers and just two or three broadcast programs. For example, in Israel the
selected media sources were: 1)"Ha'aretz," a newspaper widely read by government
officials and other elites ; 2)"Yediot Achronot," the leading popular newspaper;
3) "Reshet B," a "public" radio station with several news programs; 4)
"Galey-Zahal", a popular radio station, controlled by the army. The data
collection team chose two out of three main news programs from each radio
station; the length of each program is at least one and a half - hour long each
day (in the morning, at noon and in late afternoon) and one hour foreign news
magazine (in the afternoon.); 5) "Mabat," the nightly television national main
newscast (length of one hour from 20.00 to
*Thanks to professor Robert L. Stevenson from the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is one of the initiators of this project and
in charge on the quantitative part, for providing the data.
**Moslty the data collectors were professors and student.
21.00); and 6) "Channel 2," complementary newscast on the commercial
television network. There are only two Hebrew television channels in Israel, one
public and one commercial.
We used the entire sample to answer both our first and third
question, how are women likely to be presented and about what do women
journalist write?. To answer our second question about women being more likely
to appear in news stories in "yWestern" countries than in news stories from
"Patriarchal" countries, we divided part of the 41 countries into nine
geographical groups. The division was mostly accord geographical locations:
1)the USA; 2) Latin America (Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and
Venezuela); 3) Scandinavia (Norway, and Finland); 4) Western Europe (Austria,
Germany, and Netherlands); 5) Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, and
the Ukraine); 6) Africa (Kenya, Nigeria, and Cameroon); 7) the Middle East
(Israel, Kuwait, and Lebanon); 8) Far East 1 ( China and India); and 9) Far
East 2 (Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong). We divided the Far East into two groups
based on their economics and modernization level.
The quantitative codebook for this study is an expanded version
of the codebook used in an international from made twenty years ago (for details
see Stevenson, 1984, pp. 21-36). The revised codebook includes 28 variables:
Name of the country, medium, date, focus of the story, sources, gender of
correspondents, dateline, most important country (the first three), main topic
(first three), four types of events, main actor, gender of the three main
actors, prominence, and specific events. One of the new variables added to the
1995 study is gender.
The data analysis team in each country received the
international codebook and some examples of how to analyze the news. In Israel,
for example, at the beginning of April, 1995, Hill Nosek* assembled a team that
included lecturers, supervisors, and others who handled various technical
aspects of the project (for instance, translating the codebook into Hebrew). The
coders were students at the New School of Journalism in the College of
Management in Tel Aviv. The Israeli team began by practicing news (from all the
media) with the student' coders working in deferent classes under the
supervision of at least one of the research team. During these classes we
discussed with the students the coding instructions and problems not covered by
the instructions. After reaching an acceptable level of intercoder reliability,
coders began to work on the two-day news sample. Much of the coding was
mechanical. The difficult variables were the topics, focus of the story,
prominence, and various types of events. Coders and supervisors worked together
to resolve difficulties.
* Hill Nosek is the Israeli partner in the Study of "Foreign News
and International News Flow".
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
We present the results in three sections that reflect the
questions asked earlier:
In general, few stories from the major news broadcasts
throughout the world present women as the main actors. Women had this role in
only 8% of the leading topics of the news stories sampled. Table 1 shows that
women were mostly absent in the majority of the topics. Not surprisingly, women
tended to appear in news related to the private sphere (for example,
entertainment/personalities, 25%; human rights, 22%), while they nearly vanished
as main actors in news related to the public sphere (for example, international
politics, 4%; international economics/trade, 1%; and
globalization/internationalization, 0%). Women were main actors frequently only
in news that related to gender issues (41%).
Our paper focuses on two days in May, when the celebration of
the end of the Second World War took place all over the world, especially in
those countries that had been involved in the war. Looking at the type of
stories that can be related to Second World War, we find that women were absent.
For example, No woman were main actors in the topic of history. Evidently war is
a male "business" and women are excluded from it - at least in most of the news
coverage of the end of the war.
Rounded Percentages of the Gender of the Main Actor by Main Topic
of the News Story Across All Countries
Gender of Main Actor
Not Given Male Female Both Total
Main Topic of story
38 48 14 0 100
30 64 4 2 100
International Economics/Trade 53
45 1 1 100
International military/Defense/conflict 37
54 5 4 100
International Aid/Development 48
47 4 1 100
33 67 2 2 100
Domestic Economics 62
33 3 2 100
Social Services/Problems/Education 51
37 7 5 100
38 2 4 100
48 10 4 100
28 61 9 2 100
60 25 5 100
Oddities/Animals/Human Interest 39
35 18 8 100
23 3 0 100
19 2 5 100
Civil War/Domestic Conflict 61
32 4 3 100
45 44 4 7 100
Human Rights 28
44 22 6 100
47 0 6 100
25 5 3 100
Gender Issues 29
30 21 0 100
Ethnic Issues/identity/Politics/Assimilation 49
40 4 7 100
History/Historical Feature 50
50 0 0 100
38 12 0 100
50 37 10 4 100
According to libertarian theory, democracy requires that news
media be open and accessible to all. Yet, some regimes tend to restrict media
accessibility for cultural and political reasons. Western countries use
democratic ideas about the media more than other countries. We grouped the
countries according to geography, but this also, in many cases, reflects
cultural and political divisions. We are nonetheless aware that our organization
could be done in different ways because of the difficulties in grouping
cultures. One challenge of our groupings, for example, is that to include Israel
with Kuwait and Lebanon, combines countries that are very different in their
regimes and culture.
Prior to analysis, assumed that women would appear more in
"yWestern" countries' news, than in "Patriarchal" countries, in which men have
long dominated political religious or cultural life. Table 2 shows that our
hypothesis was not supported - women were not part of the news anywhere.
Looking at the gender as main "actor" (female and both) in the news, we find
that only Scandinavia reached 20% female. On the other end, the Middle East, the
Far East (Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong) and Eastern Europe had the lowest
percentages. These findings may reflect the notion that some of the countries
are young democracies. Moreover, in some of the countries, women's status may be
more affected by culture than by formal democracy.
In addition, across all the countries, women appeared as the
main actors in only 7% of the long stories, in only 7% of medium-length stories,
and only in just 5% of the short
Percentage* of the Gender of the Main Actors and the Prominence of
the News Stories by Countries
Gender as Main Actor
for women and both
Country Man female both
genders long medium short
USA 55 7
2 4 7 9
Latin America 55 4
7 5 5 3
Western Europe 42 6
6 4 4 8
Scandinavia 52 11
9 8 13 9
Eastern Europe 53 4
0 7 4 5
Africa 70 6
2 5 7 5
Middle East 58 3
1 2 3 4
Far East 1 63 10
0 15 11 2
Far East 48 4
1 9 5 2
stories. Only India ( Far East group 1) exceeded 20% of women as the
main actors in the news.
We further analyzed the type of news stories in which women are
the main actors. Our categories were: news (with or without picture), picture
only, editorial/commentary, letter, and cartoon. Women were included as main
actors in 6%, of news and 6% editorial/commentaries, and they appeared in 14% of
the pictures and 2% of the letters. No woman was the subject of a cartoon.
Usually cartoons about international issues describe political situations. Since
women tend to be excluded from politics, their chances of being the subject of
a cartoon is minimal.
Our findings corroborate other research regarding the portrayal
of women in the news. We agree with Steeves' assessment that in news, women were
mostly absent in the 1980's, and nothing much has changed since then.(Steeves,
1993) American news stories show the same trend as the news in other nations.
Another way to examine women's accessibility to the public
sphere is by focusing on the gender of the correspondents and by
cross-referencing their gender with the subjects they covered (according to the
public sphere vs. the private sphere distinction).
Women correspondents were by-lined in news stories
infrequently: in the USA, 18%; Latin America, 18%; Western Europe, 8%;
Scandinavia, 13%; Eastern Europe, 13%; Africa, 18%; Middle East, 6; Far East
(1), 3%; and Far East (2), 4%. In general, less than 20% of the news
correspondents were women.
A second dimension in understanding how women news
correspondents frame their existence in the public sphere is to examine the
subjects of the stories they cover. Table 3 shows that women tended to cover
stories that are considered most appropriate for women. Women covered more
gender issues (31%) and culture stories (15%) than international issues
(international politics, 7%; international economics and trade, 5%; or
international defense and conflict issues 7%).
Rounded Percentages of the Gender of the Correspondent by Main Topic
of the News Story Across All Countries
Gender of Correspondent
Not Given Male Female Both Total
Main Topic of Story
62 24 14 0 100
61 31 7 1 100
International Economics/Trade 67
28 5 0 100
International military/Defense/conflict 64
28 7 1 100
International Aid/Development 57
34 9 0 100
59 31 9 1 100
Domestic Economics 70
25 5 0 100
Social Services/Problems/Education 64
25 11 0 100
18 5 0 100
34 15 2 100
70 27 3 0 100
24 9 0 100
Oddities/Animals/Human Interest 79
16 3 2 100
23 5 0 100
12 4 0 100
Civil War/Domestic Conflict 71
24 4 1 100
68 25 5 2 100
Human Rights 58
34 8 0 100
16 16 0 100
32 6 0 100
50 19 31 0 100
Ethnic Issues/identity/Politics/Assimilation 59
34 4 3 100
History/Historical Feature 100
0 0 0 100
0 0 0 100
54 35 10 4 100
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
As we show, women are mostly absent from news broadcasts and
news stories all over the world. By using the second dimension of
agenda-setting, we argue that women are rarely presented as main actors in
stories related to international issues or political or economic matters. Their
absence from news broadcasts reflects their lack of participation in the public
sphere, which means that their ability to be presented equally in the democratic
process is low.
We find that this gender gap typifies news broadcasts in both
"Western" countries and "Patriarchal" countries. Our results draw attention to
gender-specific divisions of labor and forms of power that have been established
and reinforced by this dimension of the media's agenda. In addition, the low
percentages of women portrayed as main actors in the news all over the world
suggest that a major step towards democratic life would consist of broadening
women's role in the public sphere.
Differences in the appearance of female correspondents among
countries can be explained partly by cultural reasons and economics factors. For
example, in the United States of America, women's jobs in the network news
depend on their salary demands, their age, and in some cases, their appearance
(Lont, 1995). We also show that women reporters tend to cover women issues,
which tend to be limited to the private sphere. Thus, the picture of women
excluded from the public sphere is reproduced.
A THEORETICAL MODEL
Why is this type of research about women important? Because
what we see, often, is what we believe, and that can be as powerful as
"reality". There for the news picture of women may influence the abiltiy to
enter the public sphere.
Alfred Schutz was fascinated by what he regarded as the
mysteries of everyday existence. Just how do we make sense of the world around
us so that we structure and coordinate our daily actions? How can we do this
with such ease that we do not even realize that we are doing it? Relying upon
phenomenological notions, developed in Europe, Schutz asked his students at the
New School for Social Research in New York to set aside their commonsense,
taken-for-granted explanations of what they do in order to recognize that
everyday life is actually much more complicated than they assumed. Schutz argued
that we can conduct our lives with little effort or thought because we have
developed stocks of social knowledge that we use to make sense of what goes on
around us quickly and then structure our actions accordingly. One of the most
important forms of knowledge that we process is "typifications", that enable us
quickly to classify objects and actions that we have observed and then structure
our own actions in response (Baran and Davis,1995).
Schutz's ideas were elaborated in The Social Construction of
Reality, written by sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1967). In
explaining how reality is socially constructed, Berger and Luckmann assume that:
"There is an ongoing correspondence between my meanings and their meanings in
the world that we share a common sense about its reality" (p.23). In order to
understand one another, people have to share symbols and their meaning. There is
a correspondence among people when they share the same common sense about the
reality of the object being symbolized; they have a common symbolic reality
stemming from their shared understanding of the symbols they experience..
But Berger and Luckmann recognize that there is another kind of
meaning that individuals, attach to things in their nearest environments, and
that is subjective rather then objective. In fact, they identify three types of
reality that interact dialectically:
(1) The objective social reality that exists outside vis-a-vis the
individual. People experience this reality as the objective world, which
confront them as facts. They apprehend this reality in a common sense fashion
as reality par excellence - as a reality that does not need further
verification over and beyond its simple existence. Although human beings are
capable of doubting this reality, they are obliged to suspend such doubt in
order to perform the routine actions that ensure both their own existence and
their interaction with others.
(2) The symbolic reality, which arises from socially shared
meaning based on any form of symbolic expression such as art,
or media contents.
3) The subjective reality, where both objective and symbolic
realities merge to serve as an impute for the construction of the individual's
own subjective reality.
Therefore, Berger and Luckmann define the process of
reality-construction as a social process due to social interaction with either
an objective or symbolic character. It is a dialectical process in which the
individual simultaneously creates, and is a product of his social environment
(Adoni and Mane, 1984; Baran and Davis, 1995).
Although Berber and Luckmann's book made no mention of mass
communication, with the explosion of interest in the media that accompanied the
dramatic social and cultural changes of that turbulent decade, mass
communication theorists soon identified the book's value for developing media
theory (Baran and Davis, 1995).For example, this was developed in The Role of
Israeli Television in Developing Attitudes of Jewish Adolescents toward Arabs
and the Israeli-Arab Conflict (First, 1995. In our study of women in the news ,
we suggest that the second dimension of agenda-setting can be understood best as
a process of reality construction, because its clarify the process that create
the picture in the head of the individuals. Figure 1 suggests an integrative
model of how we process information.
Women are not yet there in the world's press - that is, they
are not there much in frequency or quantity, and often then, they are associated
more with the private than the public sphere. Agenda-setting research on the
second dimension would suggest that this may be merely reinforcing stereotypes
about women the world over. If so, social change is likely to be abrupt and
rough. Women are not likely to win equality wearing white gloves. Although women
have become part of some research agendas, they are not yet part of the public
FIGURE 1 - RESEARCH MODEL
THE ROLE OF NEWS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF ATTITUDES
Background Variables: Age, Gender, Ethnicity, Religiosity
Political Attitudes; Frequency of Exposure and attitudes towards
International News Broadcasts
(A) Subjective Reality
Based on Perception of:
Objects-Women in News
Objects-Women in News
Attributes: Topic, Type of story, Prominence,
Attributes: Topic, Type of story, Prominence,
Type of event
Type of event
(B) Symbolic Reality
Objects and Attributes
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