Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra

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Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Diversity in the media: progress but far to go

Mar 10, 2023 | Culture, Journalism, Career, Race and ethnicity, Diversity, Equality, Research, Gender, Feature

New findings from the University of Canberra’s Valuing Diversity in News and Newsrooms study provide cause for concern as well as optimism about the news industry’s response to gender inequality on screen and in the workforce. The report is based on a national online survey of 2,266 Australians and 196 journalists, combined with in-depth interviews with 27 journalists.

Audiences give the Australian news media a mixed score card on gender. More than half (57%) say the reporters and journalists in news adequately represent women, while 53% say women are fairly covered in the news and there is enough coverage of issues relevant to women.

Fewer people think the news coverage of women is impartial (43%) and balanced with the interests of men (44%). These figures, however, drop considerably among women. Women are much less likely to say there is equal treatment between different genders (36%) compared with men (47%).

This reflects the perception about how society is treating people of different gender. While 47% of men think all genders are treated equally, only 36% of women do. Perceptions of gender representation in media are linked to politics as well as gender, with left-wing respondents (44%) being much less likely to say women are covered fairly in news compared with right-wing (69%).

FIGURE: AUSTRALIANS’ PERCEPTIONS OF EQUALITY IN SOCIETY AND THE NEWS (%)

Questions: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following? Men, women and non-binary people are treated equally in Australian society; Thinking about Australian news in general, how well do you think it covers women? [Base: N=2,266]

Questions: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following? Men, women and non-binary people are treated equally in Australian society; Thinking about Australian news in general, how well do you think it covers women? [Base: N=2,266]

What audiences may be less aware of is how people from diverse backgrounds are treated within news organisations.

Journalists were generally more critical of their industry than audiences, with only 53% saying the news industry was doing a good job with gender diversity. Many journalists acknowledge that diversity is a priority and say that their organisation has diversity and inclusion policies in place. However, actual targets and training are less common. Most journalists (female 94%; male 80%) agree that the news industry needs to improve diversity.

When asked how their own organisation is performing in terms of gender diversity, the majority (female 69%; male 78%) felt there was sufficient diversity. However, less than half (47%) of female journalists said everyone was treated fairly.

We found a disproportionate number of women  reported experiencing discrimination in their workplace because of their gender (47%) compared to men (17%). Many more (58%) said there were either barriers to employment or career progression in their news organisation. Around one in five (19%) say that there are barriers when applying for jobs in their news organisation because of gender.

FIGURE: JOURNALISTS’ PERCEPTIONS AND EXPERIENCES OF GENDER DIVERSITY ISSUES (%)

Questions: To what extent do you think the Australian news media needs to work on improving diversity? [Base: N=196]; Do you think your news organisation has enough employee diversity in the following areas? [Base: N=193] *Excludes freelancers/contractors; Have you experienced discrimination in your newsroom based on your gender? [Base: N=196]

Questions: To what extent do you think the Australian news media needs to work on improving diversity? [Base: N=196]; Do you think your news organisation has enough employee diversity in the following areas? [Base: N=193] *Excludes freelancers/contractors; Have you experienced discrimination in your newsroom based on your gender? [Base: N=196]

The majority of respondents saw poor levels of diversity in their senior leadership and management. More than two-thirds ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly agree’ that their organisation’s junior level is doing a good job with employee diversity (67%). In stark contrast, only 23% ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly agree’ that senior levels at their organisation are doing well with employee diversity.

FIGURE: EMPLOYEE DIVERSITY AT YOUR NEWS ORGANISATION BY LEVEL (%)

Question: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following? My news organisation is doing a good job with employee diversity at a… [Base: N=193] *Excludes freelancers/contractors

Question: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following? My news organisation is doing a good job with employee diversity at a… [Base: N=193] *Excludes freelancers/contractors

Journalists we interviewed were reflexive of their own practices and norms, particularly the unconscious bias they may have in their day-to-day work. A journalist reflected:

“So much of that can be these subconscious decisions that journalists then make … Not all journalists, but a lot of journalists will just unquestioningly do, which has the greater effect of invisibleising whole communities”.

About half say their organisation collects and/or monitors staff diversity (49%) and 41% say their organisation holds diversity, equity, and inclusion training and workshops regularly.

Over half of all respondents (52%) say their news organisation has policies relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, only 39% of journalists say they have taken part in formal training about covering issues of diversity and inclusion in the news in the last 12 months. In reality, there are competing priorities.

“I know this is important and it’s disrespectful for me to have not prioritised it, but it’s probably that reality thing in newsrooms … you want me to do these training things, but I also need to get these stories done”.

It is important to be aware of what is happening in the news industry. There is a growing volatility and precarity of the profession in recent years due to the steep decline in advertising for traditional news outlets, many newsrooms closing or contracting, and the rapid shift of audiences to online sources of information and news. These factors all contribute to the increased workload for those who remain in the newsroom.

Almost half (49%) of journalists in our survey say they are working in two or more different positions including reporting and other jobs such as digital and video news production. We counted the number of different topics individuals say they reported on. Almost half of all respondents (48%) say they report on seven or more different topics in the course of their work. This likely reflects the industry trend of decreasing staff and increasing workload.

Our survey also shows that women (25%) are more likely to be employed part-time compared to men (20%). This reflects the overall trend we are seeing in Australian news industry. Full-time employment is more common among male journalists, with 78% reporting full-time status, compared to 63% of female journalists, according to Census 2021.

Our findings show that while the news industry is beginning to address the issue of diversity, there is still much work to be done.

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Sora Park is a Professorial Research Fellow at the News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra. Her research focuses on digital media users, media markets and media policy. She is the Leader of the Digital News Report: Australia project. She is the lead investigator of the ARC Discovery Project ‘The rise of mistrust: Digital platforms and trust in news media’.

Jee Young Lee is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra. Her research focuses on digital inclusion practices and policies, particularly for emerging digitally excluded social groups and the growing digital media consumption in emerging markets.

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Kieran McGuinness is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the News & Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra. His research focuses on news consumption, misinformation, journalistic role performance, defence journalism and discourses of risk, problematisation and threat in news media.

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