Home Political science Gender, politics, news : a game of three sides
Studies which have focused on the influence of gender on journalistic practice, including when women achieve senior positions, have produced entirely contradictory results (see Craft and Wanta 2004; Correa and Harp 2011; Hanitzsch and Folker 2012), and as many studies show difference as its opposite. But the harsh reality is that, despite the efforts of individual women to effect change, the power to determine the nature and direction of news media content remains firmly in the hands of men: opinion-forming men who make the news and media men who write about it. The atmosphere at a typical political press conference resembles that of a boys' public school, where a few clever girls have been allowed into the room. The men on the platform address the journalists in their midst by their first names: “Yes, Simon, do you have a question? Chris? Andrew?” The few women in the press corps are not similarly encouraged with such intimacy, still less invited to put their question. The kinds of stories, perspectives, and interests we see and read about in the news media reflect the kinds of social and economic relations that exist in news organizations themselves, as locations of news production. The patriarchal privilege which dominates the lives of most global citizens is pervasive and deeply embedded in the structures and apparatus of our societies and will not be easily usurped. The culture of the newsroom is merely a microcosmic reflection of those prevalent unequal relations between women and men, between the elite and the rest, and operates as a strongly gendered context in which the traditional power play of economic relations - men on top and women underneath - is acted out in abidingly conventional, sex-stereotyped ways. The power relations at the level of the newsroom are further confirmed and consolidated at the macro level when ownership and control of news media are considered. Nearly 50 years ago, in the decade which witnessed the flowering of a vibrant and assertive grassroots political movement campaigning on a number of human rights issues, the feminist campaigner Donna Allen was warning against the dangers of media conglomeratization (see Ware 2005). Those warnings are still as pertinent today, and perhaps even more urgent now, as the relaxation of competition law has enabled cross-media ownership on an unprecedented scale, leaving the door open for even greater control over more media in fewer male hands. The media perform a significant function in agenda-setting, and are involved in the promotion and reinforcement of a continuous circuit of meaning-making which protects the status quo. If the point of theory is to provide alternative explanations of our social world, then the purpose of a critical feminist media theory is to question what passes for knowledge and, in this case, to expose a newsroom ethos that masquerades as “routine” journalistic practice but is actually irrevocably masculine and trivializes women's contributions and experiences. Regardless of whether women journalists acknowledge their gendered experience in developing their professional persona, I suggest that their sex does influence their practice and we would see a different journalism if more women were writing it.
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