Lack of women in Covid-reporting
Lucy Aylmer writes about the lack of women in the media’s coverage of Covid-19.
A special report on women’s underrepresentation in news media has discovered that women’s expertise in the news has been significantly reduced in comparisons to men’s presence in the news. Between 2005-2015 only one in five experts in the news were women. In the UK only 25% of women were quoted in COVID-19 articles. This is surprising considering women make up two thirds of journalism schools intake. The situation becomes more dire in Nigeria and South Africa where women were quoted for just under a fifth for coronavirus articles. Internationally, women’s voices appear marginalised both in media and specifically health reporting.
Throughout the pandemic, Boris Johnson’s inner circle who were called upon for the daily c-19 meetings were male dominated. Johnson heavily relied on Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab amongst other key ministers. “It is partly to do with the ‘war framing’ of the crisis. The idea that this is an emergency and that men are better equipped to deal with it. Women are being pushed out” according to Luba Kassova, co-writer of the article, in an interview with The Guardian. Perhaps this is the reason behind Johnson’s delegation efforts.
Whilst male domination appears to be common in wider journalism, there is a better gender ratio in top positions at major broadcasting houses. Channel 4 and ITV have appointed female health editors for these senior positions. Additionally, The Guardian, The Times and The Economist health editors are an all female assemblage.
To frame women’s reporting in a different light and acknowledge that reporting doesn’t need to be confined to journalism, one can begin to see the breadth of problems that gender imbalances have caused. For example, scientists who work in research and development are themselves reporters of their findings. Historically, accomplished female scientists have not received their due reward for their discoveries. Pioneers include Rosalind Franklin and her radical contributions to DNA projects, Chien-Shiung Wu, a leading physicist of her time and her involvement in the creation of the atom bomb and Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s discovery of pulsars. These women achieved considerable traction in their respective scientific careers, yet were robbed of their due credit. Instead, credit was given to their male counterparts or supervisors. It would seem there is a history of sexism in both science and health reporting.
If women are denied the opportunity to cover important stories, it is hardly a surprise that statistics such as ‘a fifth of health reporting are quoted by women’, exist.
These examples draw parallels to female journalists not receiving as many leads or cover stories concerning COVID-19. If women are denied the opportunity to cover important stories, it is hardly a surprise that statistics such as ‘a fifth of health reporting are quoted by women’, exist. Indeed, women have consistently failed to rank in positions of seniority at the BBC (the BBC have never had a female Director General in their 93 year history).
Health reporting discrepancies echo a wider problem within journalism. Gender imbalances have become apparent across the industry and concern equal pay and senior positions from presenting to headships. In 2016, City University London found that the male to female ratio at the BBC stood at 3:1. It is not just the disproportionate gender ratios that have caused a stir. The pay gap has been a significant concern over recent years with the gap amounting to a 9.3% pay discrepancy. It seems that women are not only locked out of senior positions, but also equal pay.
Reading the statistics and reports on women in media, it seems that health reporting and wider media appear to be one sided and arguably male centric. Legitimate journalism should be balanced in perspective to produce quality information to best inform viewers. To quote George Santayana: ‘those who forget history are condemned to repeat it’. If we don’t learn the lessons of history and fail to reward work with equal pay then statistics such as these are likely to persist. According to Rachael Saunders, Head of Communications at Opportunity Now, one of the best ways to confront the problem is by making senior business leaders accountable.
This means that for those in positions of power there is added pressure to fulfil their organisation’s diversity objectives if the blame rests on their shoulders. Perhaps this is the first step to make health and wider reporting more balanced and representative of the journalism industry.