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Only men and few solutions in the media

2008-05-12

A male expert talking about war. That is what it normally looks like when Swedish media report from conflict regions. A new monitoring by the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation shows that women and civil society are conspicuous by their absence.

A male expert talking about war. That is what it normally looks like when Swedish media report from conflict regions. A new monitoring by the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation shows that women and civil society are conspicuous by their absence.

The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation's monitoring of the media's conflict reporting was debated with Carina Stensson, Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, Karl Viktor Olsson, the Swedish Central News Agency (TT), Christina Gustavsson Götze, Swedish Radio's Ekot programme, and Gustav Fridolin, TV4.

"In our work we are constantly reminded of how women and women's peace initiatives are marginalised in society and excluded from conflict resolution and security policies. Media monitoring in warring countries is unigender and chiefly focuses on voices from the conflicting parties, where men are in the majority. Civil society, where women often act, is not visible. Our monitoring is directed at Swedish media in order to investigate if the same imbalance exists here," explains Åsa Carlman who, together with a group of journalists in the Kvinna till Kvinna media group, has monitored how the Swedish media covers conflicts from a peace and gender perspective. The investigation showed that men greatly dominate with regard to who gets to speak in articles and news items from conflicts. Women make up only 15 per cent of news subjects, the people the articles and items are mainly about.

"Generally speaking, Swedish news conflict reporting is well-balanced. It portrays several parties and is neither conspiratorial nor warmongering. But women are absent and are more often portrayed as victims than actors. They are hardly seen on images and are very seldom named."

Experts given coverage

The monitoring took place during two weeks at the beginning of the year. All men and women who were news subjects in conflict and war reporting in the large Swedish media were counted. The role they had and how often they appeared in images was monitored along with whether or not they were named. The findings showed that experts were news subjects in a third of the items with women only making up eleven per cent of these. Officials and troops are most often interviewed. Civil actors like human rights and peace organisations are few and far between, only four per cent.

The media group also looked into the extent to which peaceful conflict resolution is taken up. Even here the figures are low. Peace initiatives are only named in one fifth of the monitored news items and articles. Only around half of the items offer any kind of background information to the conflict.

"Media reporting plays a large role in how the general public and those in power perceive that which takes place in war and conflict. If you don't portray the positive events as well then nobody will ever know about them. Therefore, we feel it's important to monitor the media from both a gender and peace perspective," explains Åsa Carlman.

Ekot highest, TT lowest

The media monitored in the Kvinna till Kvinna survey included both broadcasting media and daily newspapers. Swedish Radio's Ekot programme had the best result for women's representation with 21 per cent women as news subjects in their news items. The Swedish Central News Agency (TT) was lowest with only two per cent in the period concerned.

Why does it look this way? Why is news coverage so distorted in conflict contexts?

"Our task is to cover events. Men are usually behind that which happens in war, which is why more men appear in our news items," explained Christina Gustafsson Götze, foreign affairs editor at Ekot, during a panel debate on the report arranged on May 6.

But Åsa Carlman did not accept that explanation.

"War and conflict is more than just troop movements and bombings. Life goes on in civil society where there are many peace initiatives. For the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, who supports women's peace initiatives, it is of course vital that they are also covered in the media coverage. If only official sources are seen and heard it gives a distorted view of reality."

Gustav Fridolin from TV4, with 14 per cent of women in their coverage, was of the same opinion.

"Civil society also has a role in war and conflict. It is not only men in traditional power roles who control events."

Inna Michaeli from the Coalition of Women for Peace

What is a reliable source?

The panel expressed a certain amount of scepticism towards civil organisations and their reliability as news sources.

"We can hardly be expected to be a megaphone for interest groups," said Carina Stensson, foreign affairs editor at the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper

Åsa Carlman countered by saying that from another perspective you could ask who you are holding the megaphone for if you only listen to those in power. Those who want to cover the powers to be must also listen to other versions and sources:

"In my experience, some journalists find it difficult to broaden their sphere around what is regarded as a relevant and reliable source."

She pointed out that those who feel uncertain about the credibility of individual organisations can turn to other actors and, in addition, clearly state who they have spoken to and the agenda they have.

Lack of reporters

The panel agreed that one of the underlying causes of unigender conflict reporting is the lack of correspondents; that too much reporting comes through news agencies. If there were more journalists in place then more civil society voices would be heard.

"The lack of presence means that official sources are given precedence," said TT's Karl Viktor Olsson.

So just how important is the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation's monitoring? How important are more women's and civil society voices in the news coverage of conflicts? The panel was not particularly self-critical:

"Covering power is important for us. Gender is not our first priority," said Karl Viktor Olsson.

Women are needed in the mediaTaghreed El-Khodary from the New York Times

Inna Michaeli from Jerusalem is active in the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace. She firmly believes that gender should not come second best in conflict reporting. Quite the opposite, women have to be given coverage:

"The Israeli media does all in its power to marginalise our peace initiatives. Our actions spoil the official picture of a people united against the enemy, the Palestinians. It is therefore vital that the international media sees us and takes us seriously. We show that it is not a question of ‘us' and ‘them'."

Taghreed El-Khodary is a New York Times correspondent in Gaza. She agrees with Inna Michaeli. More balanced international new reporting is of vital significance for Israelis and Palestinians alike, as well as the rest of the world. It impacts political progress, but cuts both ways:

"Media consumption in Gaza is enormous today. Because the people are isolated they follow everything that's written and broadcast in both local and international media. When people no longer feel that the news portrays their reality, when reports on the living conditions of ordinary people are visible by their absence, they feel let down and upset. A frustrated and angry population is not a good party to peace talks. So for me, listening to people's stories and passing them on is absolutely crucial."

Åsa Carlman also believes that a more gender-balanced coverage of long-term conflicts, as the one between Israel and Palestine, is required for the surrounding world to find the energy for commitment:

"The reality is often more promising that that portrayed in the media from war and conflicts. I think more voices and pictures are required if media consumers are not to lose interest in events."

Anna Lithander