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Young Australian women are dissatisfied with how the media represents them

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Brand new research from the University of Canberra shows that young women are dissatisfied with the way the news media portrays them.

The Digital News Report: Australia 2021 finds that women, especially Gen Z women who are 23 and younger—are less likely to think the news media represents them fairly than men.

The online survey of 2,034 Australian news consumers also found Australian women believe they receive less news coverage than their male counterparts.

The study finds a quarter of Gen Z women (26 %)—those aged 23 and under—think they are underrepresented in the news compared to 11% of Gen Z men. In contrast, three-quarters of men aged 75+ believe men receive about the right amount of news coverage.

This is certainly the case for 21-year-old political economics student Dakshata Sharma. For her, consuming traditional journalism is usually a disappointing experience.

If you asked me to turn on the TV, flick through the newspaper or listen to the radio at any given point, chances are, the person speaking—whether presenter or guest—will hardly ever be someone I can connect with and adequately feel represented by.”

Reflecting on the report’s findings, its lead author, Professor Sora Park, says she’s unsurprised at how Gen Z women view journalism.

“Ongoing public discussion about violence against women in Australia has increased attention on the way women are portrayed in the news media. And essentially, women aren’t happy. This is especially true of young women. They feel the least seen by the media.”

According to the research, more than half of Australians are satisfied with how the news media represent ‘people like them’. However, those who feel there is not enough news coverage of the groups they belong to, are less likely to trust news in general.  Gen Z and Gen Y women are the most likely out of all the surveyed groups to believe they are unfairly treated by the media.

As someone who frequently works in the non-profit sector both in paid and unpaid roles, Dak has had frequent interaction with the media. She says those experiences have been marginalising.

“It is quite obvious to me that although there are some gems out there, the small number of journalists I personally have had experiences with care little about diverse representation within Australian society.”

“To me these journalists have appeared rather more concerned with who looks best on TV and who fits in the most with an ideal ‘Australian’ appearance. I’ve found that most of the time, that’s not a 21-year-old young woman of a diverse cultural background…It’s extremely hard not to feel insulted,” she says.

Reflecting on Dak’s experiences and how these are borne out in The Digital News Report, Professor Park says:

“There is a strong association between the perception of fairness of news coverage and general trust in news. Those who feel the news media report fairly about ‘people like me’ are much more likely to trust news. And the inverse applies too.”

The Digital News Report: Australia 2021 finds Australian women are more likely to feel there is not enough news coverage of their gender (16%) than men (10%).

The imbalance is acknowledged by 11% of men who say there is too much reporting about them. Only 6% of female participants believed women received too much news coverage.

In addition to Australian women believing they do not get enough news coverage they are also more likely than men to think news coverage of their gender is unfair.

Again, this is particularly true for Gen Z women. Almost one-third of the young women (32%) believe news coverage of their cohort is unfair, compared to 19% of Gen Z men.

Except for Baby Boomer women, men are much more likely than women to think news coverage of their gender is fair (see table).

The report also finds that women continue to be less interested in news than men and consume less of it. Only 48% of women access news more than once a day compared to 60% of men.

A similarly low proportion of women say they have high interest in news (47%) compared to 57% of men, and less than one-quarter of women are interested in politics compared to 40% of men.

Australian women also get their news via fewer mediums and news brands than men.

Dr Caroline Fisher, who also worked on the report says: “Perhaps these poor statistics could improve if women perceived the news coverage of them was fairer and more plentiful. In the context of larger community conversations about gender equality, these findings are important.”

“Our findings point to the need for diversity in news coverage, not only in the topics covered, but also in the voices being heard. These findings support a push for greater inclusion and diversity in news content and in the newsroom,” she says.

Dak agrees: “[The] media needs to shift the focus from just putting an equal amount of men and women on the TV, to ensuring a balance in diverse intersections including people of marginalised genders, migrant and refugee people, people from Indigenous backgrounds and people with disability.”

FIGURE 3.3: VIEWS ABOUT THE AMOUNT OF COVERAGE OF PEOPLE YOUR GENDER BY GENERATION (%) [Base: N=2,034]

FIGURE 3.13: VIEWS ABOUT THE FAIRNESS OF COVERAGE OF PEOPLE YOUR GENDER BY GENERATION (%) [Base: N=2,034]

The Digital News Report: Australia 2021’s findings in relation to gender and the news media are echoed by overseas research. A recent study examining gender inequality in news coverage in India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, and the US found women’s voices are often missing.

It is an issue the ABC has been trying to tackle. In March this year, the ABC announced it had achieved gender parity in its news coverage for the first time since 2018.

However, audience perception takes longer to change and not all news outlets are attempting to correct the imbalance.

HerCanberra is a proud supporter of the BroadAgenda, Australia’s leading research-based gender equality media platform based at the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

Digital News Report: Australia is produced by the News & Media Research Centre (N&MRC) at the University of Canberra and is part of a global annual survey of digital news consumption in 46 countries, commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

The survey was conducted by YouGov at the end of January/beginning of February 2021. In Australia, this is the seventh annual survey of its kind produced by the N&MRC.

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