Column Where are the female voices on the airwaves

first_imgIN 1980, a discussion took place on the Late Late show on the lack of women in the media. Nell McCafferty, a panellist on the programme, listed off the names of male presenters who dominated the airwaves throughout the day and concluded that:“Women do not exist on radio. We are an invisible species.”Thirty-three years later the names listed by Nell have changed but the radio presenters are still predominantly male. The absence of any research on women in the media and the desire to see the extent of the problem led me to conduct a series of surveys which monitored the presenters and guests on a selection of current affairs programmes across the three national stations: RTE, Newstalk and Today FM.The first of these surveys was carried out in September 2010, followed by a second one covering the period from 1-7 March 2012. The most recent one which was carried out from 14-18 October 2013.The aims were  to ascertain accurate figures for female representation on the airwaves and to make comparisons between them. Women’s presence in panels, interviews and reports were monitored for all three surveys. The results are outlined below:Little movement over three decadesThe figures show little movement over the three year period with the average participation of women in RTE growing from 18.5 per cent to 22.3 per cent in three years. The average for Newstalk went from 16 per cent in 2010 to 25 per cent in 2012 with no change in the most recent figures. The only programme monitored on Today FM was The Last Word and this came in at under 20 per cent in all three surveys.The most recent figures for RTE show a ratio of between 1:4 and 1:5 female-to-male voices in current affairs, with a 1:7 ratio for the Late Debate presented by Audrey Carville. The average ratio in Newstalk is 1:5 with Pat Kenny’s programme scoring highest for female participation with a 1:3 ratio. The Last Word went from a ratio of 1:7 (2010) 1:6 (2012) and 1:5 (2013).As I reviewed the figures another pattern emerged. Friday is the day when men are most dominant on the airwaves. In 2010 Morning Ireland interviewed their highest number for the week on Friday 17 September with a ratio 14 men: one woman. That same day Drivetime interviewed 17 men and one woman. The Right Hook had five men and no woman.On Friday 2 March 2012 Morning Ireland had 11 men and one woman while on that same day Pat Kenny had his highest number of male guests with nine men and two women.On Thursday 1 March there was no female guest on the News at One, presented by Seán O Rourke, while on Friday he interviewed 11 men and one woman. Drivetime had a 12:1 ratio on that day and there was no woman at all on The Right Hook.Morning Ireland interviewed the highest number of males for the week on Friday 18 October 2013 with a ratio of 16:6. Tuesday 15 October was Budget day and Drivetime interviewed a total of 24 men as against only seven women.Expert opinion = male opinion?While there was good gender balance in the studio for budget analysis this was lost when debate went outside the studio and expert opinion was sought. Drivetime’s figure for Friday 18 October was 16:6. Pat Kenny, on his Newstalk programme had 10 men and 1 one woman while on that same day Matt Cooper had a ratio of 13:1.This pattern of male voices being most dominant on a Friday also applies to presenters. As Rachel English and Áine Lawlor are now co-presenting they are not on air every day. For the most recent monitoring, Rachel English was co-presenter for just one day on Monday 4 October with an all male team presenting for the rest of the week.Áine Lawlor was the presenter of News at One on Monday and Tuesday but was replaced by Richard Crowley for the rest of the week. Mary Wilson was at the helm for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but was replaced by Philip Boucher Hayes on Thursday and Friday. Consequently there were no females presenting current affairs on the last day of the survey, Friday 18 October.The other channels fared little better for females presenting. RTE 2 had no female presenter until Friday 18 October when Jenny Green presented an evening programme. The only female presenter on Today FM was Louise Duffy who had a 5am slot with no female presenting on Newstalk on their weekday schedule.Italy’s national broadcaster tackles gender inequalityIn light of the lack of progress for the last 33 years the problem needs to be urgently addressed. A recent Guardian article highlighted Anna Maria Tarantula’s proposals as head of the National Broadcaster in Italy (RAI) on this issue.She has confronted the problem at her station and explained her reasons for boycotting the recent Miss Italia contest in favour of reflecting the many other roles women have in Italian society. In the article Tarantola outlines her “equality focused approach”. The RAI adopted a “set of guidelines on gender last month” with the aim of “boosting the number of female experts who are brought on to shows.”Our national broadcaster needs to develop a similar policy and training for presenters, producers and research staff must be put in place to ensure that women are heard and represented on the airwaves. Irish Radio is not reflecting the needs of 51 per cent of Irish society and therefore is failing society as a whole. We cannot wait for another 33 years hoping that the culture might change.There is a moral imperative for changeThe results of   the 2010 and 2012 surveys became part of a National Women’s Council (NWCI) submission to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) on fairness and accountability in news and current affairs.This, in turn, led to a meeting between the BAI and the NWCI which was encouraging in that the BAI gave a commitment to meet with senior broadcasting personnel, with a view to encouraging movement on greater equality for women on the airwaves.Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (1987-2011) said:“Fair gender portrayal is a professional and ethical aspiration, similar to respect for accuracy fairness and honesty.”There is a moral imperative for management to address the issue of gender balance in current affairs so that “fair” gender representation becomes a reality.Lucy Keaveney is a retired teacher with a passion for current affairs. After retirement, she became  a founder member of the Countess Markievicz School which was established in 2011 in honour of Ireland’s first female cabinet minister.last_img

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