Do our opinions matter?

Kaumudi Kashikar-Gurjar
Saturday, 9 February 2019

The curious case of women being represented lesser on TV news panels

As a result of the prevailing lack of awareness and concern about the need for a gender balance, we rarely see women being represented in panels on the myriad of TV channels. The business of seeking opinions from experts on several policy matters, current affairs or on significant orders issued by apex court seems to be riddled with the gross gender imbalance. If this is the accepted reality for many, it seems the opinions of women do not matter to those who claim to shape public opinion.

When we set to discuss the number of anchors on TV channels, except for English channels that fare well with an equal number of women and men anchors, the percentage of women anchors on regional channels is not beyond 22 per cent. Similarly, this percentage of women participants in several panel discussions is abysmally low. The research suggests that only 13 per cent of panellists are women and minuscule 0.2% were transgenders. These startling revelations were revealed as part of research conducted by 11 women journalists from across the country.

The research, ‘Manels or Panels’, explores the minimal representation of women in panels. The findings of this research were presented on the first day of the 14th national meeting of Network of Women in Media, India which was held at Jamia Millia Islamia University, in New Delhi, last week.

This research was coordinated by independent journalist Sonal Kellog. A total of 390 hours of programming was viewed by 11 researchers over a period of one month. Out of the total number of programmes (506) monitored, 69 per cent were prime time news programmes and the rest were talk shows, both daily and weekly.

The key survey findings indicate that overall women’s representation in TV panels was merely 13 per cent as compared to 86 per cent were men. Nearly, two-thirds of all panel discussions did not have a single woman representative. Hindi channels have scored slightly better in this regard, with 23 per cent women participants followed by Gujarati channels with an average 21 per cent of representation. Marathi channels had only 7 per cent women panellists which are only marginally up than Oriya (5) and Tamil (5) channels. Interestingly, English channels which believe in creating equal opportunities for women anchors lag behind with only 17 per cent of women representation on panels.

The findings show that most of the women on TV or news panels were journalists, artistes, lawyers, bureaucrats and activists. None of the panellists featured were women sportspersons, religious leaders, police officers and farmers not even in discussion on related topics.

While reflecting on the findings of this survey, Ammu Joseph, a senior independent journalist and author said, “The continued, widespread prevalence of ‘manels’ in the discussions on current events and issues in the media is a proof that public discourse on important matters that affect all citizens is dominated by perspectives put forward by men (and not even a wide range of men). This, in turn, means that citizens are deprived of other perspectives, including those of women, and are forced to form opinions without the benefit of diverse views.”

Joseph added that the news media are referred to as the Fourth Estate because of the crucial role it is meant to play in a democracy.

She demanded that it is time media decision makers recognised that diversity is essential if democracy is to function as it should.

The researchers have demanded that channels should make conscious efforts to ensure adequate representation of women experts from various fields. The research emphasises the fact that the present under-representation of women is not because women experts are not available but due to inadequate efforts made by channels to look for them.

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