Fairfax’s sense of gender balance

I’d just finished watching an ABC Q&A show about feminism and decided to take a flick through SMH on iPad before retiring. I started noticing lots of male images. Had the program on feminism oversensitised me to sexism? But it wasn’t the first time I’d noticed what seemed an overwhelming preponderance of male images on the SMH iPad version. Indeed it was questions about whether my initial perceptions were accurate or simply the product of an odd bad male day at SMH that led me to get involved in New Matilda’s Where are the women in the media? project. We’re looking for hard facts. Part 3′s on the way.

So in the meantime, I decided to do an extra small research pilot on SMH iPad images and gender. The flick through was horizontally across from the front page tonight. Up to where I started bumping into yesterday’s stories, I counted 100 images of men compared to 13 women. Just 12% of the people I saw were women. Overall, the story is one of men who speak, men who represent, men who play sport and men who are always there.

The 13 women included a murder victim in another country, two women associated with fashion week, a woman who looked a bit like actor Gwyneth Paltrow decorating an article on clean food, a woman who is head of a health support NGO, the face of a woman TV star, one caricature of Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart and four images of PM Julia Gillard. If, as looks likely, we replace Gillard with Abbott, we would be down to 8% of female images. As you flick through your ipad, the story of women is one of food, fashion, highly made up faces, carers and the odd woman whose has become powerful.

The dominant thread is men. Who are they? They are many things – leaders, politicians, sportspeople (all of them), journalists, entertainers, business people and just ordinary old people in the background.

Last week, the SMH’s section Life and Style ran an article about women sliding out of bed to put on make-up so their partners don’t see their faces. Yes, even long term partners.Could things really have got that bad? Can you imagine the strain and secrecy that would impose on a relationship?

The story about women waking early to get on their make-up (if indeed it is happening on a widespread level) could be a page one story, not a slightly daring comment piece on Life and Style It’s a great topic to discuss on breakfast and talkback radio.

The SMH’s gender biased image practices need to be publicly discussed. Despite Sarah Oakes strong resistance to having the word ‘women’ applied to her Daily Life section, is Daily Life just a new form of women’s pages with a soft touch of feminism, designed to hold advertisers and readers when paywalls come into place? This isn’t to reject the feminist stories that do regularly appear on Daily Life amidst the food and bodies, or the efforts of women who are trying to push editors’ and publishers’ boundaries. But whose editorial vision is being pursued in the selection of images for the SMH? Is selection determined by individual editors? Or is it the product of market research of readers for advertisers? Is Daily Life a sop to hide gender bias in the rest of Fairfax publications? A few add-on pages can’t disappear or justify gender bias elsewhere.

I’ve also got to be honest and say that our ‘Where are the women in the media’? project is coming up with far worse results than I expected. I think I believed that gender discrimination in the media was gradually improving for women. I’m no longer sure about that and we haven’t even started on women in broadcasting. I am thankful to Destroy the Joint which now has more than 27,000 facebook followers for pushing a public rewakening of these issues. They build on earlier research and feminist action.

You can follow our women in the media project on New Matilda and/or watch our progress by joining our Facebook page. Read Julie Posetti’s post on our facebook page written from her sickbed yesterday where she spent the day listening to a very male ABC. The results are also not good.

A Q&A with an all female panel plus male host for one night is not enough.

Note: In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that the piece about women getting out of bed to put make-up on was in the Daily Life section. Daily Life editor Sarah Oakes has pointed out that it was not. It was in the Life and Style section. The piece was arguing against the practice of hiding one’s unmadeup face from male partners. My point is that a few feminist pieces, whether in Life and Style or Daily Life could be seen as commercially based appeals to a female audience, otherwise turned off by the regular fare of content biased towards men. This is not a personal attack on female journalists who write or edit such stories or sections but an argument that these sections may also play a role in reinforcing and reproducing gender stereotypes. If you are not regular reader, have a look and see for yourself.We will be able to analyse this issue further in Part three of our Where are the Women in the media? series.

Gillard should forget minders and listen to Carlton

I’m a fan of Michael Carlton‘s who writes the backpage on Fairfax’s weekend NewsReview. Last weekend, he tackled the ‘farce of the mining tax’, the latest sympton of what he calls Labor’s ‘terminal disease.’

Vintage Carlton. But then came the very good bit about Tony Abbott.

“Tony Abbott was oddly silent all week. Invisible, even. There was no silly TV stunt at a fish shop or a widget factory, no poncing around in Lycra or hard hat. He kept his head down, allowing his shadow ministers and his obsequious media claque to do the public gloating over the opinion poll.

It was clever politics. Any comment from him would have looked like smart-alec hubris, which is one reason that voters have so disliked him in the past. Abbott still believes he was born to The Lodge and will do anything to get there, but he is learning to disguise this. The election is still his to lose, as his former mate John Hewson managed to do in 1993.

With Labor in turmoil and the smell of blood in the water, the opposition blithely carries on as a policy-free zone and gets away with it.”

Now read this carefully. If you enjoyed it last weekend, you will enjoy it again.

“Yet you know exactly what the Coalition will do if it wins government in September. First up there’ll be the Gothic horror of a Labor budget “black hole” – even worse than expected, we’ll be told. This will be the pretext for a savage round of expenditure “savings” and the sacking of thousands of public servants.

That done, all the same-old, clapped-out Tory machinery will creak into place. Once again there’ll be grovelling deference to the Americans in our defence and foreign policies. Billions will be wasted on bright and shiny military hardware, just as the Howard government did by buying 59 useless main battle tanks for the army, the navy’s Seasprite helicopters that could fly only in daylight in fine weather, and the eye-watering extravagance of the struggling Joint Strike Fighter project for the air force.

Domestically, Labor’s reforms in healthcare and education will be scrapped, with money ripped out of the public sector to be shovelled back into private hospitals and private schools. Climate change will be crap again. WorkChoices will eventually re-emerge with a new name; there will be a swingeing ideological attack on the ABC, enforced by a whopping funding cut; the national broadband network will be gutted; social reforms like same-sex marriage will be further off than ever; and the gap between rich and poor will grow ever wider, as it does in the US.

Been there, done that, deja vu all over again.”

Hard to sum it up better than that. Many of us have been there before and those that haven’t, don’t need to. Tip for Labor. Get rid of the mindless repetitious ‘working men and women’ version of Howard’s ‘working families’. Carlton, perhaps jokingly, says that he emailed John McTernan, your PR “apparatchik from the British Labour Party” last Christmas suggesting a drink but he hasn’t heard back.  I would take him at his word and sit down and have a chat with him. He might have more ideas. I doubt he’ll charge you an arm and a leg, like those expensive lobbyists and advertising firms.

For a start, I’d ditch trying to jolly up those journalists who have been campaigning to get rid of you for years and deliver Carlton’s column to every home in Australia. Skywrite and tweet it phrase by phrase.

Then I would get try one last treatment for that terminal disease and instead of dumping on the Greens follow their advice – fix the mining tax, stop the appalling abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus, speak up about war crimes in Sri Lanka and restore the income Labor’s taken from single parents and give those on unemployment allowance a rise of $50 which just about everyone who has tried living on the allowance recommends as a minimum.

Note : The last 40 words in the first published version of this post were slightly different. Edited for clarity and accuracy.

Fairfax smoozing Packer puts independent journalism under pressure

Fairfax’s SMH journalists have been amongst the few to probe the NSW O’Farrell’s government backing of James Packer’s plan for a new hotel casino in Sydney. Reporter Sean Nicholls broke a story about how the government had changed the rules for “unsolicited proposals” in a way that made it easier for Packer to avoid a competitive tender. So I was shocked when I opened the SMH on Saturday and found a plug for a story by Packer pitching his casino plan labelled as an ‘exclusive’ and ‘news’. There were several independent reports inside the paper, but online, Packer’s free promo was number three while other pieces were buried further down the page.

I am not suggesting that SMH should refuse to publish an opinion piece by Packer but this incident which followed Fairfax’s Australian Financial Review’s pushing of the plan through exclusives and a recent AFR business dinner at which Packer was the keynote speaker.

Concerned about the possible threat to independence of reporting, I wrote another piece for New Matilda:

Packer’s PR Coup

Green Left Weekly interviews me about media job cuts and Gina Rinehart

This week, Green Left Weekly’s Jay Fletcher interviewed me about the big job cuts and changes in the Australian corporate media.

In the interview, I talk about how the biggest shareholder in Fairfax and richest woman in Australia, Gina Reinhart has refused to sign the Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence.

Here is what the Charter says:

1. That the proprietor(s) publicly declare a commitment to the fundamental and longstanding principle of editorial independence.

2. That the proprietor(s) acknowledge that journalists, artists and photographers must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members.

3. That editorial staff shall not be required to work other than in accordance with the Australian Journalists’ Association code of ethics.

4. That full editorial control of the newspapers, within a negotiated, fixed budget, be vested with the editors of the papers and that the editors alone shall determine the daily editorial content of the newspapers.

5. That the editors alone shall hire, fire and deploy editorial staff.

6. That the editors shall not sit on the board of the owning company or companies, or any non-publishing subsidiary companies, and shall not be directly responsible to the board but to its appointed management.

7. That the editors must at all times carry out their duties in a way that preserves the independence and integrity of the mastheads.

Adopted by Age staff, March 28, 1988

Adopted by the Board of John Fairfax Limited, May 2, 1988

Adopted by Sunday Age staff, December 1990

Adopted by The Sydney Morning Herald, Sun-Herald and Australian Financial Review staff, February 21, 1991

Role for government in protecting independent journalism ?

I was asked to submit 400 words to the Sydney Morning Herald as part of regular feature which puts the same question to four people. I was the ‘academic”,

The question was: Should governments protect independent journalism?

Here is my reply.

AUSTRALIAN governments need to do more to protect independent journalism. If they had done more in the past, the task would not be so urgent now.

Independent journalism will not flourish without diversity of ownership. Governments can pass laws designed to protect that. Our failure to set up adequate rules has led to the most concentrated media in the developed world, with News Ltd and Fairfax Media (the publisher of the Herald) controlling 86 per cent of circulation.

Gina Rinehart, who wants more influence at Fairfax, has so far failed to recognise the right of journalists to report independently. News Ltd already has a more compliant journalistic culture. These two big companies, one controlled overseas, are in a battle for survival. This calamity has been delivered by market forces.

Over the past 30 years, various inquiries have warned that concentration could lead to the abuse of private media power, just as grave a threat as government interference. Governments failed to act because they were wary of media companies who scream ”censorship” as soon as intervention is mentioned. It needs to be understood that the interests of the public and independent journalists are not the same as the interests of media owners.

As companies seek to bolster profits by restructuring and cutting operations, the diversity, quality and quantity of independent journalism are further threatened. Faced with this crisis, governments should consider using tax-payer funds to support a more diverse public interest journalism, as is done with the arts.

The Greens suggest that charters of editorial independence could be statutorily entrenched. Again, instead of shoving the idea aside, we need to finally take the task of providing a framework for independent journalism and democratic media seriously.

The Finkelstein report outlines ways in which diversity and public interest journalism have been protected by subsidies elsewhere. Academics, including myself, submitted an idea for tax deductibility on donations for non-profit investigative journalism. Such journalism could be published in partnership with major companies as well as to support smaller independent media. Some people warn that such schemes could be politically influenced by decision makers. But if schemes have worked elsewhere, they should be considered here.

In submissions to Finkelstein the big media owners all rejected any role for government intervention. But their interests are different from those of journalists and the public. Governments should play a role in supporting journalists in producing diverse and independent journalism.

Wendy Bacon is a professor of journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney.

You can find the other three replies here.

Coverage of phone hacking scandal – a litmus test for News Ltd

This week, Jenna Price and I published a small Australian Centre for Independent Journalism study on the coverage of the phone hacking scandal in Australia on The Conversation a new publishing venture from the Australian university and research sector.

We found that if you relied on News tabloids for your information, the phone hacking scandal would have come as a big surprise when it turned into a crisis in July, this year. That said, there was a difference between the News tabloids in the week leading up to the cancellation of the News bid for BSkyB – the Adelaide Advertiser and the Herald Sun (Melbourne) carried 16 stories, almost twice the nine stories carried by the Sydney based Daily Telegraph.

It was great to see our story taken up by ABC site, The Drum.