By JACKIE HONG
Women got significantly less airtime than men during the 2011 Canadian federal election TV coverage, according to a new research paper by Ryerson journalism professor Marsha Barber and her co-author from the University of Guelph.
The paper, “Not Seen, Not Heard: Gender Representation on Canadian Television News during the 2011 Federal Election Campaign,” published in The International Journal of Diverse Identities, concludes that men accounted for more than 80 per cent of those solicited for their opinions on the election, and males were more likely to be used as experts than women.
The researchers analyzed national evening news reports from television news broadcasters CBC, CTV and Global from April 4 to May 2, the four weeks leading up to the 2011 federal election. They focused on clips (answers to a reporter’s questions), the gender of the clipster (the person answering the reporter’s questions), and whether the clipster was an expert, non-expert, partisan or candidate.
Men gave the majority of clips on all three networks, regardless of whether those clips came from candidates, supporters of a party, experts or non- experts. (CBC was the exception in the latter category, giving equal airtime to male and female non-experts.) When the opinions of experts were solicited, all three networks significantly favoured men. The study also found that female reporters were no more likely than male reporters to use female sources, nor were male reporters more likely to use male sources than their female colleagues.
“Based on prior research, the results were consistent,” Barber said in an interview, adding that the paper’s findings reflected the underrepresentation of women in the media overall.
The study suggests that the lack of women’s voices in television news is important because “those given air time during elections have the opportunity to influence national discourse.” With few women given airtime during election coverage, this may trivialize women’s issues while male voices dominate. However, the researchers suggest that factors other than discrimination may be contributing to the imbalance, including the fact that in Canada men are more likely to hold senior jobs and run for political office more frequently than women, therefore making it more likely for a male to be interviewed for an election story.
Barber said in an interview that these findings provide a good starting point for a discussion about women’s roles in the media.
“The first step is awareness. I think that’s the only way to start to address this, by acknowledging that the issue is there in the first place,” Barber said, adding that she plans to do similar research on upcoming elections to see if the statistics change over the years.