United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

Online Discussion

"Participation and access of women to the media
and their impact on and use as an instrument
for the advancement and empowerment of women"

26 August to 27 September 2002

Week One Summary

"Policy approaches as enabling framework"

This week's discussion on "Policy approaches in media as enabling frameworks" has been a vibrant one. We received 20 contributions from different regions including Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe, and North America and from a wide range of participants coming from NGOs, media, academe, intergovernmental organizations, private consulting firm, and an e-news network. This week's contributions provided analysis and answers to four major questions/areas:

  1. Gender provisions in media policies, guidelines and codes of conduct
  2. Policies, codes or guidelines that cover the representation of women and men in advertising
  3. Mechanisms that ensure the enforcement of existing policies, codes or guidelines including media policies and guidelines formulated by governments and other institutions outside of the media
  4. Role of media advocacy groups and/or professional media associations, and independent media producers in calling for policy frameworks that encourage fair gender representation in the media

Following are some conclusions drawn from the postings this week. Please note that I categorized and clustered the responses according to the specific topics they address.

Gender provisions in media policies, guidelines and codes of conduct

The general observation was that there are no reference to gender in existing media policies, guidelines and codes of conduct.

The experiences in the Caribbean, Nigeria, the Philippines, as well as in Fiji and other Pacific countries attest to this. There is no specific reference to gender sensitivity whether in news, general coverage or advertising. In cases that there are provisions for gender, these focus on morality, good taste, and decency, which are prone to subjective interpretation and further reinforce the traditional roles of women in many societies.

"In a regional media meeting on HIV AIDS and the girl child last October held in Papua New Guinea, media colleagues came up with a declaration that they would try to uphold sensitive and ethical reporting when it comes to HIV/AIDS. I talked until I felt my face turn blue to try and incorporate a sentence on gender, asking that media attention to gender inequalities and how these cause the spread of HIV/AIDS especially amongst Pacific women, could be included. No such luck. In a sea of mainly male faces, my plea was drowned out." - Lisa Williams, Pacific

… Not only is there a dearth of Codes of Conduct/Ethics in the mainstream media that stipulate gender-fair reporting. But as indicated in the research and the regional Code of Conduct workshop that Isis International organized [in 2001], the ones that exist depend on the context of the country and further reinforce the traditional roles of women and reflect conservative values on morality, family, good taste and decency.

For example in India, indecent representation is defined under the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act of 1986 as " the depiction in any manner of the figure of a woman, her form or body … in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent or derogatory to, or denigrating women, or is likely to deprave, corrupt, or injure the public morality or morals." - Raijeli Nicole, Asia-Pacific

Dr. Paz H. Diaz, stated that the Code of Ethics of Journalists being used in the Philippines is mostly followed by print journalists. TV, radio and film seem to be more loose and they want to follow the "self-policing" policy.

The other generalization that can be made for many countries is the trend toward self-regulation. The experiences from the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations, the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau, the Media Council and community radio in Switzerland, and the Associated Press bear out this trend.

Rita Henley Jensen from the U.S.A. shared the following provisions in the Associated Press Stylebook which, according to her, is considered as one of the best practices in this area:

  • Women should receive the same treatment as men in all areas of coverage. Physical descriptions, sexist references, demeaning stereotypes and condescending phrases should not be used.
  • Copy should not assume maleness when both sexes are involved, as in "Jackson told newsmen" or in "taxpayer ...he" when it can easily be said: "Jackson told reporters" or "taxpayers. . .they."
  • Copy should not express surprise that an attractive woman can be professionally accomplished as in: "Mary Smith doesn't look the part, but she's an authority on ..."
  • Copy should not gratuitously mention family relationships when there is no relevance to the subject, as in: "Gold Meir, a doughty grandmother, told the Egyptians today..."
  • Use the same standards for men and women in deciding whether to include specific mention of personal appearance or marital and family situation.

Bianca Miglioretto of the Women's International Network of the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC) cited the provisions in the [different chapters of] AMARC in relation to gender/women:

    Community and Citizen Radio Charter of Latin America: "...to show a real and valuable image of women and take a gender perspective in all programming..."

    People's Communication Charter: "... Media should not ridicule, stigmatise, or demonise people on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation and physical or mental condition."

    Declaration of passionate radio and TV-broadcasters: "... presentation of a real and positive image of women on radio and TV, a larger number of programmes produced from a gender perspective and the promotion of women's communication media."

    African Charter on Broadcasting: "...avoiding one-sided reporting and programming in regard to religion, political belief, culture, race and gender."

Policies, codes or guidelines that cover the representation of women and men in advertising

Emem J. Okon from Nigeria informed us that there no policy guiding the portrayal of women and men in advertising in Nigeria that she is aware of.

In Switzerland, there is a commission on fairness in advertising but it is "almost useless, because it does not have the power to take measures against sexist advertising" stressed Bianca Miglioretto.

Nicola Joseph of the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters Council of Australia shared the relevant points in the Australian Advertising Code of Ethics:

  • Advertisements shall not portray people in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, age, sexual preference, religion, disability or political belief.
  • Advertisements shall not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised.
  • Advertisements shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience and, where appropriate, the relevant program time zone."

Leonie Morgan added that in cases when government itself pays for advertising, the consensus is that a code of conduct in regard to the portrayal of women will be adhered too. However, in general, advertising the industry will regulate itself through industry bodies, rather than through government intervention.

Raijeli Nicole cited the Malaysian Advertising Code for Television and Radio that states that advertisements:

  • must project participation and contribution of men and women in family life, in the economy, society and the development of the country;
  • must contribute to formulation of positive values … for family formation and family life and
  • must portray positive images of women and project their roles, contributions, and rightful positions in all sectors of economy and society.

Mechanisms that ensure the enforcement of existing policies, codes or guidelines including media policies and guidelines formulated by governments and other institutions

The discussants from Belgium, Australia and Fiji shared the initiatives of their governments in formulating mechanisms that address the issue of women/gender and media. They have also underlined the strength and weaknesses of these initiatives.

Jane Hailé from Belgium informed us of the review entitled Images of Women in the Media was put together in 1996 and 1997 in Europe. This is a review of research conducted by Member States of the European Union and looks at women's employment in European media, women and men as media "content",and women as media audience. Many of the findings provide indications for policy directions relative to all media, including "new media."

[There is also]… the EC Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality (2000). Article 3.5 Promoting Change of Gender Roles and Stereotypes of this document echoes the stipulations in the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination that underscore the need to change behavior and attitudes, norms and values which define and influence gender roles in society, through education, training the media, arts, culture and science.

Amongst the actions listed as necessary to overcome (negative) gender stereotypes are the:

  • Monitoring of the integration of a gender perspective into policies of particular relevance such as "education, training, culture, research, media and sport policies"
  • Discussion with existing national ethical committees as to the inclusion of a gender dimension in their remit as well as supporting the networking of National Ethical Committees (in the Member States)
  • Ensuring that EC departments take into account in their information policies "specific women's needs and perspectives"
  • Promotion of the exchange of views and good practices in the media and the creation of a group of media representatives to assist the Commission to implement the talks under this objective of the Framework Strategy

Nicola Joseph spoke about the introduction of a legislation covering the media industry in Australia. This is complemented by another legislation called the Sex Discrimination Act and Racial Vilification Act. The Australian Broadcasting Authority continues to be a government watchdog but has far less teeth as recent cases have shown. It now monitors media's self-regulation.

In Fiji, there is actually no national policy on women/gender and the media. NGOs have drawn attention to the fact that the Fiji Government's Women's Plan of Action (WPA) does not contain any reference to media. They also recommended the establishment of a Women and Media taskforce to the Ministry of Women to bring together the various stakeholders to address these issues. There is a regulatory unit within the Ministry of Information but this needs greater definition of what it is supposed to be regulating, because its initial mandate is to regulate frequencies and issue licenses for broadcasts. There is however a complaint procedure that covers broadcasters' non-compliance with the license regulations.

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls also informed us that currently, the Fiji Government has 'mooted' the idea of reviewing media legislation which results in some gray areas over who is going to be responsible for what....especially since there is suggestion to form another media council.

Role of media advocacy groups and/or professional media associations and independent media producers in calling for policy frameworks that encourage fair gender representation in the media

A wide range of initiatives that include the conduct of training, provision of funding support, holding of dialogues and the formulation and enforcement of guidelines by media advocacy groups, NGOs, professional media associations and independent media producers were enumerated by the discussants.

Sara Platon from the Netherlands cited the experience among the Independent Media Centers where the issue of gender and sexism are under constant debate. She stated that in so far as guidelines are concerned, a strict policy is that no sexism is allowed in the online newswires, neither as an article, comment, nor, as a pop-up window. Within the networks themselves each local group try to define sexism and how to deal with it. These policies are often bound to the diversity of the active group themselves (gender representation), present (local/global) issues and cultural differences.

In Fiji, the issues in relation to gender-sensitive media policy are only advocated for by women's NGOs and other concerned groups like Fiji Media Watch. Some members of the National Council of Women of Fiji influence policy through media mainstreaming initiative which involves women's groups, specific media organizations, and government partners in workshops and joint media productions. In addition, groups like fem'LINKpacific, Fiji Women's Rights Movement and Fiji Media Watch made submissions to the review of the General Media Code of Ethics and Practice to highlight common concerns in relation to gender and racism.

The Arab Women in Media Center conducts conferences to address gender discrimination in media in the Arab World. It also facilitates training for its members. Media trade unions in Switzerland organize conferences and conduct training on gender- fair portrayal.

The regional code of conduct dialogue (COCO) organized by Isis International-Manila helped to identify minimum standards in gender-fair reporting Some of the minimum guidelines for media organizations as identified at the COCO workshop are:

  • Not placing undue emphasis on gender
  • Resisting, and not reinforcing, stereotyping based on gender, race, religion, ethnic, language, sexual, age and class
  • Ensuring that the portrayal, reporting and representation of women respect the dignity of women
  • Recognizing the changing roles of women and men in society
  • Finding a balance in employing women and men as news sources, experts, authorities and commentators on the range of issues covered in media
  • Giving equal prominence to the achievements of women and men across the range of issues covered in media
  • Excluding materials that condone, incite or misuse representation of violence against women;
  • Avoiding discussions of incidences of violence against women that over emphasize and sensationalize the details
  • Including a comprehensive analysis of underlying issues in the portrayal, reporting and representation of women

Other inputs

Isabella Waterschoot from Trinidad & Tobago and Bianca Miglioretto from Switzerland drew attention to the need to look at policy framework vis-ŕ-vis the ICT and the Internet. Other than these, there were no other inputs on this particular area.

Sara Platon from the Netherlands raised questions on the framework of this week's discussion-she wanted to know whether we were operating on the " traditional frameworks of media or those of independent media producers." To which I replied that the general framework of the online discussion is inclusive of what most of us refer to us 'traditional or mainstream' mass media and those that create their own media. This is because we hope to identify and discuss cases of good practice at different levels with the view to proposing enabling approaches rather than delimiting. Moreover, we hope to make recommendations to encourage policies and self-regulatory mechanisms that will allow a diversity of voices and perspectives to flourish in the media.

C.C. Reilly from the U. S. A. spoke about the agreement between the New York City Council and Time Warner Cable were the Council granted the company a contract lay down cables in the streets of New York City in exchange for several channels for public use, free studios, equipment, and training. However, Mayor Rudy Giuliani found a loop-hole in the City constitution and took the power to give out another contract to RCN with the specific proviso that, since public television was worthless junk, RCN could lay down their cables, start their service, and had no obligation to provide the public with anything. In terms of the public television that exists via Time Warner and other cable companies that had the same type of agreement all across the country, there is no censorship except for that provided by the Federal Communication Commission. That would include no use of certain lewd words and no pornography. Nothing gender specific, no ethics.

CC. Reilly also discussed the pressure put onto media practitioners, artists, and independent media producers in public television to conform to standards set by what she refers to as right-wing administrations. An irony in a country that claims to promote and uphold freedom of the press.

Dr. Paz H. Diaz shared that in the Philippines today, the "lipstick" beat is somehow changing. Women's bylines are now seen made on front cover news items, and in political and national stories. But there are still many assigned to cover "soft" news and low priority beats. She also pointed out that the dominant women's images in the news is either that of a sex object or victim of crime. Proposed guidelines on the coverage of women have been proposed but have largely been ignored in practice.


  • Any debate on gender [and media] has to take place in the context of full understanding amongst those debating the term.
  • [Where they don't exist,] develop specific codes of gender-sensitive conduct for advertising.
  • Address internal policies among media organizations/media enterprises at either management or executive board level with a realistic viewing that having women on board will only make a difference if the women themselves are committed to advocating gender-friendly policies.
  • Conduct continuing studies to pinpoint where the outright violations [of media codes of conduct and other policies] are and where the gaps are.
  • Policies on sexual harassment and work ethic codes should be strictly observed in the media industry to ensure the protection of women in the media profession.
  • Educate the public on the fact that they too are media stakeholders and as such, they have a role in determining what is and what is not news.

Thank you very to all those who participated in the first week of the DAW online discussion on women and media including those who read the postings. In addition to the responses to the questions, we were also able to generate a wealth of resources which we are unable to include in this summary because of space limitations. One of which is the Philippine Journalist Code of Ethics that Dr. Paz H. Diaz posted. This, and all other inputs that are not in this summary will be included in the final report.

For those who were not able to join us this week, you can still share your ideas in the coming weeks. Looking forward to another lively week of sharing.

Warm regards,

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

Go to summaries for week: One , Two , Three , Four, Five
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Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations