Women Are Mostly Invisible On India’s Prime Time TV Debates

Treated more as victims, less as speccialists on any matter

New Delhi.

On any evening, those watching prime time television news debates in India may get the impression that women rarely have opinions worth airing on any subject – politics, economy, stock market or geopolitics.

For five days starting 5 February, 2018, IndiaSpend counted the number of men and women who appeared as panelists (commentators/spokespersons/newsmakers) on debates on 10 English news channels, between 8 pm and 10 pm.

Over four times more men than women – a total of 264 men as opposed to 54 women – appeared as panelists during the sample period, indicating the under-representation of women’s views in the broadcast media.

The gender count was restricted to invitees (not anchors) and debates (not interviews). The numbers were based on screenshots of groups of panelists who appeared in the first half of the shows (There may be minor discrepancies in total figures, as some panelists are brought in after the debate begins). The number of panelists on these shows ranges from three to 10 and some panelists appear on multiple channels the same evening.

The results highlight the need for further studies and empirical data to better understand why India’s professional women are largely unseen and unheard on primetime TV news in a nation with 780 million television viewers, more than the population of Europe. There are roughly 220 million viewers of English content and over 400 news channels in India.

Female panelists outnumbered their male counterparts on only one of the 10 shows in the five-day sample – Epicentre on CNN-News18 (which was moved from 7 pm to 10 pm from 6 February 2018).

Two of the shrillest shows on television with nationalist leanings – Republic TV’s The Debate at 9 pm and 10 pm with Arnab Goswami, and The Newshour at 9 pm and 10 pm on Times Now-had the lowest representation of women.

Women Depicted Less as Experts, More as Victims in News Shows The under-representation of expert women in the media is a global trend. In 2015, women comprised only 24 percent of the people “heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news, the same level found in 2010”, according to the five-yearly Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP).

In Europe, women are “much less likely to contribute to stories as experts, as professionals, as politicians or as business people”, the 114-nation GMMP reported in 2015. “The news is still dominated by men’s voices talking about things in which they have the starring role, voices of authority.”

This could easily be a description of the scene in India, where women comprise nearly half the population.

A Mumbai-based media survey released last year showed that only two respondents –the BBC and IBN Lokmat, a Marathi-language news channel – agreed that “at least” one female voice makes for a “right mix” of television panelists.

More than half the respondents in the study led by Population First and KC College were of the opinion that gender is not a decisive factor in the selection of panelists. But 15.78 percent of the respondents said that the “appearance” of panelists played a role.

In 2015, an International Federation of Journalists survey on media and gender in India showed that only 6.34 percent of respondents felt that women were depicted as experts/leaders in news programmes; 21.73 percent said they were depicted as victims.

Why is it important to ensure that more women professionals are seen on TV news shows? The depiction of gender stereotypes in the media could influence how communities perceive women and their place in society, say experts.

“The media as a whole plays an important role in perpetuating or challenging cultural and societal norms so it is important that this industry is more representative of today’s society,” the British government stated in 2015, responding to a House of Lords inquiry into women in news and current affairs broadcasting.

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