Uks is Pakistan’s representative for the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP). The GMMP is the world’s largest and longest longitudinal study on gender in world’s media and is coordinated by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC)
Every five years since 1995, GMMP conducts a one-day study of the representation and portrayal of women and men in the news media across the globe to analyze women’s presence in relation to men, gender bias and stereotyping in the news media content. The global, regional and national reports can be found online at www.whomakesthenews.org
After the last WACC Global Gender in the Media snapshot exercise in 2015, our colleagues had described the media in Pakistan as “vibrant and largely free.” Just five years later, amidst a pandemic that is still wreaking havoc in the country and around the world, independent journalism finds itself with a lot at stake today as the incumbent government reveals its intent to enact laws to silence criticism from the media. Indeed, these are challenging times, when those whose jobs are to tell others stories become the story themselves.
But, ultimately, questions of gender and cultural imagination are at the heart of our endeavor.
Uks Research Centre has long been part of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), the world’s longest-running and most extensive research on gender in the news media coordinated by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). Together we began measuring gender in the mainstream media in Pakistan more than two decades ago. In the midst of the pandemic, Team Uks gathered in its Islamabad office on September 29, 2020, along with a group of young researchers and monitors, to link up with hundreds of others engaged in GMMP monitoring worldwide.
What we can safely say is that even today, after more than two decades, changes to how women are reporting and being reported remain marginal. Successes for those working to push gender-aware content in the media exists; there are increasing instances of women’s pictures being carried in affirmative ways in the print media. But the situation hasn’t improved enough to truthfully report the cost of the pandemic on women and the extra burdens they’ve had to bear – both in terms of lack of reportage on reported crime and in the stories left untold.
On the day that we are writing this report, June 3, 2021, almost all Pakistani newspapers printed an advertisement that stated “NO to the Pakistan Media Development Authority” – a government body being proposed by the Ministry of Information in an attempt to “regularize” the media sector in Pakistan. It is a poignant place to begin – because the day we were to monitor the media for the GMMP global snapshot was dominated by headlines of the main opposition leader being arrested on charges of corruption.
Absolute control of the media is perhaps among the last-remaining frontiers for a regime described as
“hybrid” – a shared control of governance handed by the military to a leader of their choice who is usually a man. Until now, much of that overarching state control over the media takes place through either willing and/or pliant media, or as coercive control of journalists. The proposed Media Development Authority is a step beyond that – the focus of coercion seems to be moving away from individuals and towards media organization themselves.
This reining in of media organizations, particularly those that house critical voices, comes at a time when the media industry is suffering through a crisis of financial investment and outdated business models. But to do this in the midst of a pandemic, when public messaging is key to containing the virus and news organizations have already slashed jobs to accommodate for lost funds, is a huge blow to the media industry in Pakistan.
The timing of this attack is also suspect for another reason: foreign policy. In fact, the mediascape that we witness today is the outcome of the Pakistani establishment after the war of Kargil arriving at the conclusion that its position could not be questioned internationally because a Pakistani electronic media sphere that can challenge the Indian media sphere simply did not exist. The fact that today most Pakistani channels have been running news from Israel and Palestine with a pro-Palestine angle and without worry or fear of repercussion seems to underline this foreign policy argument. Ditto for media coverage of Kashmir or the larger silence around Uyghur Muslims in China.
While foreign policy is being sorted, whatever singular truth that the state is trying to tell its domestic audience has not reached its intended target.
The ad today – cosigned by the All-Pakistan Newspapers Society, Pakistan Broadcasters Association, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors, and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists – describes how this ordinance enacted by the President of Pakistan will allow law enforcement to “invade” media premises on arbitrary pretexts. In other words, the regime has bypassed the Parliament to enforce new bounds for media operations. The tone of the advertisement suggests that media head honchos are foreseeing the same kind of coercive control of media organizations that exists across the border in India.Given this context and the experience of the opposition leader’s arrest, it would be no surprise for the next month of the Pakistani news cycle to be dominated by this news as media organizations gather their best resources for a counter-narrative onslaught. Almost all newspapers have written strong editorials today while the airwaves are slowly filling up with more and more analyses of the story.
Between the day of GMMP monitoring and today, as we write these words, we notice recurring trends: hyper-politicization in the media and where those hyper about politics are almost always men; airtime being hogged by politics (petty or significant); and since politics is still a man’s preoccupation in Pakistan, the disappearing voices of women in newsprint and in studio.
It compels us to ask: is there a link between hyper-politicization and gender-aware media content?
Our data suggests so – hyper-politicization of the political and media spheres is lapped up both by media organizations and corporate sponsors in Pakistan and it usually comes at the cost of gender aware content appearing in the news media. There is a significant drop in women contributing stories this year as compared to five years ago: what started off as an industry crisis before the pandemic morphed into women losing jobs on the pretext of cuts due to pandemic economy. Without any women in the newsroom, reporting on gender-aware reportage has suffered.
News media is a fair reflection of where a country stands in gender terms because it captures how a country imagines its women to be. Where gender-aware content is low, women’s status as agents of change or as equals in the economy and household is also fairly low. Pakistan scored 12 per cent in gender-aware news and eight per cent in Covid-related news – both markers of fairly low gender equality in Pakistani culture and society.
- This is the third time Pakistan has been a part of the GMMP and coordinated by Uks Research Centre.
- This country snapshot is based on the monitoring of nine newspapers (print media), 11 news channels (television news media), the state-owned radio channel (PBC), four news-based websites and four Twitter handles.
- Monitoring was conducted by 17 volunteers which included Uks’ own staff, journalists and students from various universities.
- The activity was supervised by Uks’ team who have been monitoring media in Pakistan through the gender lens for more than two decades.
- GMMP Methodology provides tools and guidelines on which media to monitor and how. Uks team was familiar with the methodology, which they taught to university students through a mock session prior to the actual monitoring activity.
- The tools remained almost the same as of the GMMP 2015, despite a few changes e.g., a separate question on Covid-19 in the coding sheets.
- The main theme that received maximum coverage on monitoring day across the news media was “Politics and Government” followed by “Crime and Violence” and “Science and Legal.” respectively.
- Women contributed 18 per cent of all news stories as compared to 36 per cent in GMMP 2015 findings.
- Men dominated the news stories on all the major topics except “Gender and related” where women news subjects contributed 68 per cent.
- Women news subjects’ presence in “Economy” related topics scored the lowest and remained at only 7 per cent.
- 89 per cent of the women news subjects were covered as “spokespersons” while men were 63 per cent.
- 64 per cent men were monitored as expert or commentators on news regarding “Government and Politics” whereas women only constituted 33 per cent.
- 40 per cent of women news subjects were identified by their family role/status as compared to only 8 per cent of men.
- News that portrayed women news subjects as “victims” were 48 per cent whereas 52 per cent were men.
- 52 per cent of news subjects that were photographed were women, compared to 48 per cent of men news subjects.
- 43 per cent of women and 57 per cent of men news subjects were directly quoted in the news.
- The overall presence of women reporters across the media added up to 18 per cent of all the reporters (whose by-lines were mentioned).
- More than 42 per cent of the news was presented, announced or reported by women journalists. Of these, only 18 per cent of women journalists were monitored as reporters,” whereas rest of 82 per cent were recorded in the role of news presenters/announcers.
- Men reporters covered 72 per cent of the stories with women as news subjects, while just 28 per cent of these were reported by women reporters.
- 33 per cent of stories in which issues of gender equality/inequality were raised were reported by women reporters.
- About 12 per cent of the total news items had women subjects as central focus.
- Only 4 per cent of the monitored news content challenged stereotypes.
- Covid-19 related news stories made almost 8 per cent of the entire monitored content
RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTION PLAN 2021-2025
- Encourage developing subject-specialists
- Encourage women to develop more than one specialisation
- Encourage intersectionality
- Society and culture after the pandemic, particularly its collapse, is a gendered crisis, but very few journalists are able to study it. Encourage and create master classes that help them gain sociological and anthropological understanding of the issue.
- Develop and place gender-aware and consumable content in news organizations