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Gender imbalance persists in Nordic news media

The Nordic news media have come a long way when it comes to priorities and legislation in the area of gender equality. However, this is not reflected in an acceptable gender balance in the news media, according to a new report from the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Heidi Haggrén coordinated the development of the report, titled “Women and Men in the News”. We asked her a few questions about the findings.

What are the main weaknesses in the field of gender equality in the Nordic media industry?‘Although the Nordic countries differ in many ways, the report shows that one thing they have in common is that men remain more visible than women in the media. The report also shows that the development in this area has been slow or stagnant in recent decades. Moreover, we found that gender stereotypes in the news are common. An uneven gender representation in the media is a gender equality and democracy issue. There should be a better awareness of the gender perspective in the media industry.’

Heidi Haggrén, coordinated the development of the report

‘The new digital media is a big challenge in all Nordic countries – how can gender equality be promoted and hate speech prevented? The technological development brings many opportunities for increased gender equality, but it has also opened up new channels for the expression of hatred and intimidation. This is something the Nordic gender equality ministers want to look closer at. For example, a report on the topic was published earlier this summer on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers [written in Swedish and titled “Hat och hot på nätet – en kartläggning av den rättsliga regleringen i Norden från ett jämställdhetsperspektiv”].

What changes are required?
‘There needs to be a willingness to deal with the issue of gender equality and to actively include it in the work of the media. There’s a need for active efforts, guidelines and follow-up. The journalism programmes at the universities play a key role. Gender equality issues should be given attention already at that level – all journalism students should be given a gender equality perspective.’

What can the Nordic countries learn from each other?
‘We can learn from various political and other measures implemented in the other countries. After all, we all have the same objective – a gender equal society – but we have chosen somewhat different approaches to get there. It is interesting to see how history has influenced each country’s media environment and for example how it is regulated.’

Can you share some examples of successful interventions?
‘The report brings attention to the lack of female experts featured in the media. According to the GMMP, about one-fifth of all experts who appear in the Nordic news media are women. The share of female experts is highest in Denmark, which is probably due to the fact that in 1997, Denmark introduced an expert database that highlights female experts and therefore makes it easier for journalists to identify and find them.’

‘Some media companies have been more attentive and have actively dealt with the underrepresentation issue. The most common measure is to monitor the gender distribution in the news. In a next step, there is of course a need to take action to actually achieve a gender balance. A good example in this regard is Swedish newspaper Västerbottens-Kuriren, which has managed to achieve a pretty good balance after setting a goal of attaining a 50/50 distribution of women and men. Also RUV, the Icelandic national broadcasting service, has made important progress (since 2014) in terms of gender awareness and gender distribution in the news content by means of bookkeeping and a deliberate strategy.’

Another recently published report, Regulation of Gender-Discriminatory Advertising in the Nordic Countries, shows that the Nordic countries also differ in terms of the paths chosen to regulate sexist advertising.

‘The results in this report suggest that Sweden has the strictest attitudes to sexist advertising in the Nordic region. All Nordic countries generally allow the use of gender stereotypes in advertising provided they are not presented in a strongly biased or humiliating manner,’ says Heidi Haggrén.

Sexist advertising is legally regulated in Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, either via a general clause or an explicit provision in the marketing/consumer law or gender equality legislation. Sweden currently has no specific legislation against sexist advertising; instead the regulation relies on a self-regulatory body. Finland is the only Nordic country with both legislation (including a government agency tasked to review sexist advertising) and a self-regulatory body in place.

‘The report indicates that both legislation and self-regulation have both strengths and weaknesses. The self-regulatory bodies can administer a large number of complaints. Yet legislation enables executive bodies to impose penalty fees and other sanctions in addition to the mere suspension of advertising campaigns,’ says Heidi Haggrén.

Updated 16 January 2020