by Rana Göroglu und Karin Heisecke, MaLisa Stiftung
Organisations and advocacy groups such as Pro Quote Medien, Pro Quote Film or the Journalistinnenbund (Association of Women Journalists) have raised public awareness on the underrepresentation of women in the field of media which has stimulated processes of change. Since its founding in 2016, our MaLisa Foundation has devoted itself primarily to the differences in gender representation in the content of audio-visual media. As a starting point for our call for more diversity, we support studies to identify possible solutions based on solid data.
Our first study on audio-visual diversity that we did in 2017 already showed that women are significantly underrepresented in all areas of German film and television, that they gradually disappear from the screen after the age of 30, and that they are rarely portrayed as experts. Our most recent studies on Corona coverage in the spring of 2020  and on gender representations and diversity in streamed content also show: The realities, distribution of roles and representation that we get today is still a long way from showing society as it actually is.
From findings to solutions
We develop solutions and monitor their implementation with the support of partners from the industry, civil society activists, and researchers. Sometimes it takes a while for research results to actually lead to processes leading to better representation and more visibility of underrepresented groups. Other times, however, results can be achieved in a very short period of time. A good example of this is the BBC's 50:50 Equality Project, which news presenter Ros Atkins started on his own initiative.
When Atkins realised how under-represented women were in his and in other departments of the BBC, he launched an action in his newsroom in early 2017. He proposed to voluntarily monitor the gender of the people who get to speak. Die Idee dahinter: The idea behind it: Having the findings right in front of you creates awareness of underrepresentation and motivates editorial departments to make a change. He called the project 50:50, and within a short time, the project showed signs of success. In Atkins' newsroom, the percentage of female contributors rose from under 40 to 50 percent within four months. Soon, other teams joined in and shared their data. Thus, a voluntary competition was born: the 50:50 Challenge.
The initiative was supported by the BBC Director General from the beginning and has become an important flagship for the public broadcaster. According to the BBC, 670 teams from all sectors are now using 50:50 monitoring, and the status is regularly published. According to the latest report female contributors accounted for at least 50 per cent of the content in almost three-quarters the data sets submitted for March 2021. And for the first time no team was made up of less than 40 percent women.
From individual initiatives to international networks
Atkins sees the key to success in the fact that the project is simple and voluntary, and measures what media professionals can control themselves. Researchers who have studied the project have come to a very similar conclusion. It has since spread far beyond the BBC: More than 100 institutions from over 26 countries are part of the global 50:50-network. Among them are many public broadcasters but also private media organisations, journalism schools, universities, and corporations.
The „BBC 50:50 Impact Report 2021“ also provides figures on international partner organisations for the first time. Of the 40 or so institutions that submitted data for the 50:50 Challenge, around half reported having a percentage of women of at least 50 per cent.
Broadcasters in Germany have now also joined the BBC 50:50 Equality Project and have set themselves the goal of a balanced gender ratio These include der Bayerische Rundfunk, die Deutsche Welle, rbb and SWR.The latter announced in summer 2021 that it would be the first state broadcaster in the ARD group to launch a station-wide 50:50 Challenge to increase the proportion of women in its television, radio, and online formats.
From gender distribution to monitoring other diversity factors
In October 2020, the BBC announced that it would extend its 50:50 monitoring to include ethnic diversity and disability. This is to support the broadcaster's aim to have 50 per cent women, 20 per cent 'Black, Asian and minority ethnic' (BAME) and 12 per cent people with disabilities represented on screen, and in leading roles across all genres. According to the BBC, more than 220 teams have already committed,to using this enhanced monitoring method.
It should be noted that measures such as the 50:50 Equality Project aiming for more "diversity in the media" are currently focussing on one aspect - a more representative distribution of journalists and other key players in media reports and products. Other aspects such as more women in top-level positions or better working conditions all round, or salary disparities are other aspects that still need attention. However, projects like the BBC's are an important step in the right direction. Such projects help to raise awareness and bring on change.
Karin Heisecke is the director of the MaLisa Foundation, which works to promote social diversity and overcome limiting role models in media and culture. She is an expert on gender issues and has worked in Germany and for international organisations for more than two decades in the areas of communication, policy advice and implementation.
Rana Göroglu Göroglu was communications and projects officer at the MaLisa Foundation. Previously, she worked as editor, managing director and project coordinator at Mediendienst Integration. She has also worked as a journalist for radio, TV, print and online media. In her work, she focuses on diversity in countries of immigration and the transfer of knowledge at the interface of research, media, and civil society.
Tips & Tools: Monitoring content digitally
Some newsrooms now use software to analyse their content in order to promote the representation of social groups:
Since 2018, the Australian ABC has been using its own „"Story Tracker“ tool to measure the proportion of eyewitnesses, spokespeople and experts from different backgrounds in the station's programmes.
At the Financial Times, the „Janet Bot“ continuously scans all reports for gender ratio. If the percentage of men is too high, it automatically informs the responsible editors.
Many media in Scandinavia use the „Gender Equality Tracker“. In addition to the gender ratio, the tools also track the ratio of "Nordic" to "international" names in media reports. The „Diversity Dashboard“ software measures the percentage of women in audio-visual media.
„EqualVoice-Factor“ measures the visibility of women in articles by Ringier and Ringier Axel Springer Switzerland. The EqualVoice-Factor has two indicators. The” Teaser Score" evaluates the visibility of women in pictures, headlines and titles, and the "Body Score" shows how often women and men are mentioned in the actual articles.
„Genderize.io“, „Agify.io“ and „Nationalize.io“ are tools that help to measure the frequency of people by gender, age, and nationality in publicly available texts. With these free tools, The Guardian, for example, was able to search through over 70 million user comments on its website, and Hillary Clinton's campaign team found out that most of her campaign contributors are female.
The start-up „Ceretai“ supports media companies with diversity and inclusion strategies. Among other things, it offers a tool to monitor the airtime of women and men as well as certain age groups in films, TV shows and news programmes.
Note: Using computer algorithms to monitor diversity is not a very precise method. For example, such tools usually only survey men and women, but not non-binary persons, and experiences of racism cannot always be recognised. To be really sure where you stand in terms of diversity, you will still need careful evaluation. As an editor, you should therefore always take the results of digital tools with a grain of salt.
Checklist for diverse voices
Do you want to showcase new voices and faces and portray society in a more diverse manner? Nothing could be easier. Just ask these three questions and make them a part of your daily editorial routine:
What criteria did I use to select my protagonists?
Like everywhere else, many unconscious factors play a role in the selection of protagonists, experts, analysts etc. In our male-dominated society, for example, women appeared in less than 20 % of all Tagesschau reports in 2020 – Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission not included – the number of protagonists with disabilities or with a non-white ethnicity was even lower.
Is that what we want? Do we want to continue flipping through our contact lists and inviting the same experts, analysts, academics, celebrities, over and over again, or is it time to reach out to new and more diverse protagonists? Do we pick those with the most expertise or those who are more likely to answer our phone calls? Do we pick those with the best stories, or those that best fit the standard story we choose to tell?
Am I representing diverse opinions and people?
This is something journalists and reporters can easily accomplish. And yet some social groups hardly get represented, while other positions and groups appear to be omnipresent. Just 26 percent of all experts who had their say in 2020 were female. In 2019, for example, more people named Peter than people with any Turkish name appeared on public TV and radio talk shows. This doesn’t reflect the reality of Germany as a country of immigration. Journalists ought to remind themselves of this when putting together their lists of protagonists, experts or studio guests.
Who gets to say what, how often, how long and when?
Media professionals must take a self-critical look at how much space they give to different people in their reports. Are the different actors in a social debate given the same amount of airtime or space for their arguments, or does one perspective dominate? Are dangerous, anti-democratic positions given too much attention, thus elevating them to the same level as legitimate human rights concerns? How is a topic introduced, who speaks first and who is given the important last word? In short, which aspect of the story will resound with readers, listeners and viewers?
Tips & Tools: Ideas for diverse voices
Vielfaltfinder.de is a free database for media professionals. Hundreds of experts from all fields reflect the most diverse expertise in Germany.
If you've had enough of "all male panels", you can find competent female speakers at speakerinnen.org/de.
ProQuoteMedien offers a list of female experts that media professionals can turn to the hashtag #Coronaexpertin.
In Switzerland, www.equalvoice.ch/ offers a research tool for all journalists at Ringier and Ringier Axel Springer Schweiz AG.
In-house address databases: Some editorial offices simply compile their own diverse address databases in which they list good interview partners, analysts and experts who are not white, not heterosexual, not male or disabled.
Diversify your feed: Another place to get in touch with experts from different backgrounds is your own social media feed. Media professionals should consciously follow institutions and people on Instagram and/or Twitter who represent new perspectives and topics and are part of a community with which they have had little contact.
Guest article: ProQuote Medien’s #Coronaexpert
by Edith Heitkämper
For almost two years, the Covid crisis has been explained to us mainly by men. Male experts have been voicing their opinions in the media. We've had enough! We want to see more female virologists, infectiologists, epidemiologists and intensive care specialists classify and explain the pandemic. We want to hear and read from more female social scientists, philosophers, educationalists, economists to analyse the social consequences for us.
The days of men explaining the world and women dutifully nodding ought to be long gone. It isn’t good to see such structures being repeated during the covid crisis. The fact that the media have mainly interviewed male experts shows that we are still a long way from achieving the kind of gender equality we had hoped for.
Campaign for more female experts
ProQuote Medien has therefore launched a campaign for more female experts in the public sphere. Under the hashtag #Coronaexpertin, the association is collecting names of female specialists in social channels. Editors often complain that it is impossible to find a woman for an interview, that there are simply not enough female experts in this field. It is true that in many scientific faculties, men dominate the top positions. But if you look, you will also find women there. We would like to support editorial offices in finding these female experts. We are sure we can find more women to voice their opinions on the covid crisis.
ProQuote Medien specifically asks hospital directors and research institutes to name female experts from the fields that are currently in particular demand. Journalists can then contact these experts for research or possible reporting. The search for further female experts is also supported by ProQuote Medizin and the Association of Women Doctors. Only a joint effort can change this deplorable state of affairs and allow more female voices to be heard. For a fairer representation of women in the media!
Edith Heitkämper is chairwoman of ProQuote, an organisation that advocates for a 50 per cent quota for women in media management positions. She also works as an editor for the TV health programme Visite on NDR television and writes about medical and social issues for Stern, Brigitte and Psychologie Heute.
Good Practice: These guidelines in reporting ethnicity apply at the New York Times
The "ethnic" affiliation, i.e., whether someone is a Person of Colour or Black (race), should only be mentioned if it is relevant and the relevance is clear for the reader. This affiliation is clearly relevant in the case of victims of hate crimes or criminals on the run, where a full physical description of the person is essential. For a person convicted of any other crime, mentioning race is irrelevant, unless the crime is a race-related hate crime, in which case the connection should be explained.
The race of a political candidate is relevant if it is used to solicit votes. The ethnicity of a person wanted by the police can be an essential part of a description of that person. Die Herkunft einer von der Polizei gesuchten Person kann ein wesentlicher Bestandteil einer Personenbeschreibung sein. But the race of a person convicted of a crime is not relevant unless the case has "ethnic implications", and these must be explained in the article.
Tips & Tools: Recommendations for naming race or ethnicity in crime reporting
Editors should ensure that decisions for or against naming race and ethnicity are made on an informed, comparable, and transparent basis, so that they do not convey a distorted picture of criminality in Germany. Do note that frequent and unfounded mention of race or other characteristics of socially disadvantaged groups can lead audiences and readers to nourish prejudices against such groups. To avoid this, we recommend the following:
Germany is a diverse country. It is not surprising, then, that criminals have diverse backgrounds. So why mention race or ethnicity only when the perpetrators are perceived as “non-German”? Race or ethnicity can never serve as an explanation for criminality. Being a criminal is not innate to a particular ethnicity. Other factors apply. So, in their reporting, journalists must make sure they do not create connections that do not exist. As a rule, therefore, characteristics such as origin, religion, sexual orientation or other characteristics of structurally disadvantaged criminals or suspects should generally not be reported.
Don’t mention race in petty crime reporting
In the case of petty crime reporting based on police reports (to be found usually in the mixed news sections) the race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation of the offenders should not be mentioned at all, because they are irrelevant to the crime and for the story. Moreover, such short reports allow no room for in-depth explanations and these petty crimes are of such minor importance, that there is no justifiable public interest in releasing such details within the meaning of the Press Code.
Exceptions are the exception
In some exceptional cases, characteristics such as nationality or ethnicity of offenders or suspects may have a clear link to the story. For example, if a suspect has fled abroad, if the biography is of decisive importance in a court case or if it is about Islamist-motivated terror. However, creating a connection between race, religion and other characteristics and the crime in question should always be based on facts relevant to the story and not on speculation.
Spectacular cases, or extremely serious or unusual acts that receive a lot of attention are another exception. Here, journalistic logic dictates that any information about the alleged perpetrators is newsworthy. This could be a psychologist’s report or information on a suspect’s nationality or race. But here, too, the decisive factor is how often and in what manner these things are mentioned. Mentioning such information in the body of an article has a different effect than putting it in the headline.
Mention race and origin the right way
If nationality, race, or other characteristics of marginalised groups are decisive for a story, the article must explain why they are important and how they are related to the criminal act. They can be supplemented by classification and weighted appropriately in terms of language, without claiming that origin per se is relevant to the crime. Sensitive information should be used judiciously. In the eyes of the audience and readers, every piece of information has a meaning, otherwise it would not be in the report.
Best results can be achieved in longer features, where connections can be explained, and biographical information is often part of the overall picture. But even in short reports, mention of race or origin can be implicit if it is important for an understanding of the story. An example: "The suspect Gavriel H. was arrested at Frankfurt airport yesterday. The 38-year-old is said to be one of the leading heads of the largest Colombian drug cartel and the coordinator of illegal trafficking in northern Europe from his base in Frankfurt. According to Interpol...".
1 Vgl. „Audiovisuelle Diversität? Geschlechterdarstellungen in Film und Fernsehen in Deutschland”, Studie der Universität Rostock (2017), gefördert und unterstützt durch ARD, FFA Filmförderungsanstalt, FFF Bayern, Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, MaLisa Stiftung, Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland, ProSiebenSat. 1, ZDF; Kurzversion (zuletzt geöffnet am 13.10.2021)
2 Vgl. „Wer wird gefragt? Geschlechterverteilung in der Corona-Berichterstattung“, Ergebnisse zweier Studien zur Berichterstattung in der TV-Berichterstattung und in den Online-Auftritten von Printmedien im Auftrag der MaLisa Stiftung (2020), in: MaLisa Stiftung (zuletzt geöffnet am 13.10.2021).
5 Vgl. Siegal, Allan M./ Connolly, William: The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative News Organization, 5. Aufl., New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2015. Laut Auskunft der New York Times an den Mediendienst Integration von Januar 2021 wurde das interne Regelwerk um die genannten Richtlinien zur Herkunftsnennung in der Berichterstattung erweitert.
6 Englisches Original: Race should be cited only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. The race of a victim of a hate crime or the subject of a police search is clearly germane, an essential part of the person’s description. But the race of a person convicted of a crime is not pertinent unless the case has racial overtones; if it does, the overtones should be explained.
7 Englisches Original: Ethnicity should be mentioned only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. The ethnicity of a candidate is pertinent if she uses it to appeal for votes. The ethnicity of a person sought by the police may be an essential part of a person convicted of a crime is not pertinent unless the case has ethnic overtones that are worth describing in the coverage.