Table of Contents

  • The Nordic countries have worked together for more than four decades to improve gender equality in all aspects of the society. One of the primary themes in the Nordic co-operation programme on gender equality 2015–2018 is gender equality in the public sphere. Equal opportunities for women and men to take part in and contribute to the formation of policy and the development of society are essential for a democratic public sphere. Today, the media play a central role in the formation of the public sphere. The way men and women are represented in the media is crucial for the development towards gender equality. Even though the Nordic societies are known for their commitment to gender equality, it seems that many parts of the media industry are lagging behind in this matter. Women are still underrepresented in many areas in the media and gender stereotypes remain persisten.

  • Gender equality is one of the key areas of cooperation in the Nordic countries. The role of the media in relation to gender equality has been recognised since the media reflect, produce and reproduce norms and stereotypes and therefore also have the potential to make sociocultural changes in society. This report is a result of a project on gender equality in the media initiated by the Finnish Presidency in the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2016. The report explores how women and men are represented in the news in the Nordic countries and to what extent women and men occupy the decision-making positions in media organisations. The survey is based on the recent findings from three cross-national research projects, and the results are backed up by national studies. The report also gives examples of measures that can be used to improve the gender balance in Nordic news.

  • The media carry significant notions of cultural norms and values in the society and have a powerful role in constructing and reinforcing gendered images of women and men. The news in particular has an important role in how notions of power are distributed in the society. The media have undergone various changes in recent years with digitalisation and fragmentation of the media field. Even though for example social media have changed the way news is consumed, traditional news still has an important role among the Nordic media consumers.

  • The media have a powerful role in shaping public opinion and constructing and reinforcing gendered images of women and men. News media also have a role in shaping democratic society and as news making is fundamentally about making routinized choices, it is important to study gender representation in the media content to see who is presented and who is left out. As women are underrepresented in the news, it seems that even though women make up around half the population in the world, they are not chosen to be equally represented in the world created by the news. The GMMP shows that there have been very few changes towards gender balance in global news content in the twenty years the project has been running.

  • Women are underrepresented in decision-making positions in media organisations, and this means that the top-level jobs are easily associated with men. The GMMP has shown that female reporters tend to choose more female news subjects. Applying this logic to the media industry, one can assume that involving more women in decision-making could someday mean that the newsrooms would also become more gender-aware.

  • Some Nordic newsrooms are aware of the gender bias in the news, and the most common initiative to tackle the problem is to actively and regularly keep track of how many women and men are heard and seen in the news and in what kinds of roles and contexts. This is often done by simply counting heads and names and by actively planning who to interview in each situation. Web tools such as Genews (2016) and Prognosis (2016) can be helpful for newsrooms to create the statistics. Genews (Swedish data) and Prognosis (Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Norwegian data available) analyse news articles automatically and look for names and words that refer to women or men. Prognosis also analyses whether names sound local or international. The web tools do not recognise all nuances in written text, but the benefit of using automated systems is that they can simultaneously process large amounts of data.

  • The study findings clearly show that even though the Nordic countries have engaged in measures for achieving gender equality, Nordic news is not free from gender bias and the news content is not gender-balanced. Looking at the region as a whole, women are fairly well represented in lower positions in the newsrooms both in production and in managerial roles, but the highest decision-making positions and the news contents are still largely male-dominated. The situation has not improved much since the 1990s and in recent years progress has been slow or even stagnant. There is a political consensus on gender equality and the Nordic countries are obliged by the CEDAW to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. Further, section J in the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) calls to eliminate gender-based discrimination and to promote gender equality in the media. However, there are not many laws that pay attention to the media from a gender-equality perspective in any of the Nordic countries.

  • Looking ahead, one might hope to see the media industry itself solving the problem of so many missing voices in the news. But the past track record would suggest otherwise; very few newsrooms are frontrunners, apart from reaching parity in some news rooms in terms of numbers of women and men in the staff. The news content is still very male-dominated. The persistent lack of female voices and experiences in public debate is in fact a threat to sustainable development and democracy. With this in mind, both the media industry and the State Parties must take adequate action.