Panels or 'manels'? A study highlights poor representation of women in debates, discussions on TV news channels

Even as there are increasing voices of dissent globally over the absence of women voices in public sphere and the minimal representation of women in panel discussions in news media amounting to tokenism, in India only 13.6 percent women are part of panel discussions on TV news channels.

This is one of the findings of a month-long media study of 28 TV channels in India undertaken by members of the Network of Women in Media India (NWMI), which was released at the National Conference of NWMI in New Delhi on Friday. The findings are in line with global trends of panel discussions in news media where women's representation is either missing or minimal.

Panels or manels? A study highlights poor representation of women in debates, discussions on TV news channels

In as many as 65 percent of total TV news programmes monitored,  there wasn’t even a single women in the panel discussions held during prime time news and talk shows on leading TV channels of India.  It was also surprising that the study revealed that in English channels representation of women in panel discussions in prime time news and talk shows was just 17 percent, well below Hindi channels where women comprised 23 percent of panels.

Totally, 390 hours of TV news programmes and talk shows were viewed in one month in the summer of 2017 and 506 programmes were monitored in 12 different languages including English, Hindi, Gujarati, Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi, Bengali, Assamese, Odia, Marathi and Urdu. Eleven researchers — all members of NWMI based in different parts of India — undertook the media study titled, “Panels or Manels? Desperately Seeking Women in Indian TV News Debates”.

As far as anchors are concerned, while the perception is that there are as many women journalists anchoring news shows (as men), the study revealed that only 28 percent of the news anchors were women and an overwhelming 72 percent of news anchors were men. In Hindi channels, as many as 89 percent of the anchors were males.

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Among the different languages, Tamil and Punjabi TV channels had the lowest representation of women in panel discussions (at just 5 percent) while Hindi TV channels (23 percent) and Gujarati TV channels (21 percent) were on top with respect to women's participation in panels amongst all the languages monitored.

The study found that even in Malayalam, Bangla, Telegu and Marathi TV channels, the representation of women was low — although the states of Kerala, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have high education and development (indices). This shows that education has not been able to ensure that women are treated with parity, and patriarchy still reigns in the media as in other sectors.

The study also showed that when women's issues were discussed, women made up 50 percent of panels. However, when finance, defense, sports, agriculture and health were discussed, they represented less than five percent of the panel discussions. Interestingly, after women's issues, the other area/s where women's voices were heard more, were in discussions on religion and crime; but here too, they were mostly victims or relatives of victims instead of experts in the field.

When asked why such gender disparity existed in TV news panel discussions, senior journalist and author Ammu Joseph, who has edited the media study report ‘Panels or Manels’, said, “The only thing standing in the way of more diverse voices being heard in media debates on current affairs is the attitude of decision makers in the media. The day they recognise that it is important for the public in a democracy to have a thorough, holistic understanding of current events and issues so that they can be active, well informed citizens, they will be able to ensure that their programming includes a wider range of voices. The problem is not a dearth of experience and expertise among women and other presently unrepresented groups. The problem is that decision makers don't seem to understand and accept the importance of diversity.”

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In short, the study found that women's voices were missing in crucial matters which are being debated in the country and their opinions didn’t seem to matter — going by the fact that women were absent in two third of the debates and discussions which were being held by news channels in the country.

The study found that most of the women seen on TV news panel discussions were journalists, artists, lawyers, bureaucrats and activists. However none of the panels featured women in sports, female religious leaders, police officers and farmers. As far as discussions on religion were concerned, the issue of triple talaq was in the news during the period of the study, so women who were part of panels were either victims or affected persons and not experts of religious law.

Only five percent of professional and independent analysts on panels were women, while eight percent were party spokesperson and 11 percent were subject experts. As much as 45 percent of all programmes on news TV were on politics. Here women panellists were just eight percent.

The study recommended that all TV news channels should make a deliberate effort to substantially increase the participation of women in panel discussions and talk shows. It also recommended that women shouldn’t be only called as experts for "soft subjects" but should be included in a range of topics like politics, economics, foreign affairs, defense, finance and agriculture.

Channels were also asked to ensure that women get enough time to speak and their voices are not drowned out by shouting male panelists. It also stated that women panelists should not be insulted or shamed into keeping quiet.

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Sonal Kellogg is an independent journalist who covers issues related to child sexual abuse and sexual harassment. She has coordinated the media study ‘Panels or Manels’, and was a part of the research team for the study as a member of NWMI.

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Updated Date: Feb 02, 2019 10:34:33 IST

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