Geschlechter(un)gerechte Medien?

Our research on the UniWien-Falter Think-Tank blog:

And in English:

‘More equal or more political? – Gender representation in Austrian online news reporting during the COVID-19 crisis

Report of the Pilot Study of the Global Media Monitoring Project (Austria)

Krisztina Rozgonyi (University of Vienna)

The first wave of the health emergency put all of us under pressure adapting to the realities of an unexpected and never before experienced situation. Teaching and lecturing during these times were subject to redefining and transforming the learning experience in a way which was academically meaningful and technically manageable to students. Moreover, it was quite clear from the very beginning that only topics and activities which reflected everyday concerns of the pandemic could maintain attention and focus; thus we have decided to monitor women’s presence and representation in Austrian online news reporting

News in Austria is typically and traditionally produced mostly by male reporters in a male-centric and male-dominated media-industry culture. Although the sheer number of female journalists was on a constant rise over the years and reached almost parity by 2019 (47% of all journalist were female)our previous researchconcluded that the dominance of men in leading positions both in traditional (print) and in online media was still overwhelming. Also, the news beats (Resorts) assignment were gendered: women in ‘hard’ news reporting about politics (only 10%) or economy (only 5%) were underrepresented and confined to beauty and lifestyle reporting. No surprise that within such a production environment women were mostly invisible in media output: the latest globally relevant study which also monitored Austria in 2015 reported that women as subjects of news accounted for only 21% in the offline media sample, and 16% in online news.

We have observed news reporting in leading Austrian online outlets – including and –, and analysed 52 Internet news reports in total published on the monitoring day (the 7th of May). Moreover, we have observed Twitter news reporting and analysed the Twitter accounts of the same media outlets (KroneKurierStandard and ORF on Twitter) and assessed 50 Tweets published on the same day. Methodologically, we have applied the monitoring and coding tools of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) – the only global dataset on gender and media covering 120 countries in the world in 2020 – and delivered the first Pilot Study which also considered the impact of the COVID-19 crisis to news reporting.

Against the gendered background described above, our results first looked very encouraging from a gender equality perspective. Since 2015 the ratio of female reporters in Internet news increased from 16% to 33%, also women as subjects of news were represented in higher numbers (22% compared to 16% in 2015). A significant positive difference was attainable with regards to women speaking in the media (spokespersons), as their numbers increased to 31% from 16%. These results suggest that the Austrian media transformed into a somewhat equal sphere of representation.

However, once looking behind these figures we’ve had to recognise a more nuanced, and in many ways still daunting picture: women were still only in ‘Nebenrolle’ in the news (women played a central role only in 13 % of Internet news stories and in 10% of Twitter news). Also, it was not the Austrian industry that improved more gender-equal, but Austrian politics did. Since the first gender-equal Government of Austria under the leadership of Brigitte Bierlein (as the first-ever Bundeskanzlerin of the country) was enacted, the representation of women in politics also increased significantly. As of today, under the new Bundeskanzler Sebastian Kurz, there is gender parity in the Government (53% Frauenanteil) and the closing gender gap in the Nationalrat (39% Frauenanteil). The impact of more women in Austrian politics was translated profoundly and directly to more women in the news: the media reports were overwhelmed with COVID-19 related topics (69% in Internet news and 46% among Tweets), most of which were dealing with the announcements of the Government (especially with Maßnahmen), women de facto came to a word. 

This promising set-up could have been used by the Austrian media covering the most urgent issues of the pandemic. The crisis hit hard mostly on women being abused in their familiestheir health being put to danger disproportionally in the frontlines of healthcare and social services as Systembetrieberinnen, losing their precarious jobs in the middle of the crisis. In general impacts of Covid-19 were extremely gendered in our society. However, attention to these specifically gendered impacts fell short: our report shows that only 4% of Internet news reports and only 2% of Twitter stories highlighted issues of gender inequality, and none (!) of the stories challenged gender stereotypes.

Media outlets in our survey also seemed to sideline their journalists and left them without being acknowledged for their work. The by-lines of the news stories were omitted in most of the cases (out of 52 Internet news articles only 21 named the journalist, while among 50 Tweets there were only 14). In this respect, even ORF played alarmingly (out of 13 news items only 4 named the author, none of who was a woman). Furthermore, the use of gender-sensitive language in the Austrian media mostly failed (despite meaningful efforts by public institutions communicating sensitively), especially on Twitter (only 3 out of 25 Tweets were gendered). 

The picture we could draw was rather dark of the Austrian media realities and perhaps contrary to societal expectations. From the survey, it is evident that the Austrian media industry is a far more dreadful place for women than Austrian politics. Scholars already argued that the Austrian media sector constitutes a highly competitive and over-saturated labour marketespecially for young women. Furthermore, understanding the systemic and routine underrepresentation of women in the media industry has been high on the agenda of prominent feminist scholars for decades. However, the future of female media and communication professionals highly depends on their awareness of and preparedness to the conditions within which they will have to find jobs and make careers. It is up to a new generation of journalists and media workforce to overcome these obstacles and take action: the country they live in deserves a more equal and fairer mediated reality.

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