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Steering Committee on
Media and Information Society


Gender aspects of media coverage of electoral campaigns

Background information

The work for the preparation of a Council of Europe draft document on gender aspects of media coverage of electoral campaigns started with the activation of an informal group who met in Strasbourg on 27 September 2011 for a first exchange of views on this topic. The following experts participated in the meeting: Margaret Gallagher (UK/IR), Joke Hermes (NL), Emir Povlakic (BiH), Bissera Zankova (BG).
Sonia Sirtori-Milner (Secretariat of the PACE), Jan Malinowski and Natalia Voutova (Media Division) also took part in the meeting.

The group agreed that the main objective should be the achievement of a soft law instrument aiming at promoting equality between men and women as an essential component of human rights and a fundamental criterion for democracy, and stressing the importance of respect that media should have towards gender equality and human dignity in this particular field.

This instrument should aim at conveying a solid political message, endowed with strong commitment and monitoring mechanisms in respect of its implementation.
A crucial element for the success of this work - in all its process, including monitoring - is the adequate support from relevant stakeholders (professional organisations, media literacy groups, academia, etc.) and political interlocutors (Inter-Parliamentary Union, high profile political leaders as Angela Merkel, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes, etc.)

Structure of the draft document on gender aspects of media coverage of electoral campaigns

During the meeting two main possibilities were considered: either a two-layer document (Recommendation to Member states + Guidelines for professionals) or a three-layer document (Declaration, Recommendation to Member states + Guidelines for professionals).
In respect of content the group agreed that the document should refer to three different levels:

    1) regulatory level (e.g. electoral rules);
    2) media level (how media can avoid gender biases and stereotypes and give an equal representation of women candidates);
    3) political level (how political parties, civil society, research, etc. can act to promote an equal representation of women candidates).

All these levels should carefully consider both quantitative and qualitative parameters in assessing and promoting women candidates’ representation in media.

Possible topics to be included in the document

1) Regulatory level Member states may be called on to work on:

      i. electoral rules. (Several rules - quotas, incentives, campaign finance laws facilitating the necessary resource mobilisation to achieve gender equality, etc. - can encourage women’s participation in politics, with clear repercussions on their visibility in electoral campaigns reported by media. It should be decided whether the document may focus on these aspects or consider only rules which are specifically directed to promoting a more gender-balanced media coverage (e.g. laws ensuring that Parties with female candidatures are provided with more broadcast time);
      ii. rules for opinion poll organisations (on which media coverage largely depends);
      iii. rules for media and political analysts ensuring an equal representation of women in political campaigns (Media coverage of elections is highly regulated but gender criteria do not appear in regulations. It should be decided whether a regulatory level is appropriate to this task).

2) Media level Bearing in mind that equal representation of female candidates has impact on the perception of voters and on the election itself, media could be encouraged to set up good practices aiming to:

      i. ensure an equal representation of women engaged in political campaigns in respect of adequate women’s presence on media;
      ii. ensure an equal representation of women engaged in political campaigns in respect of issues and topics associated with them (women are very often requested to speak only about issues which are deemed to be “appropriate” to them);
      iii. ensure that the set-up of shows, selection of guests, time attributed to each guest, role of host, the way shots are framed – allow female candidates to give effective contribution to the debate and to avoid the stereotype which makes men at the centre and women at the margins of politics;
      iv. avoid the “tabloidisation” of media once female candidates are at stake;
      v. avoid that women candidates are identified in respect of their family status or their relationship with others (“mother”, “wife”, “daughter”, etc.);
      vi. avoid using stereotypical or biased language;
      vii. give sufficient space to gender issues and encourage public understanding of the importance of gender in public life;
      viii. make the equal gender representation a matter of editorial policy;
      ix. promote a broadcasting that is inclusive and capable to reach out to women and to reflect gender-based differences of perspective on the issues at stake;
      x. avoid the assignation of different tasks to journalists based on gender stereotypes (e.g. female journalists are often asked to deal with “softer” issues than their male colleagues);
      xi. promote the training for journalists on gender aspects so that they are encouraged to publicly highlight issues faced by women candidates;
      xii. monitor gender commitments made by political parties and report on the progress women are making;
      xiii. regularly monitor their own output setting targets for an equal gender representation.

3) “Political”/cultural level (political parties, research activities, etc.)

Political parties: Bearing in mind that gender equality is an overall issue which should be pursued in all the different phases of political process (pre-electoral, electoral and post-electoral), political parties could be encouraged to develop internal policies mindful of gender equality and to ensure a balanced representation on media for men and women in electoral campaigns, for example by:

    i. ensuring women’s visibility in electoral campaigns and access to the media providing female candidates with the necessary (financial, etc.) support;
    ii. promoting the participation of female candidates to public political debates avoiding that their contribution is confined to marginal issues;
    iii. regularly monitoring their own output, setting targets for an equal gender representation in media;
    iv. conducting gender audits ensuring women’s equal participation and representation on media;
    v. ensuring that political communication does not give a gender-based stereotyped representation of candidates;
    vi. ensuring that the language used in political communication does not reflect a stereotyped representation of sexes;
    vii. building women’s capacity to campaign and participate in media public debates;
    viii. sensitising party members about gender equality and work with men to promote gender issues in their participation in public debates.

Research activities: Research (by academics, civil society groups, etc.) on gender aspects of media coverage of politics should be encouraged. There are fields which could be further explored:

      i. reasons of the absence of women on media (does it also depend to their reluctance to participate in public debate? Is there an hostile environment towards women?)
      ii. assessment and audits based on both qualitative and quantitative data on media representation of women involved in politics;
      iii. analysis of political campaign patterns;
      iv. analysis of “gender budgets” to determine campaign financing and the distribution of contributions to electoral campaigns;
      v. (….)

Background documentation

Venice Commission Guidelines on media analyses during election observations missions, CDL-AD(2009)031;

“Parity democracy: a far cry from reality. Comparative study on the results of the first and second rounds of monitoring of Council of Europe Recommendation Rec (2003) 3 on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision-making”, prepared by Ms Regina Tavares da Silva, CDEG (2009) 17

Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men “Women and Journalists first. A challenge to media professionals to realise democracy in practice, quality in journalism and an end to gender stereotyping”, prepared by Ms Joke Hermes, 2 December 2011, CDEG (2011)15 rev

PACE Recommendation 1676 (2004) Women's participation in elections

PACE Report Women’s participation in elections, 7 June 2004, Doc. 10202

PACE Best practices for promoting gender equality in political parties, 16 December 2010, Doc 12453

PACE Recommendation 1931 (2010) Combating sexist stereotypes in the media http://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?Link=/documents/adoptedtext/ta10/erec1931.htm

PACE Resolution 1751 (2010) Combating sexist stereotypes in the media http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/AdoptedText/ta10/ERES1751.htm

Recommendation (99)15 on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns

Recommendation (2007)15 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns

Recommendation (2003)3 on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision-making

UNDP Primers in Gender and Democratic Governance, Electoral Financing to Advance Women’s Political Participation: A Guide for UNDP Support

UNDP Empowering women for stronger political parties. A good practice guide to promote women’s political participation

Portraying Politics Project - A toolkit on gender and television