Voice of women missing on TV: 86% of panelists are men 

A study shows that panelists invited by TV channels for discussion are overwhelmingly male at 86%, while women constitute less than 14%. Not surprisingly, transgender panelists form a miniscule 0.2%

Voice of women missing on TV: 86% of panelists are men 

Ashlin Mathew

Are there fewer women experts in India? One would think not. But, a study of panel discussions across the country shows that panelists are overwhelmingly male. As many as 86% of them happen to be men with women constituting less than 14%.

The study, however, reveals that Hindi channels are more responsive to women experts with women panelists constituting 23.5% of the panelists compared to just 17% in English channels while the average in regional language channels was a dismal 10%.

The pan-India study conducted by women journalists who are members of the Network of Women in Media (NWMI) monitored TV news channels in the summer of 2017. Done over a month from April 22 to May 21, the study examined programmes aired by 28 channels in 12 languages: six in English, four in Hindi and 18 in various other Indian languages , namely Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bangla, Odiya, Asamiya and Marathi.

In fact, an all-male panel discussed the entry of a woman, Priyanka Gandhi, into active politics on one of the English channels.

The study found that nearly three quarters of the anchors were men (72%). The imbalance was highest in Hindi language channels, where men constituted about 89% of the anchors. Here, the English channels fared better with almost an equal number of men and women anchors.

If one were to look at regional language media, Hindi, Gujarati, English and Urdu fared much better in terms of representation of women among panelists than Tamil, Punjabi and Odiya, which together had only 5% female representation.

Even those who fared better only had a maximum of 22% female representation. Both Bangla and Telugu channels were at 11% and Malayalam at 10%.

“Women are usually under-represented in TV channels. Their opinions do not seem to matter, and their absence is hardly noticed by decision-makers on these TV channels and even by the audience. Having become accustomed to watching and listening to men pontificate on ‘important’ issues, most viewers do not seem to be aware that women’s voices are rarely heard during crucial debates about vital issues that affect and ought to concern all citizens,” explains Sonal Kellogg, the research coordinator.

On expected lines, women formed almost 50% of the panels which discussed the ‘so-called’ women’s issues and interestingly, 30% of the panels on events and issues relating to religion and crime were women.

What was depressing was that no panel featured women sportspersons, religious leaders, police officers and/or farmers even in discussions on related topics.

If one had to look at panel discussions on politics, which constituted near 45% of all discussions, it would seem that women are hardly interested and have no opinion. Only 8% of the panelists were women.

“The under-representation of women among anchors as well as panelists in most Indian television channels indicates that gender equity in the newsroom remains a distant goal,” points out Kellogg.

In an indication of how women have to be perceived, only younger women anchored shows, but senior male anchors continue to appear even as they age. “This should change. Older women also must be retained,” says the study.

All male panels had come under scanner when a popular blog (allmalepanels.tumblr.com), called out TV channels around the world for having mostly ‘all-male’ panels. Since then, it has been consistently seen that there is an under-representation of women as experts on debate panels. It has made popular the term ‘manels’.

The study recommends that TV channels must make a conscious effort to ensure adequate women participation in discussions on a range of topics, including politics, economics, international affairs, defence, finance, industry, agriculture and crime.

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