Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Women's Voices in Broadcasting

ABC’s Lynn Scherr stated in 1977, “Think of the possibility of two women anchors on a networking news broadcast, and you’ll understand we’re still in the Ice Age” (Women In Broadcasting (U.S.), edited by Barbara Murray, pg.1). As of 2010, how far have women come and how much further do they have to go?

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Twenty-nine years later from the Ice Age, CBS finally took a challenging step to break the conventional format of “the all boys club in the evening news”. Katie Couric became the first female solo anchor on the networking evening news broadcast. However, what she drew the viewers’ attention to was mostly her gender and appearance rather than her job as an anchor. Emails about what she was wearing flooded into CBS during her first few weeks on air (Broadcast News: When Women Become Two out of Third by Michele Filgate), and her legs have been one of her trademarks. ABC’s Diane Sawyer took over World News’s chair from Charlie Gibson in December 2009, and as well as Couric, not her talent as a journalist and long-time experience as a co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America” but her beauty and status as a teen beauty queen became the noteworthy fact for the viewers and other media. “She was accused of being too fetching to be a ‘serious’ journalist” (The Rise of the Female Anchor by Alessandra Stanley).

Such painful tendencies which judge the female broadcasters by their appearances or something which has nothing to do with their works -leaving behind how well they are doing- have been explicit. It is also obvious that most female news reporters and anchors are more likely to be attractive. Viewers demand the nice and acceptable “landscapes” to see not only on MTV but also on news. However, when the female broadcasters become too feminine and too beautiful, viewers cannot help to criticize those “too feminine and not serious broadcasters” as challengers against the traditional structure of broadcasting.

Back to the 70s again, a former NBC female producer of documentaries once said, “There is some visible progress in lower ranks, minimal in the middle ranks, significant progress in on-the-air reporters, and none in management” (Women In Broadcasting (U.S.), edited by Barbara Murray, pg.3). Surprisingly, her statement about women in the broadcasting industry which was made 30 years ago seems to still fit in the situation today. As stated above, the female anchors have achieved to the traditionally male dominant position in the evening news, although controversies and debates which stemmed from their gender have been still hanging around. However, the issue of ownership for women and a strikingly low number of women who are in the decision-making positions have been getting a serious concern in broadcasting, accompanying with the recent movement of media consolidation. An article from the Women’s Media Center says that women own “less that 5 percent of television stations and 6 percent of radio stations” and “compromise only 10 percent of general managers, only 15 percent of programmers, and only 15 percent of on-the-air talent” (Media Ownership: Impact on Minority Ownership and Localism by Carol Jenkins).

As we read through Women in Media Fact Sheet on National Organization for Women (, it becomes clearer that women have been losing their places and opportunities to speak out their voices. According to Jonathan Lawson, Reclaim the Media cofounder, because of the media consolidation, 5 or 6 companies have the powerful controls over the whole broadcasting industry today (A Generation of Consolidation: part1 of 2 Companies owned by men have cooperated with other companies owned by men, and they have had more power and control over media which influence people’s ways of thinking in many ways. Needless to say, as men gain more control over media, women have loosen it. Isn’t it so unnatural and unbalanced that women have scarce opportunity to express themselves in media when they account for more than half of the population in the U.S.?

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Women News Network (WNN ) is the place where you can find a bunch of international women’s news. WNN is a non-profit news networking working as an NGO and aims to empower and amplify women’s voices internationally. It was lunched by Lys Anzia who is the director and a writer for the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2006 because she “saw the vital need to report the many times hard and suffering stories of women”. They provide in-depth international stories about women which we cannot find in the current mainstream media stream.

WNN offers not only in-depth feature writings about women’s issues but also videos, publications, activities and links, and they also accept writings and articles from the readers. What I was impressed by WNN beside their high-quality and real journalistic stories is the collection of videos and films. If you go to Women News Network Video Collection (, you will find over 600 videos featuring women’s news. The overwhelming number of videos and their focus on the international issues not only within the U.S. made me realize again that issues related to women are global phenomena. They are happening all around the world. Also, another reason why I love the collection is it is easier for me to understand what’s going on the world when I see the issues and the real people with my eyes rather than reading difficult readings. When I can directly feel their feelings, confusions, angers, and emotions through their facial expressions and voices in videos, they make me think that we really need to do something with it.

In 2008, WNN was honored with a internationally prestigious award called Every Human Has Rights Media Award and their work have been drawn people’s attention who care about the inequality of the sexes as WNN does. Such women-owned independent news resources like WNN are really important today because women need to be aware of the inequality of gender in media and proclaim that they won’t allow it. If the broadcasting industry which is dominated by men doesn’t care about women’s news and publish it, women have to take an action and do it by themselves.

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