Opinion: Report Won't Help Women to Reach Top in Politics; A Report Issued Yesterday Concludes That Women in Politics Get a Raw Deal from the Press. but in These Extracts Taken from His Speech at the Launch of between the Lines, News Letter Editor GEOFF MARTIN Argues That the Report Is Flawed

By Martin, Geoff | The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), May 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

Opinion: Report Won't Help Women to Reach Top in Politics; A Report Issued Yesterday Concludes That Women in Politics Get a Raw Deal from the Press. but in These Extracts Taken from His Speech at the Launch of between the Lines, News Letter Editor GEOFF MARTIN Argues That the Report Is Flawed


Martin, Geoff, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)


A report issued yesterday by the NI European Women's Platform claims an inherent media bias against women in politics. The News Letter attracts particular criticism.

I have examined the claims in detail. The conclusion would be damning, but for the fact that it does not stand up to serious examination.

Crucial to the report's veracity is the finding that bias can be demonstrated against the 21 female candidates in the Westminster elections. Yet just one page later the study has to admit that 17.5 of all stories covering election candidates and 16 per cent of photographs featured women candidates.

There is at first sight a small discrepancy in coverage, but once the space given to party leaders is discounted the picture changes significantly. Contrary to the report's findings, the balance of coverage was at least fair, and in many cases biased, in favour of female candidates.

The report also highlights the media's apparent lack of interest in questioning political parties about gender issues.

I recall writing more than one editorial on the subject. The focus of one was the attempt by Patricia Campbell to gain the UUP North Antrim nomination. We were interested in Patricia not only because she was a woman in a male-dominated party, but because she was a Catholic in a Protestant-dominated party.

We took the unusual step at nomination stage of publicly endorsing her campaign. Bias against women? Not in her case.

One of the key findings of the report is that five out of six candidates who ran for election in Belfast constituencies were dissatisfied with the campaign coverage

They can't have been from the DUP for the figure would have been six out of six. Nor any of the male-dominated parties who constantly whinge about unfair coverage. I would have a problem, more crucial than the gender debate, if election candidates, who, unlike newspapers, are totally partisan in their approach to elections, were satisfied with the coverage.

The survey asks editors if we seek out women for comment and analysis? Of course we do, but not because they are women - but because they may be the most relevant people to approach. That's the criterion, plain and simple.

Do we see female politicians as worthy of editorial comment, we are asked.

If they have done something newsworthy, then yes. If not, the opposite is true. Editorial comment concentrates on the big issues. The gender of those involved is irrelevant.

The report advises women in politics to issue statements to the Press and cultivate relationships with journalists. Nothing wrong with that.

But the function of a newspaper is primarily to report news. Actions count for more than words. If women candidates are involved in energetic and newsworthy campaigns, that makes news, and attracts coverage. …

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Opinion: Report Won't Help Women to Reach Top in Politics; A Report Issued Yesterday Concludes That Women in Politics Get a Raw Deal from the Press. but in These Extracts Taken from His Speech at the Launch of between the Lines, News Letter Editor GEOFF MARTIN Argues That the Report Is Flawed
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