Suzanne Breen Column: Sex Bias Report a Load of Hogwash

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), May 27, 1999 | Go to article overview

Suzanne Breen Column: Sex Bias Report a Load of Hogwash


DESPITE their many differences, one factor unites our Euro candidates - they're all men, just like our 18 MPs.

That's very unhealthy. A recent report by the NI Women's European Platform addresses the issue. It claims newspaper bias against women politicians. Given that most in senior management positions in the press are men, sexism is inevitable.

The report raises some fair complaints - the age, appearance and family status of women candidates is mentioned much more often than that of their male counterparts.

However, most of the report is hogwash. It is badly written, badly researched and contains flawed analysis. Some of this has already been dealt with by News Letter Editor Geoff Martin.

The report says bias is evident by the fact that while 21 per cent of candidates in the 1997 Westminster election were women, only 17.5 per cent of newspaper stories and 16.5 per cent of photographs featured women candidates.

But when space given to party leaders is discounted, the balance of coverage actually favours females. It complains that the only woman to receive adequate press attention was Iris Robinson. But she was the only one with a real chance of success.

If Ann McCrea had been running against Martin McGuinness in Mid-Ulster, she would have received exactly the same level of coverage as her husband Willie did.

The report complains that the News Letter highlighted a man, John Robb, becoming election agent for Women's Coalition candidate Bronagh Hinds, rather than Ms Hinds' candidature.

But that had actually been covered by the paper days earlier so it was old news. The report has a go at me for saying my initial impression of Mo Mowlam as a "bright pushy broad" changed when at press events she seemed "very much a man's woman".

Rightly or wrongly, that was my view. It was male reporters Mo hugged and laughed and joked with. Claiming it's sexist to merely note this is mad. Is it sexist to describe a man as "a man's man"? …

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