OP-ED: Media's Lack of Attention to Gender-Sensitive Reporting Practices

OP-ED: Media’s Lack of Attention to Gender-Sensitive Reporting Practices

OP-ED: Media's Lack of Attention to Gender-Sensitive Reporting Practices

By Esiona Konomi

A series of interviews with journalists, show producers, and editorial leaders in the media reveals that gender-sensitive reporting is not a crucial aspect of journalistic work in Albania, let alone it being a priority. In most cases, this concept is not even recognized, and media outlets have no protocols to ethically and professionally handle such cases.

What is gender-sensitive reporting? Gender-sensitive reporting refers to journalism that recognizes and addresses gender-based differences and inequalities. It ensures that news coverage is fair, balanced, and inclusive of all genders, avoids reinforcing stereotypes, and highlights issues particularly affecting women and other marginalized genders.

Why is it important? – Gender-sensitive reporting is crucial for promoting equality, accurate representation, and inclusive discourse. Ensuring fair and balanced representation of all genders challenges stereotypes and contributes to a more equitable society. This type of reporting empowers marginalized voices, giving a platform to those often overlooked or misrepresented, and raises awareness of gender-specific issues such as gender-based violence and discrimination. In doing so, it fosters trust with diverse audiences and encourages informed decision-making considering all genders’ experiences and needs. Ultimately, gender-sensitive reporting plays a vital role in driving positive social change and policy reforms.

Current Landscape – The concept of “gender-sensitive reporting” is unclear to most interviewees, even though they are journalists with professional integrity and extensive experience. Interviewed media professionals generally do not believe the audience judges them based on gender sensitivity in their reporting. According to them, viewers want facts or details and are not concerned about gender balance. This lack of understanding underscores the need for education and awareness within media circles. Without recognizing the importance of gender-sensitive reporting, media organizations risk perpetuating gender biases and failing to represent societal realities accurately.

Lack of Consolidated Practices –  There is a lack of consolidated practices in media in handling cases through gender-sensitivity lenses. There is, however, vigilance, especially in cases of victims of gender-based violence, which are treated with some level of consideration. Nevertheless, this depends on the discretion of the reporter or responsible editors on a case-by-case basis, and no clear editorial rules apply. Some of the cases include women who are victims of domestic violence, prostitution, etc. More sensitivity is shown towards minors in these cases, with no greater attention paid to gender issues. The absence of standardized practices leads to inconsistency in reporting and can result in the mishandling of sensitive stories. Establishing clear guidelines could ensure all cases are treated with the necessary care and attention.

Professional Environment – Journalists and reporters do not feel challenged in their routine whether they are sensitive to gender or not, as they do not feel pressure from the public or editorial offices for gender-sensitive reporting. However, in some cases, journalists recall fearing that they might discriminate against the subjects of their stories by prioritizing them solely based on gender. This environment of indifference can discourage journalists from pursuing gender-sensitive approaches and perpetuates a cycle where gender issues remain underreported or misrepresented. Creating a culture that values gender sensitivity can improve the quality and inclusivity of journalism.

Training and Protocols – There are no protocols in newsrooms on how to combat gender discrimination in the media. Generally, journalists believe that providing facts helps dismantle prejudices. A few reporters have received training from civil society organizations on this type of reporting. These trainings are lacking when it comes to higher editorial leadership levels. Media organizations do not offer ongoing training for any level of their staff, including specific internal training on topics of gender-sensitive reporting. Many interviewees admit that professional experience helps in this area, and for those who are more self-demanding, exploring sources and information provided by international media standards remains valuable. Without proper training, journalists and editors are ill-equipped to handle gender-sensitive issues, which can lead to unintentional biases in reporting. Ongoing training and established protocols are essential for fostering an inclusive media environment.

Representation and Diversity – Notably, the presence of women in the media is not linked to journalists’ concern for gender balance. This is never their concern. When constructing a report, journalists seek 1) People who represent something in terms of public position and 2) People willing to speak openly. Authors of shows or debate programs are an exception, as they claim to invite panelists or have diverse panels reflecting gender diversity, or at least the presence of a female guest. However, this is not done with regard to diversity; it is mainly done because the audience wants to see “something nice beyond a men’s club.”This superficial approach to diversity fails to address deeper issues of representation and equity. Genuine efforts to include diverse voices can enrich discussions and provide a more comprehensive view of societal issues.

Journalists vs. Media Leaders – Media leaders are more rigid in this regard, considering gender-sensitive reporting a peripheral detail compared to their daily challenges, such as the lack of human resources, the fight against disinformation, the battle with political propaganda, or limited financial resources, factors that leave no room to look beyond the immediate near future. The gap between journalists and media leaders highlights the need for top-down initiatives to prioritize gender sensitivity. Leadership buy-in is crucial for institutionalizing these practices and ensuring sustainable change within media organizations.

Future Directions – Even though the interviewees openly admit that this is not a priority, they know it is time to improve this standard, no matter how slow the process may be. The general assessment is that addressing staff training and writing unifying protocols for newsrooms on dealing with gender-sensitive reporting is crucial. Journalists believe this is the inevitable path of the developing media environment in the 21st century, even though they personally do not see this qualification as a step that would support or benefit them professionally. However, reporters have a higher awareness and a stronger desire to improve than media leaders. Journalists think the fight begins with addressing their prejudices and biases and finding space for reflection despite the momentum of daily and fast media consumption. Recognizing the long-term benefits of gender-sensitive reporting can motivate journalists and media organizations to embrace these practices, ultimately leading to a more equitable and informed society.

Considering the current media landscape in Albania, it is recommended that media organizations implement comprehensive training programs on gender-sensitive reporting for all staff levels. This should include workshops and continuous professional development to equip journalists with the skills and knowledge to address gender issues accurately and ethically. Additionally, establishing clear editorial guidelines and protocols for gender-sensitive reporting can ensure consistency and accountability. Media leaders should champion these initiatives, understanding that fostering an inclusive and diverse newsroom can enhance the credibility and relevance of their reporting, ultimately benefiting the organization and society at large. Collaboration with civil society organizations and international media standards bodies can provide valuable resources and support in this endeavor.

To read the original Albanian version of this op-ed, please click here.

This op-ed is written by Esiona Konomi, Field Researcher for the Study “Mapping the Existing Capacities of Journalists and Journalism and Multimedia Students in the Field of Gender-Sensitive Content,” as part of the project “Breaking Molds – Shaping the Future,” implemented by Albanian Women in Audiovisual Media (AWA) in cooperation with SCiDEV, and with financial support from the European Union. The aim of the “Breaking Molds – Shaping the Future” project is to reinforce media professionalism, especially in the field of gender-based violence reporting. At the same time, it focuses on promoting and protecting the labor rights of media workers, in this case, women and girls. This op-ed is based on preliminary findings from in-depth interviews as part of the study. This study will present the existing situation and serve as the research basis for developing training modules within the project for young journalists to produce gender-sensitive content inclusively. The study will be published in July 2024.

For more information on the project and the study, visit www.scidevcenter.org or contact us at info@scidevcenter.org.