Diversity in the Media
December 7, 2017
By Vibeke Borberg, associate professor and PhD in media law at Danmarks Medie- og Journalisthøjskole (the Danish School of Media and Journalism)
Marginalized citizens are, like many population groups, under-represented in the news coverage of the media. A survey from 2013 shows that marginalisation does not take up much space in the media and amounts to less than 0,1 percent of the total number of news features that figured in the survey (Aske Kammer 2013).
On the other hand, the impact, when the media covers stories where marginalized or potentially marginalized citizens are in the center of attention, is considerable. According to a survey from 2012 the debate on Dovne-Robert (Lazy Robert) and Fattig-Carina (Impoverished Carina) lead to four out of ten changing their stance on the size of social security (Troels Fage Hedegaard, 2012). One in four became more critical and in effect found that social security was too generous whereas one in six moved in the opposite direction and found it too sparse.
Diversity in the media
Description in the media of news and major events should, ideally, reflect the diversity in the ways of living and the living conditions that make up society. This is crucial because the media is one of our main sources of seeing and understanding society and relating to the public and political agenda. The media, therefore, should in their coverage of news and current topics strive to mirror the demography as representatively as possible.
Likewise the purpose of media subsidy is “to further a balanced and diverse supply of news of a societal and cultural character with a view to strengthening Danish democracy and democratic debate”.
To obtain this, the media’s use of sources is vital. This is due to the fact that the media base the coverage of a case or an event, widely, on information from the sources, and that it is the sources that are heard in the media. A broad representation of sources contributes to a varied media coverage and avoidance of unfortunate stereotypes and generalizations.
However, how does the representation of various population groups look in the media’s use of sources?
Sources of the media
Many surveys tell who the sources of news- These surveys show that not only marginalized people are under-represented in the media. The same applies to a number of population groups.
Even though women form half the population, only 25% of the media’s sources are women (Who Make the News, 2015). This percentage has been fairly constant for many years and does not vary a lot from one medium to another.
Another population group under-represented in the media is citizens of ethnic minority origin. They make up only 4% of the media sources, whereas they represent 12,3 % of the population. (Dem vi taler om, 2017). Women of ethnic minority origin are doubly under-represented.
Finally it makes sense to mention disabled citizens who are also severely under-represented in the media. Only 0,47 % of the media sources derive from this population group although they make up 15,9% of the population. (Dansk Handicapråd).
When it comes to debates in the media, the balance is equally skewed. Highly educated people are responsible for between 50 % and one third of debating articles in the printed newspapers even though only 11 % of the population have an academic education. Furthermore 70 % of the contributors to the debate in the major daily papers are men (Cevia, 2017).
Those about whom we speak
As if it wasn’t enough that the sources in the media do not mirror the demography, the underrepresented population groups are often used as sources of stories about their own population group. When the media talk to a marginalized citizen, it is often as part of the coverage of a matter on substance abuse, drug consumption rooms, homelessness, poverty or social political initiatives. When a disabled person occurs as a source, it is usually related to a story related to disability.
Rarely does a marginalized or disabled citizen appear as a source in a news story on how the population relates to topics like staffing in daycare, harmful diesel particles in the air, the balance between city and countryside, the price of mobile phone subscriptions, the quality of treatment in health care, buying of fighter planes or other topics that take up space in the news and debate in the media.
The road ahead
A new way of thinking and a change of habits are needed among those who decide what the media run and how they do it. As a reaction to the skewed balance in sources, “Politiken” (Danish national newspaper) for instance, has adopted new ethic guidelines in order to secure a better balance between those you read about and the actual demography. The goal is to reach an even representation of men and women as sources in 2018.
Some media might also benefit from cooperating with ‘Pluralisterne’. ‘Pluralisterne’ is an independent association who, according to a Swedish example. work to make it easier for the media to obtain a broad representation of sources. This is done by providing the media with alternative lists of sources on a number of subjects.
Besides the opportunities to make oneself herd without the established media in digital and social media give the under-represented groups a chance to call attention to the fact, that they are equally absorbed in many of the topics that occupy the rest of the population – and that they can contribute to bringing nuances to the media coverage and to avoid unfortunate stereotypes and generalizations.