The Power of the Media

As a young journalism student the political influence of Australia’s few male media moguls was apparent; that was more than a quarter of a century ago.

When I graduated the options were Murdoch, Packer, Holmes Court, Fairfax, Bond and Stokes. There wasn’t a woman in sight, not as an owner, nor as the head of any media group, let alone a Managing Editor.

Today, we finally have a woman; Gina Rinehart who has in recent times become a shareholder of two large media groups (Fairfax and Network Ten).

The boys have, since the beginning of time, had a concentrated hold and complete dominance in television, radio and theAustralian press. The media have influenced what we think, read, see, hear,believe and buy.

This is the reason as why women are continuously portrayed by the media in unacceptably sexist ways: men provide the message and they are the messengers. Violence, sexually offensive, degrading, unflattering and demeaning images of women are delivered daily.

It wasn’t until 2011 that Fairfax appointed its first female editor to the Sydney Morning Herald. Amanda Wilson was, and still is, the first and only female editor in Fairfax’s 180-year history.

To finally have a few women in this powerful male dominated space is encouraging; we might even get a different perspective of the world around us and start seeing a more positive focus on women, a view that shows women are great contributors to our economy and communities might even reduce violence against women and show future generations that equality is not just a word. This could validate our contributions.

Regardless of your political inclination, it is interesting to hear certain male politicians are asking the media to extend our first female Prime Minister the same courtesies extended to her male predecessors. Greens Leader Bob Brown recently told journalists that: the degree of relentless criticism on this Prime Minister coming from male commentators is sexist and quite ridiculous at times.

Research shows there is a pattern of misrepresentation, which underestimates the economic role of women, assigns them to a lower status and/or subordinate positions. The visibility of powerful, successful and influential women in the media is limited and segregated, providing a totally distorted view of our society.

We need only look at the portrayal of women in sport to get a very clear picture of how the media represent men as strong, powerful and confident and value women only by their scantily clad, and extremely carefully posed body. In the case of women, the media is responsible for the unadultered sexualisation of athletes. Its portrayal of women generally is preposterous.

So, too, is the recent outrage at Ms Rinehart’s business diversification.

I note that every time I read an article about Ms Rinehart, or hear about her business dealings on radio or television, she is referred to as the daughter of the late mining magnate Lang Hancock. This information is superfluous and it is not necessarily in the public interest!

Why is the father of the male billionaire constantly excluded and the father of the female billionaire continuously included? Blatant conscious sexism, perhaps?

The portrayal of Ms Rinehart by the media should be that of a highly successful businesswoman, full stop.

The portrayal of successful women in business, sport, politics and community should be equal to that of men, but it’s not and is therefore deplorable.

Our economy competes globally; women are great contributors, yet the archaic and demeaning portrayal of women as being weak, fragile, sex symbols and/or incompetent continues at an alarming rate. Reporters, journalists, subeditors and editors are constantly breaching their code of ethics yet nothing is done about it.

Women have the same rights as men in this country; it’s about time the media started reading their own code of ethics and start adhering to it, as well as observing our anti-discrimination laws.

Any and every woman in this country, irrespective of financial or political status, has the right to do business in any industry she wants. If Ms Rinehart has decided to play in the boys’ media sandpit, it is her democratic right to do so and she should have the right to keep her family private emails private.

Women make more than 75% of consumer decisions, have the power of the purse and can influence and affect this and every other business. Remember if women stop buying, the economy will stop dead in its tracks.

If you want a clearer picture of how the media misrepresents women, make sure you see MissRepresentation the documentary. I was recently part of the discussion panel at the Social Innovation Sydney screening of MissRepresentation at UNSW, Sydney; I can confirm the miss representation of women in the media is getting worse.


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Leadership & Management
Lecturer / Non-Executive Director

Gender & Inclusion
Policy Advisor / Researcher

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