How women were represented in television programmes in the EU in the 1980s.

[In response to claims of gender role stereotyping in television, a survey in the EU reported the following, among other findings in 1987.]

News programmes

We have looked at 77 news broadcasts (seven for each country ...) with a total of 1,236 news items which constitute the units of our analysis ...

As earlier studies have shown, women are very much under-represented among the journalists who appear on the screen. They represent 14.5% of such staff in our sample. Things are a little better in terms of frequency of appearance (i.e. the number of news items presented by a woman), which produces the figure of 21%, meaning that women have a more active role than their male colleagues.

A total of 23.8% were presenters (presenting the news itself and introducing the various news items), 14.6% were journalists proper (who comment on a particular subject in the studio, perhaps after it has been introduced by the presenter) and 6.8% were reporters (working outside the studio). Women journalists on the whole were more sedentary than men, but appear to be higher up the career ladder (or in any case more 'visible' on the screen).

For the voices off, 82.3% if these were male, while 17.7% were female.

Women seen on the screen in news programmes have a very specific image. Three-quarters of them appear to be in their thirties, 90% seem to be under forty, none of them appears to be over fifty (though we counted 22 men in this category).

All these women have short or medium-length hair, worn in a conventional style (75.5%). Their make-up is discreet, their dress is sober (with no plunging necklines or tight-fitting clothes). The note is one of discretion and distinction, the kind of style which denotes good breeding. None of them wears glasses, although 35% of male TV journalists do.

Passing now from the journalists to the subjects and people they present to us, the same female 'reticence' is to be found. Only 1.4% of the news we watched in our sample dealt with specifically feminine issues; even then, three-quarters of such items were presented to viewers by men.

Women were interviewed in 15.8% of cases only. Out of the men and women in the street interviewed, 53.8% were women, while 10% of artists and stars interviewed were women, 10% of experts and 8.8% of the political personalities (although 28.6% of the political activists were).

The same observations applies to news illustrations. Video and film material have a man in the forefront in 75% of the cases, while women are only prominent 6% of the time. Women from the political world appear most frequently, though their link with it may be their attachment to a male (many women are described in terms of their husbands). We meet the same phenomenon when we look at photographs or stills - women stand out in 10.7% of the items.

However, contrary to the conclusions of earlier studies, women shown on the news are moving into more fulfilling roles: they are now seen in work situations (41%) and socio-political activities (39.3%), rather than at leisure (6.9%) or in family settings (4.8%).

Commission of the European Communities, How women are represented in TV programmes in the EEC, Part 3, 1987, p.4.


  1. What kind of source is this? How reliable is it likely to be, in your opinion?
  2. What was the reason for the survey?
  3. Fill in the proportion of the following who were women:
    journalists who appeared on screen; presenters; journalists proper; voices off; people interviewed.
  4. Suggest reasons why women were under-represented among journalists who appeared on screen in the EU in the 1980s.
  5. Suggest reasons why women who appeared on screen seemed to be younger than men.
  6. Suggest reasons why only 1.4% of the news watched dealt with specifically feminine issues and 'even then, three-quarters of such items were presented to viewers by men.'
  7. What does this source tell us about the changing role of women?


  1. Do a similar class survey of any current television station over a period of about one week.
  2. Do a similar survey of a current national or local newspaper.
  3. Display a selection of the statistics in chart form in consultation with your Mathematics teacher.
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