The MMP assessed a number of print and broadcast media during the week preceding National Women’s Day, on the day itself and on the 10th of August 2004.

Top Three for 2004:

  1. Mail & Guardian
  2. This Day
  3. Sunday Times

Despite being a weekly paper and therefore only having one edition in which to respond to the challenge, the Mail & Guardian managed to out-perform all of the other media monitored during the period. Not only were numerous items devoted to women featured in the Mail & Guardian, but the medium also included women as a central focus of its news agenda. This meant that the Mail & Guardian mainstreamed women in their paper, including female journalists, sources, female perspectives, diverse images of women, famous and ordinary women as authors and contributors. The Mail & Guardian‘s ability to determine its own news agenda ensured that the medium generated meaningful discussions about women’s rights and issues, instead of just event-based reporting on some of the functions held in commemoration of National Women’s Day.

What the others did

Other print media were notable for responding to the MMP’s challenge on a quantitative level by including a large number of articles devoted to women in their editions leading up to as well as on National Women’s Day. However, in many instances, the items only paid lip service to women, and were event-based or shallow in their analyses of the public holiday and the issues that were raised. The majority of the media, including television media, provided reactive coverage of National Women’s Day rather than proactive, investigative coverage of the day, women’s’ rights and issues.

For broadcast media, both television and radio, coverage of women’s issues in the week preceding National Women’s Day as well as on the day itself included a greater number of items than usual relating to women. SABC 3 responded better to the challenge than its counterpart, e-tv, however, there is room for improvement on both channels’ news bulletins in relation to women. A number of radio media also devoted substantial airtime to discussions of women and women’s issues. In some instances these debates and discussions extended to concerns around women’s rights and gender equality, but in many instances the coverage afforded to women on the 9th of August 2004 was event-based; focused on the commemorative functions held in honour of National Women’s Day.

Individual performances

Given their previous notable performance, some of the media can be directly challenged. The Sunday Times performed well last year and filled its Business Times section with women. Its infamous back page and the Sowetan Sunday World’s “page 3 babes” are sections of these two weekend newspapers that are – albeit controversially – dominated by women. The real challenge would be to see whether the remaining pages of these media can be similarly dominated, not only by images of women, but by women: sources, journalists, and editors, so that women’s opinions and views on the broad range of news stories and issues are raised in the edition.

Media houses News 24 and the Independent Group both have incredible women (as journalists, sub-editors and columnists) already working for them; the challenge is for all their different media to give those women free reign, just for one day.

The SABC television stations outperformed the other media monitored during the 2004 16 Days of Activism Campaign in terms of accessing women as sources during the period. It would be interesting to see if the channels could repeat this achievement for National Women’s Day. For other broadcast media, it is hoped that progressive radio stations like Kaya FM, which has its own gender policies, SAfm, who is consistently at the forefront of change and debate, their competition Radio 702, who thrive on “walking the talk”, and RSG, which always performs so well in the MMP’s gender ratings, will take up the challenge with enthusiasm and vigour.