Once upon a time, many years ago, I used to be a journalist. We’re going back to when I was in my mid-twenties. While the basics of a job in the media have remained broadly similar, the news industry has changed massively since then and not all of it for the better. In fact, I feel very sorry for journalists, especially those working for major news networks because they seem to get blamed for everything bad going on in the world and it’s simply not justified.
The Responsibility of the Media
One of the big issues that comes up from time to time is the responsibility the press has to promote equality. I’m prepared to say something controversial here: The media has no responsibility to promote equality.
The media has a role to play in questioning inequality and reporting on equality issues. To give an example, there is a duty on news outlets to report on the number of white men who attended exclusive, independent schools who are in Boris Johnson’s cabinet.
If media personalities cross that line and actively promote equality they’ve gone beyond reporting on the news. That would be campaigning, not reporting. It’s the journalist’s role to inform the news consumer, not influence them.
So what drives the media and what they can publish? Let’s just be frank and concede it’s primarily cash. News organisations are businesses and a newspaper article about a premiership footballer’s threesome will shift more copies than an article about gender equality. That’s a sad fact and a reflection of one of the more negative aspects of human nature.
The Impact of Social Media
It’s impossible to write about this subject without mentioning social media. Social media has had a negative impact on news reporting. Journalists are forever being shouted down on social media by people who don’t like the way they report on the news.
If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, go take a look at the things said online about BBC reporter Marianna Spring, who specialises in reporting about online conspiracies. Some of the comments made about her are truly vile and just how negative the social media bubble can be.
Representations of Mums and Dads in the Media
Let me take one particular equality issue that means a lot to me: The way mums and dads are represented in the media. This sometimes causes me concern. I think we’ve come a long way since I launched my blog a decade ago, but there’s still some way to go.
Going back a decade, it really wasn’t rare for parenting magazines to feature one token image of a dad. He would be white and clearly in a heterosexual relationship. By contrast, if a major news outlet reports on a parenting issue in 2021 and doesn’t include a male voice, it will be publicly called out for doing so (one of the benefits of social media is being able to connect with major news organisations and highlight when they have fallen short).
In fact, I once remember having a chat with someone about work life balance. He remarked that if the flagship BBC Breakfast show ever reported on work/life balance, it would only ever invite mums to discuss the issue while sat on the bright red sofa of its studios at Media City in Salford.
Rather amusingly, a short while later I found myself appearing on that bright red sofa myself. The issue I was discussing with Naga Munchetty? Work/life balance!
Of course, it’s not simply mum v dad representation. I see a lot more representation of same sex parents in the media than I used to. It says a great deal that Olympic swimmer Tom Daley was chosen to be an ambassador for Pampers back in 2018. Not only was he a dad, but a dad in a same sex relationship!
My real frustration is that dads are all too often represented in the media looking after babies or toddlers. There’s very little representation of dads dealing with schooling, their children’s physical and mental health and so on.
Look on any library bookshelf at the parenting titles and you’ll see what I mean. The books for dads are overwhelmingly a) Writing in a tongue in cheek style and b) they don’t exist for any dad whose children are over the age of 5. Seriously, it’s like dads disappear once their kids hit primary school age.
As for mums, well mums can’t win. They’re either letting their families down by being working mothers. Or they’re letting the sisterhood down by not having a job. As I say, we’ve come a long way, but there’s more to do.
Driving a Divisive Culture?
Moving on from equality, is the media divisive? As I said at the start, the media should report on the news and represent society. It should not cross a line and start telling consumers what to think.
There is no question, the media has become more divisive. We saw this throughout the Brexit campaign and this has continued during the COVID pandemic. We all know that certain newspapers and broadcast journalists are pro-facemask while others are not.
Are these titles encouraging division or simply reflecting what’s going on in society? In reality, I think various media outlets fan the flames of the “Culture Wars” as they can be called.
What does this mean for reporting on equality issues? It’s hard to say. At this point in time the media seems as happy ever to report on equality issues. Aside from anything else, the pandemic has forced every family with working parents to think about its approach to equality. And that’s hard for the media to ignore.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens post-pandemic. If the media looses interest in equality, then we’ll all need to worry.