Posted by: writersblock7 | October 2, 2009

Media Coverage of Female Sports

In the contemporary mediascape, sport is covered in all aspects of the media- television, radio, internet, newspapers, blogs and advertising. Sport is considered a fairly important aspect of our society, particularly in Australia where sport is often considered front page news. Despite sport’s prevalence in our society, media coverage of sport is not equal in its coverage of men and women in any form of media. If you look at today’s newspaper, television news or internet news, the gender inequality of media coverage will be very apparent. There has been much research and study undertaken in relation to this issue which has shown that women get significantly less media coverage than men.

Australian statistics done in 1996 show that Men received 95.1% of Radio coverage, 56.2% of Television coverage with Women receiving only 2% and 79.1% of Newspaper coverage (NSW Sport and Recreation). Other statistics show that in 1980 Women received 2.0% of Newspaper coverage and in 1996 they received 10.7%. This shows that coverage increased, however the statistics do not show years other than Olympic years. It would be safe to assume that in these years there would have been more extensive coverage of female sports due to the Olympics.

2005 American statistics show that despite technological advancements and the universal drive toward gender equality in all aspects of life, media coverage of female sport has not increased. On the 3 main network affiliates, male sports received 91% of coverage, where female sport received just 6%. The study also found that “many of the broadcasts in the sample contained no women’s sports coverage” which suggests that female sports are often considered unimportant and not newsworthy. Although these statistics are American, through our own observations it would be hard to claim that Australian statistics would be vastly different.

These statistics show that coverage of female sports has not significantly improved over time. This is particularly saddening, especially due to the Title IX legislation which came into effect in 1972 in America. The Title IX legislation bans sex discrimination in schools in both sport and academics. This legislation had much success in increasing female participation in sports at American schools however media coverage has not paralleled this change. Womenssportfoundation.org, a website dedicated to women’s sport and Title IX, show that “Nationwide data indicate that women make up 38-42 percent of all sport and physical activity participants. Yet, research indicates that sportswomen receive approximately 6-8 percent of the total sports coverage”. Research sadly has shown that males believe that Title IX has adversely affected male sports, and many believe that the law should be changed. An article by Marie Hardin explores this as well as how contemporary media practice has not assisted the media coverage of female sports.

Other statistics indicate that women watch a high percentage of televised sports. Stuart Elliot of the NY Times stated that “for the entire 2004 Summer Games, 50 percent of the audience on NBC was composed of women ages 18 and older, according to the data, followed by their male counterparts, at 40 percent”. Statistics even showed that “women ages 18 and older made up 39 percent of the audience for another major TV sports event, Super Bowl XLII in February, with men ages 18 and older at 47 percent”. This is especially interesting as the Super Bowl is traditionally thought of as having a predominantly male audience, but these statistics show that there was a significantly large female audience. These statistics suggest that women are equally as interested in sport, yet this interest and interaction is not returned through equal media coverage.

Images also show the difference in the way male and female athletes are portrayed. Males are often portrayed in images as muscular, aggressive, and sweaty; essentially as the pinnacle of athleticism. Conversely, women are predominantly shown as symbols of sex, or in traditionally female roles such as wives and mothers. This suggests that often media does not attempt to portray females as spectacular athletes, but in their home lives. This gives females, particularly younger girls who perhaps strive to be athletes the idea that female sport is unimportant and suggests that they should be in traditional roles.

The question must be asked about why media coverage of sport has not reflected the change in media technologies. Female sport has the big challenge of overcoming a traditionally male dominated industry- male ownership of media networks, predominantly male sports journalists and news anchors, and the extremely strong and established popularity of male sports. Statistics show that over time these challenges have not been overcome, however I personally have noticed an increase of female sports journalists and reporters which suggests that this issue is perhaps beginning to be addressed. The new media forms available provide many opportunities for the increased coverage of female sports. Marie Hardin looks at this in her fantastic article but suggests that “although the technology has presented liberating possibilities for women’s sports, those possibilities aren’t being met. Instead, the new media platforms are replicating the discrimination and bias that has always been a part of old-media framing of women’s sports.”

The media coverage of female sports has many challenges and opportunities, however even with contemporary media available, there has been little change. The challenges that have faced female athletes in the past still remain, with statistics showing little change in media coverage. The opportunities of contemporary media still exist, but they are yet to be successfully penetrated. To do this, it will require lots of work and will happen slowly overtime, attempting to even up the male dominated industry as a whole. However I believe it is possible. I don’t think that women will ever get equal media coverage of sport, however they definitely deserve much more than they are getting now. Change is essential!

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Responses

  1. […] topics about matters of the individual responsibilities of elite level athletes, the inequality of media coverage of female athletes, sexual containment and homophobia remain prevalent in sport […]


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