Female MPs photographed outside Parliament in May to campaign for the return of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria. Photo: Getty
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Female MPs in the press: slated or ignored

A new study hints at sexism in the press.

Female politicians are presented more negatively in the press than their male counterparts, and receive less coverage overall, a recent academic study has revealed.

The investigation analysed newspaper reports covering female MPs, using samples from the election years 1992, 2002 and 2012. The researchers dug through archives of papers to both the left and right of the political spectrum, including the Guardian, Telegraph, Mail, Sun and Mirror.

It transpired that although all politicians receive negative coverage, female politicians were more likely to be presented in a dim light.

In 2012, Conservative women were twice as likely as their male counterparts to receive bad press.

Labour women were four times more likely to be slammed in the press than their male colleagues; in their 2012 sample of press cuttings, the researchers found no positive coverage of female Labour politicians at all.

Female Liberal Democrats were generally ignored by the newspapers altogether that year.

The research also identified a regressive trend for media representation for female politicians of all political stripes.

Since 1992 there has been a decline in the amount of news coverage women MPs receive relative to their proportional numbers in Parliament. By 2012 they were being quoted less in the press too.

The pair conducting the research, Deidre O’Neill, a journalism lecturer at Leeds Trinity University, and Dr Heather Savigny, a lecturer in politics at Bournemouth University’s Media School, also examined why female politicians receive worse coverage.

They argued that the representation of female politicians deviates from a "male norm", the pervasive nation that men are assumed to stand for the whole population.

The duo called for print journalists to be conscious of including women in media coverage and reflect on how they present women. They recommended the creation of a media monitoring group, comprising politicians, media representatives and academics.

Savigny said: “We are not hearing female politicians’ voices as often as we might expect. This is not good news for our press or the state of our politics.  This press rep­resentation of women that sometimes serves to suggest politics is a ‘man’s game’, where women are regarded as the aberrant, exception to the rule, can alienate women representatives and likely future candidates."

She added that the invidious trend affects the democratic process, whereby women voters feel unrepresented in Parliament and turn away from political engagement."

O'Neill added: "Within society, many factors already militate against women entering public life. The regressive trends highlighted by our findings, taken in context with other media developments, such as the rise of internet trolls churning out appalling misogynist abuse and rape and death threats to women who have aired views or campaigned publicly creates a climate that makes it more difficult for women and which can put competent women off taking public office."

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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