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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Are the Conservatives getting ready to learn to love the EEA?

You can see the shape of the deal that the right would accept. 

In an early morning address aimed half reassuring the markets and half at salvaging his own legacy, George Osborne set out the government’s stall.

The difficulty was that the two halves were hard to reconcile. Talk of “fixing the roof” and getting Britain’s finances in control, an established part of Treasury setpieces under Osborne, are usually merely wrong. With the prospect of further downgrades in Britain’s credit rating and thus its ability to borrow cheaply, the £1.6 trillion that Britain still owes and the country’s deficit in day-to-day spending, they acquired a fresh layer of black humour. It made for uneasy listening.

But more importantly, it offered further signs of what post-Brexit deal the Conservatives will attempt to strike. Boris Johnson, the frontrunner for the Conservative leadership, set out the deal he wants in his Telegraph column: British access to the single market, free movement of British workers within the European Union but border control for workers from the EU within Britain.

There is no chance of that deal – in fact, reading Johnson’s Telegraph column called to mind the exasperated response that Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal and a supporter of a Remain vote, gave upon hearing that one of his players wanted to move to Real Madrid: “It's like you wanting to marry Miss World and she doesn't want you, what can I do about it? I can try to help you, but if she does not want to marry you what can I do?”

But Osborne, who has yet to rule out a bid for the top job and confirmed his intention to serve in the post-Cameron government, hinted at the deal that seems most likely – or, at least, the most optimistic: one that keeps Britain in the single market and therefore protects Britain’s financial services and manufacturing sectors.

For the Conservatives, you can see how such a deal might not prove electorally disastrous – it would allow them to maintain the idea with its own voters that they had voted for greater “sovereignty” while maintaining their easy continental holidays, au pairs and access to the Erasmus scheme.  They might be able to secure a few votes from relieved supporters of Remain who backed the Liberal Democrats or Labour at the last election – but, in any case, you can see how a deal of that kind would be sellable to their coalition of the vote. For Johnson, further disillusionment and anger among the voters of Sunderland, Hull and so on are a price that a Tory government can happily pay – and indeed, has, during both of the Conservatives’ recent long stays in government from 1951 to 1964 and from 1979 to 1997.

It feels unlikely that it will be a price that those Labour voters who backed a Leave vote – or the ethnic and social minorities that may take the blame – can happily pay.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.