Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Media: News Balance Report

TORONTO, ONTARIO - As part of its own self-evaluation program, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recently released an interim report on balance in its news programming. While most were paying attention to the political balance of its reporting (which proved statistically the same as its commercial competition), I found some of the items in its executive summary to be far more interesting.

Take the issue of the province balance in national news stories. Ontario will receive a strong bias as a result of Parliament being in Ottawa (and, in fact, I think the statistics would have been more useful had stories on the Federal government been separated from other stories from Ontario), but the extent of the bias is stunning. Fully 37% of stories on "The National" had a "primary location" in Ontario--which sounds ridiculous until one realizes that 39% of the population is in Ontario, and then it seems rather unremarkable. Only Quebec is grossly under-represented, in terms of population, being the origin of just 10% of stories while being 22% of the population, and that is largely explained by the anglo-franco linguistic divide. The most over-represented location was British Columbia, with 20% of coverage on 13% of the population, but that was biased by the Olympic games. The other networks show similar trends, with even more over-representation of British Columbia and, if anything, under-representation of Ontario.

I've commented before that the CBC has a large number of female hosts, and this study put numbers to it. Overall, the faces and voices that appear on the CBC are about 60% female and 40% male--compared with 40% female and 60% male on the commercial networks. That's a significant difference, and one that is hard to explain on the commercial side if the studies that show men actually prefer information presented to them by women and that women don't have a strong gender preference are actually true and applicable to news broadcasting.

What really floored me, though, was the balance of genders in the news stories themselves. Because of the dominance of men in politics, I wasn't surprised to see that males were the subject of stories more often than females, but the difference was enormous. On the CBC (and commercial television), 70% of stories had a male figure focused on, while 30% focused on a female. At the commercial radio, it was 84% males and just 16% females. It's hard not to view that as a bias against the importance of women in society.

If the opponents of the CBC were hoping for a smoking gun in this report, they didn't find it. Progressives, though, may have found statistical demonstration of gender bias in Canadian society.

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