behind the news

Study shows UK newspapers are still sexist

78 percent of front-page articles are written by men
October 18, 2012

The UK media is still dominated by sexist stereotypes and run by male journalists, according to a front page story in the Guardian on Monday. Using figures from a new study released by Women In Journalism, the Guardian created an infographic from data gathered by analyzing nine UK newspapers over the course of four weeks. In that time, across titles, 78 percent of all front page articles were written by men.

The Financial Times came out on top of the “quality press” or broadsheets with 34 percent of its front page articles written by women (The Daily Express, a tabloid, was top overall with 50 percent of front page bylines belonging to women). Meanwhile The Independent lagged behind, with only 9 percent of its 70 front-page articles written by women across the four weeks of the study.

Inequality extends to the content of those stories, too. Of 668 people quoted across titles, 83 percent were men, the study said.

According to WiJ data, the three women whose photographs appear most on the front page of the paper are the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, her sister Pippa Middleton, and the disappeared toddler Madeleine McCann. Kate Middleton was the subject of many headlines last month when the French edition of Closer magazine printed pictures of her sunbathing topless in France. The palace later won an injunction to prevent Closer from reprinting the photos.

The three men who appear most are French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Simon Cowell and Prince William.

Gender inequality in the UK media was a topic at this year’s Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the British press. A coalition of 40 women’s organizations called for an end to female objectification in national newspapers in a submission to the inquiry. They also called for a public debate on the topless page three models that were instituted by the Sun and later copied by the Daily Star and the Mirror. (The Mirror stopped printing topless photos on page three in the 1980s.)

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A petition to ban topless models on page three has gathered almost 50,000 signatures, prompting comments from the UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg on Friday that banning page three would be “deeply illiberal.”

This is not the first time there has been a campaign against page three, and support for this campaign begins to waver, it doesn’t look like it will be the last. But there’s a link to be made between front pages written by men and the unsavory way in which women are portrayed on them. A concerted effort by editors to right the balance of power in the newsroom might do more than any petition to squash the sexism that still pervades the UK press.

Hazel Sheffield is a journalist and filmmaker based in London. She is a former CJR fellow and business editor of the Independent.