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Female opinions count

By Sarah Russell - posted Monday, 30 November 2015

Recently, Kirstin Ferguson and Donny Walford were appointed as non-executive directors of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The board now has four women and five men.

A journalist at The Australian, Chris Kenny, mocked the Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, for boosting women's representation on the board of the ABC.

Although it was ridiculous for Senator Fifield's office to use such precise percentages in the media release (44.4% women and 55.6% men), the point itself remains important. The sexist imbalance on the ABC board is finally being redressed.


Chris argues that political or ideological diversity in the media is more important than gender equality. He believes the political right does not get sufficient airtime on the public broadcaster.

Chris bemoans journalists at the ABC who "all dress in black, park (and lock) their bicycles, lament the horrors of climate change, talk down the terror threat, mock Tony Abbott, barrack for gay marriage, laud Julia Gillard, pillory Rupert Murdoch, demand open borders, scoff at national debt and encourage tax rises".

It would perhaps be more productive if Chris focussed on his own backyard. The Australian is renowned for both ideological and political uniformity. It is also a national newspaper in which male voices often dominate the opinion pages.

Opinion sections in mainstream newspapers are an important measure of women's voices in society. After the Paris attacks, The Weekend Australian's Inquirer contained nine pages of commentary, with twenty-two different opinion writers, eighteen of whom were male: 81.8% men and 18.2% women.

The first five pages focussed on the massacre in Paris. Ten experts provided their perspectives on terrorism, ISIS, islamophobia and the future of western civilisation. The experts were all men.

Women with expertise on terrorism and counter terrorism were visibly absent. Their opinions did not count.


The following two pages contained a further 4 opinion pieces, again all men.

So far, 100% male commentary.

Finally, on Page 22, there were two opinion pieces written by women: Judith Sloan and Emma Meconni. The women appeared on the same page as Gerard Henderson and Peter Van Onselen. On a gender scale, this page was 50-50.

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About the Author

Dr Sarah Russell is the principal researcher of Research Matters and a former critical care nurse.

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