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Low ratio of women in Japan media impacts news coverage, work conditions: survey

Women participate in an emergency meeting to protest a former Finance Ministry official's sexual harassment of a female reporter, wearing black and holding #WithYou placards in solidarity at the First House of Representatives Office Building on April 23, 2018. (Mainichi/Kasane Nakamura)

TOKYO -- Women make up only a small percentage of people working in Japan's media industry, especially in executive positions, a survey conducted by an organization comprising media-related labor unions nationwide has found.

Massmedia Information and Culture (MIC) released the results of its survey on the proportion of women in media on March 6. Among 38 newspaper companies, only 7.71% of management positions were filled by women, while only 3.13% of executives were women. At the six Tokyo-based private broadcasters, 8.3% of department heads were women, while there were zero female executives at three of the firms.

The survey was conducted so that the result could be released to coincide with International Women's Day on March 8, and was carried out through the member unions of newspaper companies, private broadcasters, and publishing companies. The newspapers used data as of April 1, 2019, private broadcasters between October 2018 to January 2020, and publishing companies October 2019 to March 2020.

Among newspaper companies, 19.92% of all employees and 22.42% of reporters were women. Of those in management positions in the broad sense of the word, including desk editors and others in leadership positions, 8.5% were women. Ryukyu Shimpo, based in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, had the highest percentage of women in management at 18.18%. As for management positions in the broad sense of the word, 34.48% were women at Ryukyu Shimpo, the only newspaper where the percentage exceeded 30%.

At the Mainichi Shimbun, 23.57% of all employees were women, and 24.29% of reporters. The company had no female executives, and the percentage of women in management positions was 10%, while the percentage of women in management in the broad sense of the term was 12.23%.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga holds a press conference at the prime minister's office on March 6, 2020. Many of the reporters present are men. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

At the six Tokyo-based private broadcasters, the proportion of female employees was in the 20-29% range. None of the broadcasters had women heading their news, creative, or informational programming departments. The percentage of female executives at the six broadcasters and public broadcaster NHK was 4.8%. There were no women among the executives at the five Osaka-based private broadcasters, and aside from Kansai Television Co., there were no female department chiefs.

Unions of 41 publishing-related companies were surveyed. Of these, 36.3% employees were women, 8.3% were female executives, 15.3% were women in management, 22.9% were women in management in the broad sense.

According to the Cabinet Office, women comprised 11.2% of section heads and 6.5% of division chiefs at Japanese private companies with 100 employees or more in 2018. The percentage of female executives at publicly listed companies was 5.2% in 2019.

The proportion of women in management and executive positions was low overall in private companies in Japan, but the percentage tended to be lower at newspaper companies and private broadcasters.

The dearth of women in the newspaper industry has an impact on the working environment and on what is reported. The Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers' Unions, made up of 86 unions comprising workers from newspapers across the country and related companies, is a member of MIC. In October 2019, it conducted a survey of its union members on how they worked and their prospects for the future. In addition to 807 men and 400 women, 29 other people responded.

Asked whether they felt discrimination in terms of wages, treatment and otherwise at work, 60.5% if women said they "strongly felt so," or that they "tended to feel that way." Among men, the figure was 40.7%.

There are no women on the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association's board of directors. In February, the Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers' Unions (right side) put in a request with the association (left side) to include women on its board and improve the industry's gender ratio. (Photo courtesy of the Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers' Unions)

At many newspaper companies, there are no differences between genders in regular employees' wage structures or benefits, but 55.3% of men and 44.2% of women said that "The work and the weight of responsibility allotted to men and women differ." Meanwhile, 35% of men and 54.1% of women said that "the speed at which men and women are promoted differs." It is believed that the response from some 60% of women and some 40% of men that they felt there was "discrimination based on gender" in the workplace can be traced to these conditions.

To the question, "How does having few women as desk editors and in management positions affect work?" the most common response was, "It affects what kind of news is selected for coverage, and leads to outdated ways of working and evaluation."

More specifically, there were comments such as "we end up creating newspaper pages that are misaligned with readers' actual everyday experiences," and "there is little motivation to put out articles about gender and sexuality." The comment that "it's hard to see into the future in terms of career" was common among women, while men expressed frustrations about "lack of understanding toward parental leave" and "lack of consideration for dual-income households."

The survey also shed light on serious cases of harassment, perpetrated by both those within companies and those outside.

To a question asking whether respondents had experienced harassment in the previous three years, 58.4% of female respondents said they had, while 28.9% of male respondents said the same. Among women, sexual harassment topped the list, with 41.3% saying that their "looks and age were made a topic of discussion," and 13.1% saying that they were "asked to engage in sexual relations." Among men, cases of power harassment were more prominent, with 35.8% saying they had been subjected to violence and verbal abuse. Perpetrators of such harassment were more commonly from within companies than without.

Asked for what they believed were reasons for such harassment, 40% or more of women cited "inadequate awareness of human rights," "stress due to labor shortages," and "light punishments for perpetrators, whose actions are not made public." Meanwhile, 48.7% of men cited "labor shortages," while 34.7% cited "light punishments for perpetrators, whose actions are not made public."

A Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers' Unions official said, "From the respondents' answers, we can see that there is a 'negative spiral' in which organizations are unable to deal with the long working hours and labor shortages that lie at the core of harassment problems. An extreme lack of gender consciousness is also clear from the fact that women have experienced harassment at twice the rate as men. Media must take the initiative to make labor reforms and resolve the disparity between men and women."

(Japanese original by Satoko Nakagawa, Integrated Digital News Center)

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