After a public uproar over sexist remarks led to the resignation of the Tokyo Olympics chief in February, and prompted renewed calls for gender equality in Japan, the mass media industry is now facing questions over whether it can address an overwhelming dominance of male perspectives in its own structure and output.
“It’s embarrassing to find (mass media) organizations in a situation like this, even though they’ve been rapping Mr. Yoshiro Mori’s misogynistic remarks,” said Mami Yoshinaga, chairwoman of the Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions, in response to complaints about sexism in the media during a recent symposium.
The online symposium, organized by the Japan Mass Media Culture Information Workers’ Union Conference and other groups, was held to discuss gender inequality in the media sector, with participation from journalists, researchers and ordinary citizens.
Five university students spoke about aspects of Japanese media, both print and broadcast, that they found inappropriate. “It’s mostly men who appear as authors in newspapers’ op-ed pages. It doesn’t reflect reality,” one of them said.
The students also voiced their disapproval of the way many Japanese TV programs treat female presenters. “Variety shows and news programs have the same structure in which a young woman listens to what a middle-aged man says. I don’t want to watch them,” another said.
A third student pointed out that female news presenters are often “consumed as if they are idols.”
Researchers said sexism and gender stereotypes portrayed by the media stem from male dominance in executive posts and among management-level employees at media firms.
“If decision-making positions are occupied by men, news articles, broadcast content and even the way news items are lined up will reflect a male perspective,” said Kaori Hayashi, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s graduate school specializing in mass media and journalism studies.
Only 7.7% of employees holding section chief or higher positions were women at 38 newspapers and news agencies in Japan in 2019, according to surveys by labor unions.
Among six Tokyo-based commercial broadcasters, top officials in charge of producing news and other programs were all male as of December last year. Of the 159 people who sat on the boards of four industry associations representing newspapers, commercial broadcasters or publishers, only three were women.
The participants of the symposium agreed that the media industry must understand its citizens are aware of its gender imbalance, and change it.
Hayashi said that if the media continues to “be a man’s world and retain its old values, the rift between its own sense and the sense of ordinary people will further widen.”
On Feb. 3, Mori — a former prime minister — said that participation by women in board meetings would make them “drag on” and that their speaking time should be restricted if more women join executive boards of sports associations.
Amid a wave of criticism at home and abroad, the 83-year-old stepped down later that month as president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. He was replaced by Seiko Hashimoto, a 56-year-old former Olympic minister and renowned female athlete.
Japan consistently ranks low in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap rankings, coming 121st out of 153 countries in 2020 and occupying last place among major advanced economies.
The government set a goal in 2003 of filling around 30% of leadership positions in the country with women by 2020, but it pushed back the date to “as soon as possible within the 2020s” after failing to meet the target.
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