The seminar, held in Paris on 12-13 November 2018, examined good practices from France on women and the media. It was the first time the topic was discussed at a mutual learning seminar and the event highlighted the growing recognition of the crucial importance of addressing sexism in the media for achieving gender equality. The EU ‘Audiovisual Media Services Directive’ (2010, currently under revision) prohibits discrimination based on sex in commercial communications and encourages Member States to promote a diversified and realistic picture of women’s and men’s skills and potential. The European Platform of Audiovisual Regulatory Authorities (EPRA) has recently issued a report on the representation of women in the audiovisual media industry, which highlights the existence of pervasive disparities. Therefore, the seminar was a timely opportunity to review national measures and discuss further action at national and EU level. Besides the host country France, government representatives and independent experts from further 17 EU Member States participated in the event.
The key focuses of the seminar were recent laws, policies and good practices of the French government and other stakeholders that address persistent under-representation and discrimination against women in all media professions, and the broader issue of gender stereotypes in media content, sexism and sexist abuse. The French government has taken a transversal and pro-active approach across the relevant Ministries. The Gender Equality Observatory of the Ministry of Culture and Communication issues an annual monitoring report. In 2014 and again in 2017, new equality legislation extended the regulatory powers of the French Broadcasting Authority (CSA), which now has legal rights and a mandate to monitor radio and TV programmes and advertising to ensure women are represented appropriately. It has enforcement powers to impose sanctions in cases where a woman is depicted in a degrading manner. The French independent regulatory authority for advertising (ARPP) has a long-standing commitment to monitoring denigrating images and has recently begun to monitor gender stereotyping. The Union of Advertiser adopted a charter of commitments to fight against sexist, sexual and gender stereotypes in advertising, which currently has 33 signatory companies. Recently, the French Press Agency (AFP) adopted new guidance, including on gender-specific language, positive images of women, sensitive reporting on cases of gender-based violence and increased use of female experts. They have also carried out staff training sessions on these issues. Radio France Group has set new targets for employing more women, increasing the use of women experts and ensuring more content with a focus on combatting sexism. In addition, there are a number of alert systems in place for the general public to submit complaints.
The discussion among participants focussed on the transferability of the different measures implemented by the French government, the regulatory authority and other stakeholders. It was generally agreed that the French measures were inspirational and that many good practices could be adopted in other countries. Data and monitoring were viewed as essential first steps in order to raise awareness, including among media professionals who are often unaware of gender bias in their work. However, obtaining comparable and consistent data remains a challenge. Education and training on media literacy and gender equality from primary school upwards and for media students and professionals was highlighted as important. Participants indicated that the extent to which media regulation through legislative measures is a viable option varies depending on national contexts, given sensitivities over perceived infringements of the right to freedom of expression. It was further noted that various European organisations, including the EPRA, could play a useful role in supporting monitoring at national level and in goal–setting. Finally, it was agreed that both the bottom-up and top-down approaches were needed and that collaborative exchange of tools, guidelines and other good practices, including visits from the French stakeholders to other Member States, would be an important way forward.