The Labour deputy leader has called on British newspapers to ensure that half of their political journalists are women by the end of the parliament, as more evidence emerged that the industry is dominated by men.
Tom Watson said the lack of women in journalism is woeful and âshould set alarm bells ringing for readers as well as reporters and editors across the countryâ, after the industry body Women in Journalism published a highly critical report.
Watson, who is also the shadow culture secretary, said newspapers had to do more to increase the number of female journalists and that the area of politics was âamong the worst offendersâ.
The MP called for gender parity in the lobby, where political journalists are based, by the time of next WIJ report â in five yearsâ time in 2022 if the five-year cycle is repeated.
WIJ had found that in June and July just 25% of front-page stories in daily newspapers were written by women. Stories with female bylines tended to relate to health, the royal family and TV, while men dominated the coverage of the election, the London Bridge terror attack, and Grenfell Tower.
These figures are barely an improvement on the last WIJ report in 2012, when 22% of front-page bylines were women. The latest report also found that just 34% of senior roles at newspapers, such as the editor, news editor and political editor, were filled by women.
The warning about the lack of diversity in the newspaper industry echoes concerns about broadcasting. Ofcom, the media regulator, last week criticised British broadcasters for a woeful lack of diversity among their staff and accused the BBC of failing to lead the way. It said women, minority ethnic groups and disabled people were are all under-represented by broadcasters and this is creating a âcultural disconnectâ between programme-makers and viewers.
Women in Journalism said the lack of women at British newspapers distorted their perspective on society and meant it was seen âthrough the prism of a predominantly old, white, male gazeâ.
The report added: âThis puts half the population at a disadvantage and, at its worst, can put women off entering public life. Particularly egregious examples of this distorting lens include âLegs-itâ â how the Daily Mail described the meeting of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon, the two most powerful political leaders in the country on March 26 2017.
âOr how David Cameronâs decision to appoint more women to his cabinet on 16 July 2014, was treated as an excuse to picture the new female ministers on a âDowning Street catwalkâ where their outfits were critiqued.
âBoth examples reinforce to the public that no matter how powerful a woman is, or how impressive her credentials are for doing a job, it is her appearance that matters more than anything.â
The WIJ report found that among daily newspapers, at the Daily Telegraph, 38% of front-page stories had a female byline, while for the Financial Times it was 35% and the Daily Mail 30%. One in 10 stories on the front page of the Daily Mirror were by female journalists, while at the Sun and the Evening Standard it was just 15%.
Of the Guardianâs front-page stories, 43% were written by women, while 67% of its senior staff are women.
The Daily Mirror said its figures may have been âslightly skewedâ by two reporters being on maternity leave, but added that it was working with its human resources department âto try to address this issueâ and had just held the first meeting of a new group of senior women within Trinity Mirror, the newspaperâs publisher.
Sunday newspapers had a higher proportion of female journalists on their front pages in June and July, with women accounting for one in three bylines. This included 83% at the Sunday Express, 75% at the Sunday Mirror, but 0% at the Mail on Sunday, although these figures rely on a low sample size because the newspapers are only published once a week and the tabloids usually contain just one front-page story.
Watson said: âWho writes and decides the news matters, and it is not good enough that just 25% of front-page bylines are by women, and just 34% of senior roles at national newspapers are held by womenâ.
In terms of senior roles at the newspapers, which WIJ measured by 17 key positions, half are women at the FT, with 38% at the Sun on Sunday and Metro. Just 13% of key roles at the Sun are occupied by female journalists, with 25% at the Mirror and 27% at the Daily Star. The Sun said it employed women in senior roles in areas not monitored by WIJ, including royal correspondent, travel editor, and digital managing editor.
The research will increase pressure on the media to improve the gender imbalance in the industry. This imbalance was highlighted by the publication of the BBCâs pay list in July, which showed that only a third of its best-paid on-screen stars were female and the top seven were all men.