When will the media meet the challenge of giving proper coverage to women’s sport?

When will the media meet the challenge of giving proper coverage to women’s sport?

When will the media meet the challenge of giving proper coverage to women’s sport? 150 150 CWESN

Tracey Holmes – http://www.abc.net.au/

Following a day when there was more coverage of a stomach ache suffered by one male commentator of one male sport than there was for the entire gamut of women’s sports being played at the moment, a very serious question remains unanswered.

Why, on the eve of 2017, is the media still failing to report women’s sport adequately while Mark Nicholas’ abdominal distress is national news?

Having covered sport for more than 20 years with NewsCorp Julie Tullberg now teaches digital journalism at Monash University.

“Yeah it’s pretty funny, I covered AFL many years ago for the Australian and I’ve been unwell but when I left the coverage no-one could be bothered writing about what I went through — if I was pregnant, or whatever — but with men, for someone live on air for a big event like a Test match, that’s newsworthy because they have such a large audience,” Tullberg told ABC NewsRadio.

Turn on the radio, television, or go online during the ‘summer of sport’ and there are updates galore on cricket, basketball and football (the round-ball variety).

But you would be excused for thinking only men play these games despite the fact there are concurrent women’s domestic competitions being played at the moment.

In a country where there are four times as many journalists accredited to cover the AFL than federal politics you would be right to suggest sport is a key component of the national culture.

The past 18 months or so in Australia have been record breaking for women’s sport … new competitions, new pay deals and a new level of respect from sports bodies themselves.

Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t seem to extend to day-to-day mainstream media coverage.


Not even the national broadcaster, with a charter that specifically mentions ‘national identity’ and ‘cultural diversity’, offers a fair balance of coverage between men’s and women’s sport.

“Yeah it’s a big question … its something that we’ve been addressing for many, many years,” Tullberg said.

“I went before a senate enquiry 10 years ago and we still haven’t seen significant changes or a boost in the coverage of women’s sport, and I really believe it’s hard to change that culture of a domination of men’s sport in our country.

“And when we have so many men who call the shots in the newsroom we’re still seeing these patterns of dominance and I really believe commercial deals and media partnerships with sporting groups influence the level of coverage we’re still seeing for men.”

Sports championing change better than media

While the media remains unable at best, unwilling at worst, to meet the challenge of covering women’s sport, the sports organisations themselves are meeting the issue head on.

Chief executives like Gillon McLachlan, at the AFL, and Richmond’s Brendon Gale are members of the Elite Sport Male Champions of Change.

They are part of a select group, which has at least turned the corner.

“What I’ve noticed recently is there have been improvements in press coverage for women’s AFL in the Herald Sun and the Age in Melbourne,” Tullberg said.

“And there’s more people being employed to cover the game in Victoria which is great, some of our graduates are now in those positions which is tremendous.”

Any criticism highlighting this sort of media disparity attracts the usual responses — something along the tired old line that nobody is interested in women’s sport.

It is the ‘chicken or the egg’ conundrum: what comes first, interest in the product or promotion of the product that creates the interest?

“I know for a fact when I drove sports coverage for netball at the Sunday Herald Sun many years ago it really boosted participation,” Tullberg said.

“I had a whole page every week and we worked with a sponsor to help promote that partnership and it did drive the audience, it had a great response.”

So what would be the response if a particular media organisation took the lead and reported women’s sport as a top agenda item rather than an afterthought at the end of men’s sports coverage?

“Well it has happened before when Louise Evans [former sports editor] was at the Australian,” Tullberg said.

“She was a fantastic driver and promoter of women’s sport and addressed the issues very carefully.

“However, apart from Chloe Saltau at The Age, there are male sports editors around the country … I think it has to be driven from the editor and if the editor is sympathetic to the need for women to be in the media and have the issues presented regularly that is really important.”

It is a challenge the newly re-branded national broadcaster is charter-bound to take the lead on.