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'Inching forward': newspaper coverage and portrayal of women's sport in Australia, Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum, Melbourne Cricket Ground, 6 February 1998: speech.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me start my short speech by saying how particularly pleased I am that we are launching this report here. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is a wonderful location. Even when the stands are empty you can feel the excitement of the place. And I can't help but be delighted that we are using what many might view as a bastion of male sporting prowess to discuss women's involvement in sport. Having said that, in this particular room, the dominance of our female Olympians is obvious.

And today, in a sense, the tables are being turned because instead of the media studying you or me, we're studying the media's performance - - specifically associated with how the media, and inparticular the print media, portrays women's sport. The report I am launching today, Inching Forward, should rightly be seen as a yet another reminder for the community that media coverage of women athletes is treated very differently from that of men. It's time we gave this issue much greater prominence and highlighted specific examples of a problem of which many in the community - including journalists, broadcasters and editors themselves - seem blissfully unaware.

We only need to look at the last couple of months to appreciate the high level of achievement of Australian women in a remarkably diverse range of sports. There are the exceptional results achieved by our women's cricket team, and I welcome Melanie Jones here today.

The success of your team has been widely lauded and I add my personal congratulations to those of so many Australians who have publicly endorsed your collective achievements.

And there are many other examples of elite female athletes with achievements that can't be ignored...other world champions we haven't heard much about: Sharon Steckelenberg and Leanne Brown in waterskiing, Michelle Martin in squash, the women's touch team, Pauline Menczer in surfing, Vicki Roycroft in equestrian events and Jacqui Cooper in snow skiing.

I attended the recent FINA World Swimming Championships in my home town of Perth and like thousands of men and women in the stands, sat on the edge of my seat throughout the close and very exciting bronze medal women's water polo play-off between Australia and Russia. You can't tell me that such incredibly fit, highly skilled and competitive sportswomen like those on our water polo team don't make for good coverage either in print or on air!

And while I am talking about champions, I can't overlook Cathy Freeman, the Australian of the Year and a true world champion athlete.

These women's achievements have resulted in a greater awareness and recognition of the skills and expertise of female athletes by the general public.

The fact that four of the six Australian Olympic champions honoured with a special Olympic Legends stamp series were women is further evidence of this.

Why aren't we hearing more about these high achievers and why aren't they gaining the media attention they deserve?

Almost 45 per cent of all registered people playing sport are women. There are more competitive opportunities for women, with an increase in the number of sports and disciplines at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games and in the number of women's national leagues. Indeed the Sydney Olympics will have a record number of female competitors. Women will comprise 42 per cent of competitors compared to 37 per cent in Atlanta.

But despite women comprising almost half of the people playing sport, the Womensport "Inching Forward" research indicates women are struggling to win consistent and long-term media coverage, especially when compared with that of men. In a city like Melbourne or my home town of Perth, the prospect of Wayne Carey "doing a groin" will generate far more ink and air time than the latest success of our world championship women's cricket team!

The results of the research show that women's sport received relatively high levels of newspaper coverage during the Atlanta Olympic Games period in 1996, however, there was a considerable decrease - by over one third - in the amount of coverage for the same period in 1997, a non-Olympic year.

You might say it's obvious that there would be more coverage in an Olympic period than in a non-Olympic period.

But the research results reveal there has been no improvement in the amount of coverage during non-Olympic periods in 1996 and 1997. In fact, some newspapers recorded a decrease in their coverage of women's sport, with this coverage in one major metropolitan decreasing by more than half.

Men's sport coverage is given between 84.5 per cent and 93.1 per cent of all space in the print media surveyed. Women's sport is given between 3.9 per cent and 7.4 per cent which is at best, 12 times less coverage than men.

I see no logic to this imbalance - to why almost half of the population is being ignored by the media.

Sometimes I also wonder at the quality of reporting of women's sport. During the recent Australian Open, I was infuriated to hear commentators, after discussing the men's event, cross to a colleague to find out 'what the girls' were up to.

We have almost come to expect women to be called 'girls' and references to a female's 'elegance' and just recently I was reading the sports section of a major newspaper and found an article referring to two women tennis players as 'darlings', focussing on their 'appeal' rather than their sporting ability.

Many of you here today would also be aware of my comments in recent days about an application by some promoters to be exempted from Equal Opportunity legislation here in Victoria so they can advertise not just for women competitors, but specifically for 'young, attractive' women. Now I have no say over what is very good Victorian legislation, nor in the process currently before the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, but as Federal Minister for the Status of Women, I am morally obliged to speak up for women around Australia and say: stop it! Why do some in the community continue to persist with the concept that women should be treated purely as sex objects, and not on their merits as equals?

I am not opposed to women jockeys racing camels. It is the concept that only 'young, attractive' women are suitable for such pursuits, to which I strongly object. It seems clear on the face of what I have heard and read so far that it's the women, rather than the camels or the racing, which promoters are seeking to exploit.

But are we taking it all too seriously? Do references to women athletes in such stereotypical ways really matter?

I believe they do, particularly in a sports mad country like Australia where sports reporting is eagerly read and debated. The media plays an important role in shaping the attitudes and values in our society. It has a direct impact on the way women's sport is presented and received by the public. It's for these reasons we need the help of the media in providing consistent media coverage of women's sport.

Numerous benefits would arise from consistent media coverage. Women's sport can be given a much higher profile - our women deserve a high profile; they are performing and achieving as well as our sportsmen. The media can also create and maintain positive role models for our young sportspeople; this would help reduce the large numbers of girls who drop out of sport in their teenage years. The successes of our sportswomen show the more conservative members of the community that women can achieve, that they too train hard and do not crack under pressure. These days sporting champions are not just gifted amateurs. They are disciplined and strategic thinkers. Sport has such a positive effect on people's health, well-being and self-image, it seems obvious that seeing more women participating in sport may entice people to do the same.

The media's influence could also assist our sportswomen to find lucrative sponsorship opportunities, as they're currently doing it the hard way - look at our women's cricket team as a perfect example.

There is some good news there in that one benefactor has come to the aid of the women's cricket team with sponsorship - largely I suspect as a result of the media highlighting their achievement and their mainly self- - funded efforts.

Last but not least, the media can also give spectators variety and enjoyment - sport is sport in Australia whether it's women or men playing.

So I'm calling on the media to assist sport and the government to work together to ensure positive change occurs. And despite what may seem like nothing but bad news, there are a number of positives I can highlight today.

. Through the Australian Sports Commission, the government is commissioning comprehensive research on the media coverage of women's sport every four years. The results of the research are distributed to appropriate state and federal ministers, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, media and sport organisations.

. The government is developing guidelines for language and terminology when reporting on women's sport for journalists and sporting organisations. This will help the presentation of women's sport in the media. The "Inching Forward" research tells us that language is used in several ways to differentiate men's and women's sport.

. The government is also developing a database of media liaison officers in national sporting organisations with the aim of providing training, advice and support on media skills. The Australian Sports Commission is liaising with coordinators of territory media studies and journalism courses to include women's sport and related issues on the curriculum.

. Various seminars and forums on women, sport and the media are also conducted and national newsletters and magazines which include coverage of women's sport and women's sport issues are produced by the government.

. The government is also developing a new National Policy on Women in Physical Activity and Sport which will provide the principles and strategies for action to increase the involvement of women and girls in sport and physical activity. The policy will address all government and non-government organisations responsible for, or who directly or indirectly influence, the conduct or promotion of sport and physical activity. Organisations which are in any way involved in the employment, education, management, training and development of women in physical activity and sport will also be targeted.

. The Office of the Status of Women is also taking a lead role in women in sport issues generally and is examining ways where the Office can work collaboratively with the Australian Sports Commission to increase the number of women in sport decision-making positions and where we can make an impact in women's sport policies and practices.

The government's focus on educating the sport industry, the media and the public will help change the culture and the way in which women's sport is promoted and reported. With the 2000 Olympic Games fast approaching though, we must quicken the pace of this change.

The Sydney Games will mark the centennial involvement of women in the Olympics. It will be an excellent opportunity to showcase our many brilliant women athletes and to show the world that all Australians - and not just men - compete and are successful.

And while I'm talking about the Sydney Olympics - sorry Melbourne, your turn will come, I am sure! - I must say how disappointed I am that so few women have been appointed as Olympic attaches for the overseas teams. It is, as another NSW woman politician - Meredith Burgmann - said an offence that the NSW Government regards the attaches' positions as 'another Olympic boys' club'. When this situation was reported earlier this week, men had exclusively filled all 40 appointments made so far. We learned later in the week that three women have been appointed, but that their names have not been announced yet.

Sorry boys, but that's 37 too few.

It is still early in the process, and the office of Federal Sports Minister Andrew Thomson advises me it is anticipated women will be well represented in the remaining positions.

I will be speaking with my colleague to see if we can improve this. There are qualified women in the community and Minister Thompson and I intend to work together as a conduit to bring these women to the attention of the AOC and SOCOG.

It would seem to me to be something of an embarrassment for Australia if our organising committee was unable to meet the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch's call that all sporting bodies do more to promote women in administration.

The IOC would like a minimum of 10% of women representation on all sports boards by the year 2000 and 20% by 2005.

In Australia, 23% of Executive Directors and 9% of Presidents of National Sporting Organisations are women so we're certainly making some inroads, but more needs to be done.

In officially launching today's research, I strongly urge the media, sporting organisations and state and local governments to read and discuss the issues raised.

More importantly, I urge you to act on the findings.