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More women needed for diversity in political debate

/ Feb 05, 2013 8:36AM / Print / ()

More women needed for diversity in political debate

When political journalist Michelle Grattan announced she'd quit her post at The Age newspaper yesterday, she also outlined her hopes for political coverage in the future: a more diverse range of voices.

In today's media environment it initially seemed like a strange plea to make. We have 24-hour news channels, press conferences streamed live online, journalists fighting it out to be the first to tweet a significant announcement, and column inch after column inch devoted to analysing the previous day in politics. Don't we get enough?

"At the moment, we're getting too much concentration of voice, frankly," Grattan said during her press conference yesterday. "It's a bit of an irony that we're getting this concentration especially in the mainstream media – when we're also getting the fragmentation of the media with the internet.

"These two things seem contradictory but they are actually happening at the same time. So I think diversity of political coverage, especially in an election year, is a really important thing."

A lack of diversity in politics is painfully clear when identifying the small group of "insiders" who dominate newspapers, radio, television and much of the debate online – alongside the narrow number of story angles such coverage delivers (new spectacles, Labor in crisis, longest election campaign ever). While there are a number of prominent female political journalists doing some excellent work in the Press Gallery, that's about where the diversity ends. What's lacking is diversity in views, diversity in culture, experience and background, and diversity in mediums – it's odd to think the latter is still a challenge, especially when there are so many channels now for journalists and non-journalists to report what's going on.

While political coverage centres on the press gallery, publications are limited by budgetary constraints regarding just how many journalists they can have covering the Canberra beat. There's no reason others – online publications (indeed like this one), social media influences and bloggers – can't play a part in providing that diverse range of voices.

We now have the means to watch policy announcements as they occur, to download the full transcript of a speech almost immediately, and to source experts online who might be able to assist in fact-checking the contents of such announcements and deciphering what they mean. We don't have to be there to participate.

The "outsiders" may not be able to get to the backbench sources and may struggle to "count the numbers" on whether Kevin Rudd really is mounting a leadership challenge, but they can do something that's becoming increasingly rare in today's political coverage: scrutinise policy.

As we saw last week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard's new spectacles were at times given more emphasis across the metropolitan media than the policy speech she delivered. This was despite her speech outlining her plans and a timeline for significant tasks such as jobs creation, a post mining-boom economy, education, the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and working to ease the current pressures associated with "modern families".

Grattan has left Fairfax for the University of Canberra where she will also work as an associate editor for The Conversation. She said she sees The Conversation as offering a "new opportunity to broaden the voices in political coverage".

I believe there are plenty of opportunities for women to get more involved in the debate. It doesn't have to be a full-time job, or even part of your day job – but the web's there and it's full of possibilities. Start a blog, get talking online, launch a podcast, or meet and connect with people who share similar policy concerns.

And tell us all about the work you're doing.

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