Why don’t the V4 countries have more women voices in the media?

The media matter. They not only reflect the “real“ world, but also create it. Despite positive developments in media in the last few decades, gender inequality is still evident. There are women who host breakfast programs and read the evening news, but there are still not enough women in decision-making positions. What is stopping women from attaining more visible posts in media? And how does their absence influence the V4’s media content?

Photo: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Who decides what we watch on TV, listen to in the radio or read in the newspapers? It is still primarily men, yet, the situation is not the same for all the V4. While in Poland or the Czech Republic, women in media management are still rather rare, in Slovakia, they have begun to assume their fair share across all types of media.

Legislative changes, like anti-discrimination laws, mainly made during the EU accession process have contributed to a broader awareness of gender equality; but there is still a long way to go before women have a more balanced representation in the public sphere. What can and be done and what has already been done?

Media decide which information will enter public consciousness – what is priority and what is not. Because of this they are able to shape public opinion, successfully telling society what they should think about different issues. Moreover the media, and not only the primetime news, interpret and frame issues, giving them certain schema, which is often built on stereotypes and biases.

In other words, by framing issues, the news media provide “filters” through which people make sense of their world. So, if women are not co-creating content, an inaccurate picture of the world is being presented. Because media are, “a major socializing agent,” 1 women, who comprise 50% of our societies, should be in a position to shape the messages that are seen, heard and read by millions.

Language in general – and in media specifically – is a powerful tool.  (Gender) Biased language creates a (gender) biased world. Do you think that a women commentator could say: “though she was blonde, she was quite intelligent”? Or that a female candidate had a horrible haircut instead of saying she was strong in her arguments? 2

There are plenty of reasons to analyze women’s role in the media and to push for a more balanced presence in the media hierarchy, content creation and onscreen visibility.


Women’s underemployment in the media hierarchy is part of a more general phenomenon of women’s under-representation in economic decision-making positions, and this can be seen in most EU countries. This is thought to be the result of  the “glass ceiling,” invisible barriers that prevent minorities from achieving further success, higher positions or levels of power. In other words there are barriers to women’s upward professional mobility. Even in over-feminized sectors, like education, top-management positions are more likely occupied by men. 3

The glass ceiling is historically supported by deep-rooted societal stereotypes, like the widespread notion that men are the breadwinners and women are the homemakers and caretakers. These ascribed male and female roles are still present today, although a large part of the world has moved forward and most people’s expectations of gender roles have changed radically.

Surveys show that most of today’s women do not want to choose between work OR family/private life – that their priority is work AND family/private life, 4 and states and businesses are expected to create conditions for this balance. In fact, it is questionable whether men do want to make these choices. In spite of that, the work processes are often shaped by the male life cycle – assume disposal boundless time, spatial flexibility and “male cultural” behavior.

A number of jobs simply do not take into account the time women spend caring for on children. According to Barbora Stiegler, women are not a priori excluded because of their sex, but their gender is often the reason for their exclusion. 5 In other words, women are not excluded because of their biological characteristics, but because of the social and cultural aspects of their gender. 6 In a more practical perspective, when women face the challenge of balancing work and family, they are expected to compromise work when necessary.


Our research team monitored women’s representation in Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovak broadcasting (television, radio and news) management; print media (editors-in-chief at the dailies and weeklies and deputy editors at the dailies); online portals: (chief and deputy editors); and commentators at the dailies (graphs 1-3). 7

The results show that there is a critical under-representation of women in the media hierarchies in all of the V4 countries, however there are significant differences between the countries.  While women in Poland only hold 6% of the top managerial positions in television’s top-management, 8 women in Hungary hold 36 % (graph 1.1). 9 Women in the Czech Republic hold close to 20% of overall managerial positions in media, 10 but there is a very low percentage in news management. Women in Slovakia 11 have very low representation in both television and news management (graph 1.1).
In spite of increasing numbers of women employed in the media sector, persistent patterns of inequality in the form of underrepresentation, glass-ceiling barriers to advancement, and lower pay in relation to men, still remain firmly embedded in the sector. 12This is again in line with a general pattern that emerges globally: although women are as educated as their male counterparts, they are less present in higher positions.  13

A mixture of cultural, economic and social barriers are responsible for the glass ceiling. Some studies say that the transitional context of post-communist social environments produce a culture that is “anti-feminist … alongside entrenched liberal-capitalist political views and legislation that is generally not enforced.” 14 Similar to other areas – laws (like antidiscrimination) are more on paper than in real life, law enforcement is weak and the empowerment of citizens to defend their basic rights (for example – equal treatment) as well. In this respect media are part of the picture that characterizes the entire societies.

Radio broadcasting trends are a bit more optimistic – women have a 22-33% share of the top managerial positions (graph 1.2). One may ask if women’s higher shares are the result of targeted gender equality policies, but this is hardly a consequence of a specific code of ethics; it is rather an outcome of different contextual circumstances and personal coincidences.

In print media, we see a highly unbalanced situation regarding women employed at the dailies in V4 countries. There are no women editors-in-chief in Hungary; and while women’s representation at the dailies is critically low in the Czech Republic and Poland, they comprise two-thirds of these positions in Slovakia (graph 1.4).  15 Similar to the situation in broadcast media, more female representation in higher positions in print media is also not the result of well thought out strategies for overcoming evident gender disparities.

Women have more representation in the weeklies’ top managerial positions, but the majority have a lifestyle or leisure media focus or belong in the category of so-called “women’s magazines.” 16 Similarly to dailies, the V4 country with the highest share of women in the weekly’s editor-in-chief positions is Slovakia, followed by Hungary and the Czech Republic (graph 1.5).

The dailies run VIP segments by political commentators and leading, influential journalists, who provide their opinions, stances and interpretations of political events. The share of female political commentators in the V4 does not even reach 15%. In Slovakia only one news daily, Új Szó, which is published in Hungarian, has more female commentators than male (graph 2).
There are very few examples where the media has exhibited self-reflection and reported on a lack of gender balance among their managers, commentators, or authors. One positive example is the Slovak liberal newspaper, Dennik N, which earlier this year published numerous stories about reporting of the referendum on the “traditional family,” which hoped to ban same-sex marriage in Slovakia. 17

Referendum proponents claimed their voices were not heard, but Dennik N found that the only voices that were not sufficiently heard were those of women. Unfortunately, this self-reflection only ended with a published article – not in the paper seeking more women’s perspectives. However, self-reflection is a good start. 18


In spite of growing segments of online media, “classical“ television broadcasts are still the most widespread source of political information, so televised political debates play an important role in shaping public attitudes. These programs are popular and have a huge audience share, but to what extent are women present in these debates?

Our research team looked at how often women participated in key political debates at various times and on different channels, under what context and in what capacity they appeared, and what topics they discussed. 19 On average the percentage of female guests involved in political debates did not exceed 18%. This is even a lower representation than women have in politics (graph 3)!

Women’s presence is more significant in public television than it is in private. For example, only 13% of guests on Czech public television’s most prestigious Sunday political debates were female in 2014; similarly, 15% of Slovakia’s equivalent, O 5 minút 12, were female, while the news channel, TA3, had only 2%.

We even recorded programs in which no single woman appeared during the monitored period. One example is a television show, Dot over the i (Kropka nad I), run by the Polish private channel, TVN SA. Paradoxically, its host, Monika Olejnik, is perhaps the most famous journalist in all of Poland.

Invited female guests are politicians, experts or NGO representatives – even a short glance at their affiliations and discussion points reveal that these women do not represent any specific “soft” female agenda. In addition to party representatives there is a female chair of the Czech Republic’s State Office for Nuclear Security, a female leader of Budapest advocacy of the UN and a Slovak female Minister of Justice. This means that although women’s presence is generally marginalized, once the gates open for them, they cover universal agendas and represent a variety of positions.

However, televised political debates are almost exclusively a men’s clubs. Of course, these low numbers reflect the general political context: the participation of women in political life and in decision-making is sparse. At all levels – national, regional and local – we see a significant gender gap. For example, women’s share in V4 national parliaments is only around 20%. 20

Worldwide, media monitoring shows that only 24% of the people mentioned in print, radio and television news are female. That means that despite a slow but overall steady increase in women’s presence in the news over the last 10 years, the world the news depicts remains predominantly male. This picture is incongruent with reality, where 50% of the world’s population is female.  Furthermore, while only 13% of all stories focus specifically on women, only 6% of stories highlight issues of gender equality or inequality. When women are news subjects 18% of the time they are portrayed as victims while this is only true for 8% of male news subjects. 21

No doubt that the absence of women’s voices in such debates may result in the presentation of a male-centered view of politics and the world. As Carolyn Byerly and Karen Ross have argued: “If news media fail to report the views of women judges, women parliamentarians, or women business leaders, but always report on violent crimes against women, then it is hardly surprising that the public fail to realize that women do in fact occupy significant roles in society or, equally, that men are much more likely to be victims of serious crime than women.” 22


Most V4 media do not seem to have specific rules, codes or guidelines that would eliminate gender discrimination and/or promote gender equality. As part of the EU integration process, V4 countries accepted legislation that bans discrimination based on gender or sex. In most countries these rules are incorporated into general Labor Codes, so that employers cannot legally discriminate against their employees. However, very often we are reminded that the legislation is just a piece of paper, and in reality many forms of direct or indirect discrimination occur without any consequence.

According to Czech public television’s internal code, for example, great care is to be taken when approaching gender equality in television’s function and program composition. 23 Nevertheless, the Women´s Congress, which took place at the end of June 2015 in Prague, was anything but satisfied with gender equality in media. Its 10-point final resolution requested more equal representation of women in talk shows and gender balance in media’s top-management and regulatory bodies. 24

The glass ceiling can be broken by a gradual step-by-step process – or more radically by introducing quotas for female representation. Implementing quotas is a controversial topic in V4 countries because the communist legacy makes them the “bogeyman.” But also more generally, quotas are symbol of something imposed from above.

Several regional feminist NGOs are pushing for formalized measures that would guarantee equal women’s representation, primarily in politics. However so far, only the Polish movement was successful nationwide.  25 While in other countries, some political parties showed initiative. 26

Olga Pietruchová, a former NGO activist, and now the Director of the Gender Equality Department at the Slovak Ministry for Social Affairs, Labor and Family, talks about a “quota paradox.” She says that when a society needs quotas they are perceived with hostility, as something imposed from an external environment, and when the society would be able to accept them it already does not need them. Gender equality is perceived and lived as something very natural what so it is difficult to regulate by quotas. So how else can we find an optimal solution?

In most democratic countries women’s absence in decision-making positions is rarely caused by open, direct gender-based discrimination. The barriers are invisible and thus difficult to fight. They include attitudes, biases, presumptions, work organization and culture and working conditions based on male needs and priorities, because men have shaped these for decades. 27

Numbers produced in our research speak clearly: men dominate the media, so what should be done in order to increase the women’s numbers in this sector? The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) says that we should: adopt practical measures to change organizational cultures that prevent women’s advancement in decision making positions; encourage pro-active approaches, rather than passive commitments; share good practices; and strive to be role models. 28

While these recommendations sound great, they have been repeated many times without any visible effects. Given the media’s limited self-reflection on gender (in)equality, we cannot expect revolutionary changes, but rather a snail-paced evolution. Yes, the media are just a portion of the overall problem, but they meet all criteria for taking a leadership role in the gender equality agenda by challenging gender stereotypes and providing role models for aspiring female leaders.

Skeptics may say that having more women in the media will not guarantee a greater voice for women, remove gender biases or ensure that sexist narratives will not appear. Zuzana Maďarová, a Slovak expert in the field, points to the importance of both men and women’s internalization of gender equality. 29 In other words, one needs to foster feminism among men, or as Emma Watson said in a very simple, straightforward way, “he for she.” The slogan launched a solidarity movement for gender equality, 30 and represents another symptomatic sign of a much needed light at the end of the tunnel.

The full data visualisation is available here. In case you would like to receive the full data set for either country or the whole V4, send us an email at rebecca(at)visegradrevue.eu

The article is part of the project “Learning about causes and effects of gender (im)balance in Central Europe” funded by the European Union flag_yellow_highThe content series was created by the V4Revue, not by the funder.


  1. Margaret Gallagher, Unfinished Story: Gender Patterns in Media Employment. (UNESCO Publishing 1995), 9.
  2. A large portion of research on media coverage and gender bias has been conducted in the U.S. For example in the 2008 presidential primaries it was revealed that “Ms. Clinton was described in more physical terms than the average for previous male presidential contenders.” (Richard M. Perloff, The Dynamic of Political Communication: Media and Politics in a Digital Age, Routledge 2014, p. 201). The author adds, “When you look at the multitude of opinionated commentaries on radio, television and particulary the Internet, you find evidence that vicious sex-role biases still exist.” (Ibid., 210).
  3. A separate article on men and women in the education sector to be published soon.
  4. For more details see the series of sociological surveys within the International Social Surveys Program‘s (ISSP), Family and Changing Gender Roles ,Module IV – 2012. http://zacat.gesis.org/webview/index.jsp?object=http://zacat.gesis.org/obj/fStudy/ZA5900.
  5. Barbara Stiegler, Welcher Lohn für welche Arbeit? Über die Aufwertung der Frauenarbeit. Expertisen zur Frauenforschung. (Bonn : Electronic ed.: FES Library 2000, accessed June 22, 2015, http://library.fes.de/fulltext/asfo/00762.html.
  6. Social sciences now distinguish between biologically defined sex and socially constructed gender.
  7. The research and data collection was carried out in March through April, 2015, within the (Wo)(Men) project by Fórum 50% (CZ), The Congress of Women (PL), Hungarian Women´s Lobby (HU) & V4 Revue (SK).
  8. In Poland 3 main channels were analyzed: the public channel, Telewizija Polska, with average daily viewership at 31%, and two private channels, Polsat and TVN S.A., each with about 20% of daily viewership.  Only one woman is sitting on all three boards.
  9. In Hungary four channels were monitored: M-RTL Zrt. (private); TV2 Média Csoport Kft. (private); Magyar Televízió Nonprofit Zrt. (public) and ATV Zrt. (private).
  10. Women are mostly represented within the top management of the private broadcaster, CET 21’s. Data is not available for TV Barrandov, which has about 5% viewership.
  11. In Slovakia four channels were covered: Public RTVS (joint public TV & radio broadcaster), Markíza (private), MAC TV (private, also known as JOJ), and the news channel, TA3 (private).
  12. Ibid.
  13. The IWMF’s Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media, 2008-2010, which monitored gender positions in news organizations around the world. The findings were collected from more than 500 companies in 59 nations. The IWMF found that 73% of the top management jobs are occupied by men, compared to only 27% occupied by women: http://www.iwmf.org/our-research/global-report/
  14. Beverly Dawn Metcalfe and Marianne Afanassieva, “Gender, work, and equal opportunities in Central and Eastern Europe,” Women in Management Review, Vol. 20, No. 6, 2005, pp. 397-411.
  15. Here the chief editors of Nový čas and Plus jeden deň (both tabloids), and also high-profiled writers for the dailies, SME, Pravda and Hospodárske noviny, are women. Only two nationwide dailies have men in these positions.
  16. For example: Pestrý svět; Blesk pro ženy; TV Magazin; Chvilka pro tebe; Tina in the Czech republic. Rytmus života; Slovenka; Nový čas Nedeľa; Šarm in Slovakia. Na żywo; Kurier TV, Twoje Imperium in Poland; and Nők Lapja; Kiskegyed Meglepetés; Best BLIKK Nők in Hungary.
  17. More on referendum here : Rohac, Dalibor, “Slovakia’s Curious Culture War ,” The V4 Revue, December 25, 2014, http://visegradrevue.eu/slovakias-curious-cultural-war/; and Monika Todova and Iveta Radicova, “I worry that all we will be left with is filth,” The V4 Revue,  February 6, 2015, http://visegradrevue.eu/iveta-radicova-i-worry-that-all-we-will-be-left-with-is-filth/.
  18. Struárik, Filip, “Ako Denník N informoval o referende?,” Denník N, February 9, 2015, https://dennikn.sk/44897/ako-dennik-n-informoval-o-referende-kde-urobila-redakcia-chyby/.
  19. The following program have been monitored: Otázky Václava Moravce, Máte Slovo and Hyde Park ČT24 – all three on the public television in the Czech Republic. In Poland, Tomasz Lis na żywo, public channel TVP2; Kawa na ławę, private channel TVN SA; Kropka nad i, private TVNSA; and Woronicza 17, public TVP S.A. In Hungary, three debates (one on a public channel and two on private ones). In Slovakia, O 5 minút 12; Spávy a komentáre, Večera s Havranom, Pod Lampou on the public RTVS channel, and V politike and Téma dňa on the private news channel, TA3.
  20. Slovakia’s national legislative body’s makeup is 20% female; this is about the same for the “Snemovna” in the Czech Republic.
  21. Who makes the news? Global Media Monitoring Project 2010. Website accessed June 8, 2015: www.whomakesthenews.org.
  22. Carolyn M. Byerly, Karen Ross, Women and Media. A Critical Introduction. (Blackwell Publishing 2006), p. 41.
  23. See http://img.ceskatelevize.cz/boss/image/contents/kodex-ct/pdf/kodex-ct.pdf.
  24. See http://kongreszen.cz/rezoluce-kongresu/
  25. In oder to increase the number of women deputies in the 2011 parliamentary elections, gender quotas for candidate lists were introduced. 
  26. Forum 50% ranks political parties according to their “openness” to women. See:  http://padesatprocent.cz/cz/nejotevrenejsi-zenam-je-strana-zelenych-nadejnou-politickou-starostka-horniho-slavkova
  27. Cf. Callagher 1995: 54
  28. Cf. Review of the Implementation, 2014.
  29. Zuzana Maďarová, ed. Maďarová, Z., Kríza v politike a v médiách, in: Rodové dôsledky krízy, (Bratislava: Aspekt 2010), 105-144.
  30. See: http://www.heforshe.org/.
Olga Gyárfášová

Olga Gyárfášová

is an associate professor at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations, Comenius University in Bratislava and researcher at the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). She focuses on electoral studies, political culture, and European integration.