This article comes from The Buzz Around the Ballot edition of Visegrad Insight 2/2017 devoted do media landscapes and disinformation in Central Europe. Read full contents page here.

In 1995, during the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 189 State representatives adopted unanimously the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. With this step, the international community reaffirmed that women’s access to expression and participation in decision-making in all forms of media and communication processes, including digital, are fundamental to free, diverse, plural and democratic media systems. Achieving gender equality in the media was equal to “good journalism”.

All the countries from Eastern and Central Europe have joined this call for the democratisation of the media and have become signatories of the Beijing Platform for Action. The quality of the journalistic cultures that would emerge in the process would eventually testify to the success of the democratic transformation. Defined as the “character of performance of journalism as an institution, profession and discourse in a concrete economic, political and cultural context”, journalism culture is believed to possess explanatory power over the performances of media products and media systems. The democratic transformation doesn’t, after all, happen only in the formal structures and regulations of state institutions. Cultural changes in the area of “informal limitations” of media workers, the values they respect, the principles and norms they accept, their attitudes, are just as important in the democratic transformation as the formal structures.

The Beijing Declaration set an ambitious goal to challenge and change the structures of the global media system. Objective J.1 of the declaration was meant to increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision making in and through the media and new technologies of communication, and Objective J.2 portended to promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media. As global research shows, some 20+ years after the declaration was signed, there remains a lot to be done in moving from these declarations of support to actually achieving their stated goals.


International literature suggests that there are some common experiences shared by journalists from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The normative vacuum that was created after the collapse of the communist/socialist regimes, in regard to what role the journalists should play in the new reality, was expected to be filled by the “Anglo-American liberal model” of journalism or “the social-responsibility media model.” Journalists in this model act as a bridge between the government and citizens, providing objective information, necessary for the public to form opinions. For this to happen, freedom of the media must be protected by the law, and, in return, media must promise to use their power responsibly and regulate and control their own behaviour and institutions.

The normative “social responsibility” theory of journalism was officially supported by the international community, but was never really sustained by the western investors who flooded the region after the fall of communism. Expectations that the western know-how would benefit the development of journalistic professionalism and democratic culture in the region were thus never fulfilled. Quite the contrary, there is evidence suggesting that aggressive commercial policies were pursued “at the expense of journalistic standard[s].” Investors exerted influence on the content, through the way newsrooms organised and how, how staff was recruited and paid for their work.

Tabloidisation and commercialisation had important consequences for women’s position in the media. What happened in the region was similar to what happened in the Western European media systems back in the 1980’s. Grave changes in the marketing strategies and media advertising were later branded as a “feminisation” of the media; more accurately, it should have been termed as a “sexualisation” of the media. Journalism increasingly became consistent with the stereotypical, commercial and even sexualised perception of femininity, but there were important differences between Western European media systems and the developing systems in the Visegrad region.

First of all, the media’s self-regulatory institutions were never really developed in the region, while they have played an important role in mitigating the consequences of the commercial wave that swept the media in Western Europe. Press Councils were eventually established and Journalistic Codes of Conduct adopted in most post-communist countries.

However, these self-regulatory bodies in the region remain without real authority and the adopted Codes of Conduct lack practical meaning. For the media organisations to effectively self-regulate themselves, the system needs to be “ready to discuss media quality and ethical problems openly and publicly”.

The question what is good journalism is essential in this process and the example of Poland is quite telling in this context. The most known international Journalistic Code of Ethics is the International Federation of Journalists Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists. This declaration is well known in Poland, as the two largest Polish journalist associations are members of the IFJ: Polish Journalists Association (SDP) and Association of Journalists of the Republic of Poland (SDRP).

However, neither the SDP, SDRP nor the Media Charter adopted by the broader media environment in Poland makes any reference to this point that a journalist should be aware of the dangers of discrimination in the media. It seems that after the political transformation, especially the new generation of journalists in the “mental sphere’ became proponents of the purely liberal XVIII. media doctrine, where all attempts to impose ethical norms on the media were treated as a threat to freedom of expression and democracy.

Secondly, an important difference between the western countries and the Visegrad region in regard to women’s position in the media is that, in the western countries, trade unions played a huge role in the development of the media system. In the post-communist countries, the new generation of journalists, who now dominate the profession, are less likely to become members of professional associations. They don’t understand nor see the need to join.

For example, in Poland before 1981 most journalists belonged to the Polish Journalists Association. In 2009, less than 20% of journalists belonged to a professional association, and most of them were 60+ years old. The journalistic community in the region remains fragmented, no strong professional organisation exists that could monitor the functioning of the media system from the perspective of media workers. In effect, the working conditions and the status of the profession has gradually weakened over the years. Journalists have less time to develop their stories, due to the development of online media, staff reductions and financial restrictions. The fact that women constitute a significant proportion of the labour force in the media “requires an adapted response from the unions”. However, without strong unions, the challenges that women face in the media: “the extra job precariousness, the unyielding gender pay gap, the struggle to reconcile work and private life and the blocked access to leading roles in the media” remain unaddressed.


Women’s position in the media in the Visegrad region seems to be particularly weak. Due to the historic developments of the media systems in the region, the autonomy of the journalistic community is constrained and at the moment, the region does not have a single “full democracy” established. Recent developments in Poland and Hungary have further weakened the democratic score of the region.

Despite the struggles to achieve gender equality in the media, none of the countries in the Visegrad region have developed any measures to promote gender equality in its media organisations (EIGE, 2013: 100-108). Leadership/management training for women or equality awareness training for staff hasn’t been introduced in any of the surveyed organisations. Neither were there any committees responsible for gender equality policies, anti-harassment advisors, equality or diversity officers or departments present in the organisations. Similarly, policies to promote gender equality, including gender equality policy, equality/diversity policy or policy on sexual harassment remain scarce and were only developed in Hungary and in public service RTVS in Slovakia. For there to be real progress in the region, policies, like those mentioned above, should be implemented, so that the next generation of journalists has the opportunity to work in more fair and balanced conditions than those present today.


Greta Gober is a researcher at University of Oslo’s Center for Gender Research with a Ph.D in cultural studies.

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Greta Gober

Eastern European Futures

In 2009, the European Union and six of its Eastern neighbours launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with the stated aim of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. A decade on, however, progress has been mixed.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

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