Discrimination, stereotyping and picking experts

How are experts commonly picked and why? Who gets to speak and who is spoken about?

The theory that belongs to the field of cognitive psychology states that all people make sense of the world through stereotypes. If this would not happen, the human brain would be filled with a disarray of knowledge fragments.

Without a capability to organize things automatically in stereotypes it would be hard to put together connections and orders of importance.

One part of reporters’ and the media’s use of everyday power is that they compile an agenda and pick the words and angles from which the world is discussed.

Journalism does not work in a vacuum; it is for its part the product of its cultural and social environment. It easily keeps repeating the same stereotypes, which dominate in the surrounding society. Also the prejudices and stereotypes that individual journalists hold influence the content
of journalism.

Reporters become convinced more easily about knowledge that supports their own values and worldviews than knowledge that questions them.

Additionally, as in the case of other people, also in the case of reporters attention and learning are biased.

Research has been able to show that a person notices and learns easiest of things that reinforce their preconceptions about the world. This is called
the confirmation bias.

Reporters, while doing their work, become convinced more easily about knowledge that supports their own values and worldviews than knowledge that questions them.

For example, when picking experts, power relations established by journalism do exist. During the recent years, especially feminists have questioned these power relations.

Compared to the portrayal of men, women are more commonly portrayed as victims or based on their position in the family.

According to the international non-profit organization World Association for Christian Communication’s (WACC) 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) 76 percent of news  actors were male and only 24 percent female.

When investigating topics, which featured a female interviewee or other actor, GMMP noticed, that compared to the portrayal of men, women were more commonly portrayed as victims or based on their position in the family.

Certain groups of women, such as poor older women or those belonging to ethnic minorities were even less visible than others. Female reporters were also more commonly made to report mellow topics, such as family, lifestyle, fashion or art.

When it came to the reporting of leadership positions, women were an exception.

Journalist who wishes to enhance equality, meets difficulties in trying to find a woman to give an expert opinion.

Most important political and financial positions are still held by men, so a journalist who wishes to enhance equality, meets difficulties in trying to find a woman to give an expert opinion.

Additionally, in a hurry people generally pick the expert that is already known to the media. This is influenced positively by people’s subconscious and culturally defined values.

Characteristics that portray expertise are a low voice, quick-wittedness and confidence – all characteristics that have been traditionally considered male. If experts are picked on these grounds without critical reflection, it reinforces the male-dominated patriarchal societal order.

White men, politicians and economists fill the pages of newspapers.

That is, those people get to speak who already have the most influence. As a result of this, white men, politicians and economists fill the pages of newspapers.

This is how media, which faithfully reflects reality, on its part maintains the gender divide. Prejudices, stereotypes and unbalanced reporting establish the power relations between groups and generate fruitful soil for the growth of discriminatory attitudes and practices.