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Using AI to combat inequality in the media world

Women are underrepresented in media coverage worldwide. Katia Murmann, one of the founders of the initiative EqualVoice, has developed an algorithm that measures the presence of women in text and images of news media. A conversation on the media's part in creating society's role models and why the US president is also counted when calculating the EqualVoice factor.

OLIVER BOSSE SPOKE WITH KATIA MURMANN

Women are underrepresented in media coverage worldwide. As part of its EqualVoice initiative, Ringier has been addressing this inequality with an algorithm since 2019. How did the idea to advance equality through technology come about?
The starting point for EqualVoice back in 2016 was our realization that women are significantly less visible in reporting than men. The data proved us right: according to the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) 2016, 82% of media coverage worldwide was about men. We then wanted to know: Where do we stand, not only in Switzerland, but also specifically in our media? Since technology is an important part of Ringier, we called in our data specialists. And together we found a solution that provides us with the figures for our publications on a daily basis. The "EqualVoice Factor" is now an important tool that documents the daily visibility of women in our media.

Why do you think equality for women in media is important?
Media have a social responsibility. They play an important part in creating role models – and should therefore not only make the male part of the population visible, but also the other 50%. With EqualVoice, we are specifically increasing the visibility of women in the media, creating more female role models and giving women and men the same voice. It is important to us to break down gender stereotypes. Therefore, we not only want to show more women in our publications, but also men in different roles: as fathers, kindergarten teachers, or in caregiving.

With EqualVoice, we specifically increase the visibility of women in the media, create more female role models and give women and men the same voice.

The semantic algorithm automatically measures how often women are mentioned in publications as well as appear in pictures. Could you explain how this works in more detail? Is the algorithm trained to recognize names and pictures of women?
The EqualVoice-Factor is an algorithm that is based on a model for processing speech (Named Entity Recognition) that identifies gender types in different types of content. It works fully automatically and can be used regardless of language, industry or format. We use it to analyze text, images and, as of this year, video content. ETH Zurich has scientifically evaluated the EqualVoice Factor – so an independent third party has verified that the EqualVoice Factor measures correctly and analyzes the right data without bias.

Is EqualVoice only about how often women appear in your media products, or also in what way you are reported on?
The data from the EqualVoice Factor are the basis. They show us how much we report about women. But of course it's also very important to see how women are reported on. This is why we developed the EqualVoice frame. That's about images, context, choice of words, but also the layout of our publications. But gender stereotypes don't just affect women – men are also affected.

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As far as I know, Ringier is doing pioneering work with this. What challenges did you face in developing the algorithm and collecting the data?
Fortunately, the collection of the data basis was relatively easy for us, because we have a very good, specially developed data tool at Ringier: All published articles can be analyzed on an ongoing basis. There were good and important discussions about how we count at EqualVoice. For example: If the American president is a man, our journalists cannot influence this. Should he still be counted in the EqualVoice factor? We quickly agreed: Yes, he should. Because this is the reality! It is important for us that the quantitative data is easily available for the editorial offices and that they do not have to count it manually. This gives them more time for discussions on EqualVoice issues in their daily editorial work.

The algorithm gives the "EqualVoice-Factor", i.e. a key figure on how the distribution of men and women in reporting is. How has this changed overall across all Ringier titles since its introduction?
Since the launch of EqualVoice in 2019, we have been able to ensure that more women have had their say in reporting overall. The GMMP's most recent measurement, published in September 2021, recorded a three percentage point increase in the proportion of women in Swiss media coverage to 28 percent. The study, whose approach is based on an annual count of the proportion of women, lifts Blick.ch to first place as the Swiss medium with the highest proportion of women in its coverage, at 49 percent.

The business media of Ringier Axel Springer Switzerland in particular report significantly more on women compared to the previous year. Over the entire four-year evaluation period, the EqualVoice-Factor Body Score of Bilanz and Handelszeitung each rose by more than 10%, followed by Beobachter with an increase of 8.6%. And the nice thing is: as we report more on women, more women are reading our publications.

In the past, the same male experts were always interviewed on certain topics. We have changed that with EqualVoice. We specifically look for female experts for certain topics and have built up a list of experts with over 400 people.

What is the objective? What "EqualVoice Factor" does Ringier want to achieve in the next few years?
Each publication sets its own goals. For example, the Handelszeitung has set itself the goal of having at least 25% EqualVoice-Factor in the first year. This corresponds to the proportion of women in Swiss management positions – we want to at least reflect reality.

Michael Ringier describes the initiative as an "opportunity to discover new and exciting faces" – how can that be understood?
Indeed as a great opportunity! In everyday editorial work, where there is often too little time, in the past the same male experts were always interviewed on certain topics. We have deliberately changed that with EqualVoice. We specifically look for female experts for certain topics, have built up a list of experts with over 400 people – and have thus been able to discover new, exciting faces and increase the diversity of perspectives and voices.

To what extent is Ringier a pioneer for other media houses? Are there interested parties in this technology?
At the EqualVoice Summit in May of this year, we were not only able to welcome high-profile guests such as Amal Clooney and Amy MacDonald in Zurich, but also to celebrate the expansion of our initiative to a global level. Axel Springer SE is integrating EqualVoice into its News Media brands. The first of these is the "BZ". Further media will follow.

WOMEN IN THE BUSINESS WORLD

Not only in the media, also in many job profiles, women are still underrepresented. The more so, the further one looks up the career ladder. There are female leaders, however, who are transforming the business world, for example in the area of life sciences and health care.

Discover the stories of women innovators and industry icons here.

Is the algorithm still being developed further, for example to include transgender, non-binary people, etc.?
We deliberately named the initiative EqualVoice and not FemaleVoice. We realize that the discussion about gender equality in the newsrooms is generating exciting discussions about other diversity dimensions. Currently, however, we feel that we need to make more progress on the equality between men and women before we focus on other diversity dimensions.

What is your long-term vision with "EqualVoice" – where do you want the journey to go?
Having successfully established EqualVoice in Ringier brands, we want to take the next step: Bring EqualVoice to a global level. The goal is to sensitize and unite the media industry beyond Switzerland for the topic of equality – and to establish a validated measurement standard for the visibility of women with the EqualVoice Factor.

About Katia Murmann

Katia Murmann Amirhosseini (*1980) is a Swiss-German journalist. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Swiss media portal blick.ch and Head of Digital and Member of the Executive Board of the Blick Group. Since March 2020, she has also been Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Swiss media database SMD/swissdox. She will leave Ringier as of August 1, but will remain associated with the media company in various projects - including EqualVoice. She will concentrate on expanding her mandates.

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