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Last month, an Egyptian television station suspended eight female newscasters for being too ‘fat’ for TV. Broadcast news websites around the world see a range of offensive comments targeted at newscasters. Is all of this justified criticism or is it sexism masquerading as feedback? Should reporters have a certain ‘look’ for them to be taken seriously? Or has social media changed broadcast journalism’s rigid concern for appearances? What matters more, the content or the messenger?

Looks vs. appearances
Viewers expect a certain standard

Mr Praveen Shankar

When we view a newscast, we expect the presenters to be well-dressed and look credible. There could be others who can get away with a less classic look, but not someone who represents an established organisation. It is about what we perceive each news channel offers that we come to expect a certain standard.

In some industries and roles, there is less expectation placed on appearances, but for the majority, there is a more defined expectation. Appearance is an important factor in customer-facing industries like banking, hospitality, airlines, or wherever there is customer interaction. However, the fact remains that well-groomed individuals exude more confidence and generally enhance positive energy at the workplace.

In the case of news organisations, the reporter’s gender doesn’t matter. It’s not about looks, but appearances; there is a distinction. In visual media, beauty is not necessarily about one’s physical attributes, but rather about presentation. Otherwise, we subconsciously notice something is less than ideal, which can distract us from what the person is saying and affect our engagement level.

According to US-based communications expert at University of California, Los Angeles, Albert Mehrabian, only seven per cent of televisual impact is created by words and content, and 38 per cent is from vocal delivery, while 55 per cent is visual – facial expressions, dress and body language. These statistics explain the attention today’s news readers devote to reporters’ appearance – but also why that appearance is increasingly likely to detract from the gravitas of the message being conveyed.

From Mr Praveen Shankar
Partner at a trading company, in Dubai

Women receive harsher judgment

Ms Maria Ahmad

We live in a fast-paced society where everything, from technology to people, is moving at an extraordinary speed, yet sexism is still a major problem that women in media face almost every day. People would like to label their comments as criticism, but it is clear that the world is still facing issues with gender stereotypes. If it was a male on your screen, you would probably pay less attention to his appearance. However, if roles are reversed, people would be standing in queue to remark on how a female looks.

While female reporters – on social media or broadcast TV – have a different category of followers, they are still judged for the smallest things, such as having on too much or too little makeup, wearing too decent or totally indecent clothing, being too slim or overweight. People are never happy with any sort of appearance, which makes me think that it is becoming human nature to criticise women, no matter how they appear. Does it mean that our society follows news for the sake of critiquing female reporters rather than following the news content? I would like to think otherwise.

News updates, whether presented on social media or traditional media, should be watched for the content rather than the anchor or reporter. The content they are presenting is far more important than how they appear. This also gives many female reporters a chance to follow their passion without being discouraged for not having a good body or perfect appearance. Media should not be a source that invades a woman’s privacy; rather it should be a source that delivers information and news to the society. That’s what it is made for. Chauvinism needs to be broken and people need to stop using media as a way to force attributes on women!

From Ms Maria Ahmad
Student, based in Dubai

How you look affects how people see you

Ali Mahmoud Fahs

Appearance is very important, regardless of one’s job title or position. This is especially true in the media industry, where reporters may be presenting to thousands, if not millions, of people from different cultures, backgrounds and religions.

We live among people who are quick to judge others. The reporter has to look educated and presentable at all times. Speaking for myself, whether I’m going to work, the gym or out with friends, I always try to look my best. Good presentation builds confidence and reflects positive body language, which makes me feel good.

You never know who you may meet or what opportunity may present itself to you. Again, this relates back to the reporter, as anyone could be watching, whether that be royalty or somebody affected by the news, which is being shared. Even competitor news channels may be watching the reporter’s every move. As an example, if you went to the doctor, and he was young, unshaven and with wrinkled clothing, you might not trust him with your life due to the impression of laziness and lack of experience.

Another example - if you are looking for a personal trainer, you are more likely to hire someone who has the body you wish for, rather than an overweight individual. In many countries, news reporters are role models, expected to be intelligent and up-to-date with current affairs while portraying correct factual information.

As a viewer, I am not seeing the reporter in the flesh, but on a screen. That means appearance is broken down into looks, clothing and body language. It is also crucial to project one’s voice correctly with charisma. Overall appearance is critical, as that and speech, are the only things reporters can portray within their job role.

From Ali Mahmoud Fahs
Operations coordinator, based in Dubai

Visual experience
Choose the journalists that go on camera

Fiona van Buren

News organisations are judged by everyone who reads or views the news. In the case of a newspaper, which is often faceless, the criteria consists of written articles, which people can read, and the layout of the paper, which causes people to make their judgment on the visual content.

Once journalists behind the articles are brought onto a live reporting stage through ‘live’ feeds, the newspaper must be extremely considerate of the new medium and visual appearance of the reporter. It would be correct to say that everyone should judge the news content only. Unfortunately, this is not the reality, and people do form judgments and opinions based on the way someone looks, before they know or speak to them. Elements of racism and sexism also come into play. I would like to say that we can steer past these mindsets, but I don’t believe many people can.

Reporters should reflect the image of the news organisation, therefore they should consider which image they would like to portray. Personally, I would not consider a very young, untidily dressed, timid reporter as professional or knowledgeable. I would pay more attention to a well-dressed, confident adult reporting. Assuming, of course, that the content of the report was well-researched. Sex, race, religion, weight or culture of the reporter should not affect how seriously a reporter is taken, nor should the age, but it often is.

Certain stories do require a certain look, not only for the story to be seriously considered by the public, but also as certain stories are relevant to specific readerships. For example, a culturally sensitive story about Haj would be more professionally reported on by a respectfully dressed adult, male or female Middle Eastern person. While a financial story out of Dubai would be more appropriately reported on by a smartly dressed, well-spoken expert in the field.

Personally, I prefer smartly dressed, professional, confident reporters. It is very clear that some reporters may be fantastic journalists, but are horrified to be in front of a camera. Don’t put them in the spotlight; leave it to reporters who love to bask in the limelight!

From Fiona van Buren
Equestrian manager, based in Dubai