Elderly people are ‘underrepresented’ in the media

The results of a new study show that 91% of Spanish journalists believe that elderly people are ‘underrepresented’ in the media.hugo-aznar-amparo-suay

Underrepresented, poorly represented, stereotyped… the presence of elderly people in some media outlets is low in relation to their weight in society, and it is not adjusted to reality. These are some of the conclusions of the study conducted on Spanish journalists specialised on this subject, published in the international communication scientific journal El Profesional de la Información. The study was conducted by professor Hugo Aznar Gómez, director of the Observatory of Governance, Transparency and CSR of the CEU Cardenal Herrera University (CEU UCH) of Valencia, and by Amparo Suay Madrid, doctor in Communication by this university and teacher at the International University of Valencia (VIU).

The data obtained comes from questionnaires issued by the authors of the study to a hundred professionals in Spanish media outlets, specialised in contents on elderly people. As many as 91% of journalists polled believe that elderly people are not sufficiently present in the media in relation to their increasing economic position and demographic weight. For 85% of them, the media image of elderly people is not adjusted to reality, and for 82% is it derogatory, paternalistic or sensationalistic.

Regarding the information that the media offers on elderly people, 59.7% of journalists who took part in the study believe it is incomplete; 55.2% consider it is removed from the concerns of elderly people; and 52.2% believe it is not thematically diverse enough.

More careful with stereotypes

The study by CEU UCH and VIU researchers also asked specialised journalists if they believe the news items related to elderly people require a higher degree of care regarding stereotypes compared to other types of information: their response is affirmative in 70.1% of cases. They believe that media outlets do not show the active role that elderly people have in society. The press and journals are the outlets that put out the most suitable treatment of elderly people, obtaining a response percentage of 37.3% among polled journalists. The second place is for the radio, with 34.3%. The third is for digital media, with 22.4% and the fourth for television, with 6%. Only 7.5% of them believe the number of specialised programmes or media outlets on elderly people is sufficient. However, over half of specialised journalists, 55%, believe that the image of elderly people projected from the media is changing as their number increases.

Participation and representativeness

As Hugo Aznar, professor at the CEU UCH, says, “a deliberative democracy must be characterised by the principle of justice of participation for all people affected by the issues they are interested in. In many fields of social communication, those affected by information or media content are not duly taken into account, making its treatment incorrect or incomplete. And this is especially serious in the case where affected people are underrepresented, and therefore vulnerable in the media, as happens with elderly people.”

The teacher of the Master’s Degree on Gerontology and Attention Focused on People of the VIU, Amparo Suay, also highlights the lack of studies that analyse the treatment of information related to elderly people in the media, even though all those conducted agree that elderly people are underrepresented, both in written and audio-visual media outlets. “A prior publication, as part of my doctoral thesis on the presence and issues related to old age and ageing on the radio, directed by CEU UCH professors Hugo Aznar and Àngels Álvarez, reflected a presence of 4.65% on the issue of ageing, while the percentage of elderly people was 18.2% at that time.”

Ethical mechanisms and more participation

As many as 94% of professionals polled believe that ethical recommendations are needed to provide better information on elderly people: in this sense, the response is practically unanimous, which reflects a growing responsiveness on behalf of specialised professionals towards this type of contributions. Furthermore, 53.7% of people polled believe there should be a mechanism such as the Ombudsman specifically for issues related to elderly people.

“The results show that a more active participation of elderly people in the media so they can provide their own points of view on issues that affect them, would enable a contribution from social communication to the collective commitment on the new paradigm of active ageing. In a society where the proportion of elderly population will continue to grow, this task becomes an essential and urgent challenge,” as the authors of the study highlight.

Their work is framed within the Proyecto Puente I+D+I of the CEU-Banco Santander 2019-20 entitled “The self-regulation of communication”, whose principal researcher is CEU UCH professor Hugo Aznar.

More on the article “Tratamiento y participación de las personas mayores en los medios de comunicación: opinión cualificada de los periodistas especializados” in the journal El Profesional de la Información: