Australian television news devotes more airtime to horse racing than all women's sport combined, a benchmark report on the representation of women's sport in the Australian media has found.

Towards a Level Playing Field: Sport and gender in the Australian media, commissioned by the Australian Sports Commission, is the most comprehensive media analysis of Australian sporting coverage to date.

The report includes both a qualitative and quantitative analysis of sports coverage in national, metropolitan and regional TV, radio, newspapers and magazines.

Produced jointly by UNSW's Journalism and Media Research Centre (JMRC) and Media Monitors, the report finds that years of affirmative action campaigning have done little to address the disproportionate coverage female sport receives on Australian television.

Reports of women in sport made up just nine per cent of all sports coverage in Australian television news, while male sport occupied 81 per cent of content.

Lead researcher, Professor Catharine Lumby, said despite the shocking imbalance of coverage, the research showed there has been a significant change in the way female athletes are represented in stories.

"Our research looked very closely at the language and images used to portray female athletes and we found, to our surprise, that there were very few examples of them being trivialised or inappropriately sexualised. Australia's female athletes are portrayed in the contemporary media as competitive, driven and successful," she said.

"That's the good news. The bad news is the lack of news and coverage of female athletes and women's sport generally, despite very clear evidence that Australians love participating in and watching women's sport."

How media outlets rated: some key findings

The study also found that female sport received more favourable coverage than male sport with the misconduct of male athletes often being the focus of media reports. However, male athletes were discussed in the media regardless of their success, while female athletes needed to win to secure media coverage.

Other key contributors to the report were UNSW media studies academic Dr Helen Caple and Media Monitors Senior Portfolio Analyst Dr Kate Greenwood.

Media contact: Fran Strachan, UNSW Media Office | | 9385 8732 | 0429 416 070