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Media managers shiver at the idea of gender policies

Written by Arthur Okwemba at the GEM Summit in South Africa

RecordingJust how challenging moves to have media houses adopt gender policies is going to be emerged yesterday at the GEM Summit when participants expressed concern over the cold reception the idea gets from media owners and managers across Southern Africa.

Some participants who have been approaching media houses for information on women and men employees and employment practices within their newsroom, with a view of helping them develop a gender policy, are having a rough time. 

There seems to be as many reasons cited as there are media houses. Faith-owned media houses and those established by men appear to express the strongest opposition to the idea of gender policies.

According to the researchers, in Tanzania and Lesotho, managers at the Catholic owned radio and television stations argue that putting in place policies that will ensure women are influential positions goes against the church’s position on women and leadership. 

On the other hand, some male media proprietors feel that they cannot allow women to hold influential positions within media companies they painfully put together. Others feel that such policies are a threat to their positions. 

“There is this misconception among male media managers that introducing gender policies are a strategy to help women take over their influential positions,” says Gladness Mumo, Coordinator of the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) Good Governance project in Tanzania.

This way of thinking and perceptions are behind the poor show and difficulties women are facing in their quest to break the glass ceiling and hold influential positions within media houses. Gender policies are designed to help media companies address the twin issues of gender disparities within their management structures and editorial content in addition to employment practices.

A study conducted recently in South Africa indicated how serious the problem of gender disparity was in media houses. According to the Glass Ceiling Two: An Audit of Women and Men in South African Newsrooms conducted by Gender Links in collaboration with South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) and published in 2007, on average, women earn twenty percent less than men in newsrooms; and black women earn twenty five percent less than white men.

“While there are now roughly equal numbers of women and men in South African newsrooms, women, and especially black women, are still scarce in senior and top management echelons, as well as in the hard news beats,” the study says.

The study findings show women to occupy less than 30 percent of top management posts and constitute one out of three senior managers in newsrooms. In contrast, they comprise 48 percent of junior managers and almost 70 percent of all semi-skilled workers in the newsroom. However, others like Kaya and Primedia had 100 percent and 78 percent women respectively, at top and senior management levels. 

The main objective of this study, which was a follow-up to the qualitative research released by SANEF in August 2006, was to provide quantitative information on where women are located within the hierarchy and work of newsrooms as well as analysing conditions of service and employment practices that have a bearing on gender disparities in newsrooms.

Gender advocates strongly believe this skewed representation of women in the media as captured in this study is to blame for gender insensitive reporting. While this group considers having more women in senior positions in newsrooms as a prerequisite to influencing the editorial content and ensuring gender equality in employment and promotions, there are those who think otherwise.

One school of thought believes that putting more women into influential positions or having more women media owners does not necessarily translate into a better media product that addresses gender issues.

Image“High visibility and influence of women in media houses has different effects on how women issues are covered and there is no guarantee gender politics will fall in place by virtue of having a woman editor or owner,” cautions Ammu Joseph, an Indian journalist and an author of several books on gender and media.

Addressing participants at a session on Research and Monitoring of media houses at the ongoing GEM summit at Kopanong Hotel, Johannesburg, Joseph further called on gender advocates to shift from focusing on false glass ceilings, and instead give more attention to business departments of newspapers, which are now having immense influence on the editorial content. 

“We need to address the position and influence of women in the business side of the newspaper and not only the editorial aspects where editors are increasing having little influence on the content,” she says.

Speaking during the same session, Rosemary Okello-Orlale, the Executive Director of African Woman and Child Features, Kenya, requested gender advocates address other issues beyond the glass ceiling. 

“In the recent past we have witnessed women taking positions in media that were traditionally held by men. But these women are not staying in these positions long enough due to the harsh environment.” 

In addition to this, participants proposed the need to address the reasons why so many women graduating from schools of journalisms are running away from active reporting.

“We do not have a critical mass of women journalists in the newsrooms. The unchanging structures, practices and attitudes from male colleagues within media settings make women depart even before or just after gaining enough experience and knowledge to hold management positions,” says Joseph, who is also the author of Women in Journalism: Making News.

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