WMC News & Features

Taking stock of women in media globally

Photo Caption: "CNN's Christiane Amanpour, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety"

Among the goals set by the Platform for Action adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 20 years ago was a section on women and media: focusing on both increasing women’s participation in creating media and promoting “a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.”

The Global Media Monitoring Project’s ongoing research still shows women at 24 percent of the people heard or read about in print, radio, and television news across the world.

The Beijing +20 Review Conference in September will review the status of women and the media at a time of crisis for the media, including the narrowing space for freedom of expression (FOE) and impunity in attacks against journalists. The Beijing Platform demands that governments “guarantee the freedom of the media and its subsequent protection within the framework of national law.” Reiterated at the 2010 Review was “the undeniable link between freedom of expression and women’s human rights, which include the right to express their opinions, to have access to their own means of communication and to work in the existing mass media.”

Barriers to FOE are rising globally, with new limits to civil liberties, privacy, and right to information, for which states often claim a national security basis. Where media are harassed and shut down, and where journalists are jailed, threatened, or killed, the truth and accountability of public and private institutions are compromised. Women in the media are in double jeopardy as they struggle for their share of this shrinking, increasingly dangerous pie.

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), posits that the “global info eco-system” is changing. “Governments used to be inclined to [provide] physical security as they understood that intolerance/poor security was damaging,” Simon notes. “The new calculus is that they don’t need international media—they can pick a fight.”

Two women are leading an international campaign to make governments more accountable for the two linked issues of FOE and journalist safety—Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, and CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who was recently appointed UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety. “Some of us are lucky to live in countries that are democratic, with freedom of expression; my main objective is to try to lobby others for systems to redress this endless impunity,” Amanpour explains, referring to the increasing numbers of journalists killed on the job—more than 700 in the last decade.

A 2014 global survey of women media professionals by the International News Safety Institute and the International Women’s Media Foundation found that two thirds had experienced “intimidation, threats or abuse in relation to their work, ranging in severity from name-calling to death threats,” mostly perpetrated by male bosses, supervisors, police, and coworkers.

UNESCO’s Plan of Action for journalist safety is based, according to Bokova, “firmly on the decisions of the governing bodies who have asked me and the organization, despite setbacks, to move [towards strengthening] civil and political rights. Promoting FOE is linked with sustainable development and peace.”

UNESCO has introduced in 32 countries what it calls gender-sensitive indicators for media reporting—a framework to measure and advocate initiatives that strengthen “equality between women and men working in the media, and equality in news reporting on women and men.” UNESCO has also initiated the Global Alliance on Media and Gender, an advocacy movement promoting gender equality in media content and staffing. It includes 600 NGOs and academic institutions. (WMC is member of this alliance.)

The UNESCO/UN Women Asia-Pacific joint survey, with the International Federation of Journalists, catalogues harsh working conditions for women journalists in the region, including lack of safe transport, denial of press club memberships and access to press conferences, sexual harassment, violent threats, and assassinations. Only 20 percent have secure higher-level editorial positions.

Last month, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that calls on parties to conflict and all member states to create a safe environment “in law and practice” for media professionals “online as well as offline,” monitored by UN peacekeeping missions. Bokova calls the resolution a “milestone in our thinking.” Christophe Deloire, director-general of Reporters Without Borders, called for referral by the Council to the International Criminal Court, in effect terming attacks on journalists as crimes against humanity.

CPJ takes a more proactive approach in high-risk countries where “powerful non-state actors” are threats to journalists. In Colombia, CPJ’s delegation met with the president to discuss a state-run safety mechanism that has been implemented. When journalists report threats, the government provides security and relocation. “This has made a difference,” confirms Simon.

While governments bear the main responsibility for protection of journalists, New Zealand Ambassador Gerard von Bohemen, speaking before the UNSC, recognized the “vulnerabilities faced by local journalists….lack[ing] the equipment and resources to keep them safe” and urged “media organizations to take responsibility for all their staff, regardless of their national status.” Senior journalist Raza Rumi, who fled Pakistan after an assassination attempt, wryly remarks, “The cameras are insured but the humans are not.”

In 2012, Tongam Rina, associate editor of The Arunachal Times, was shot in the stomach while reporting on the environmental impact of 150 planned dams in northeast India. Staunch support from her media house, press club, and union finally forced the police to post a high reward for information, leading to the surrender of the main accused a year later. Rina, still in recovery, lauds her colleagues’ courage. “Most are there because of the love of the job,” she said. “Facilities are abysmal and working conditions are atrocious, [but] many young people are still choosing to join the profession.”

“We journalists its who we are; we will do it at whatever cost,” says Amanpour.




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