Graphic: Brad Collicott.
Kate O’Brien, President of Al Jazeera America, reframed the issue by saying, “By failing women, [news] is actually failing men and women” by limiting opportunity and not creating awareness.
Early discussion between panelists, “witnesses” and audience focused on whether current news simply represented “reality”.
Sarah Macharia, GMMP global coordinator (photo left, speaking during the debate), told participants, “People say news reflects the world. It does not reflect the world - the world does not have 75% men and 25% women….There needs to be more effort put into women being brought into the news agenda.”
While some emphasized that news content should be based on importance, not gender, others pointed out, “If at the top of the pyramid you get one type of person… you get one type of news.”
O’Brien said, “The world that we live in is not equal… to say that world leaders are mostly men abdicates our responsibility. “ She said we have to push for appropriate representation in the “framework of responsible journalism.”
Paula Escobar, Editor-in-Chief of Magazines at Empresa Periodística, Chile, also highlighted that the portrayal of women in media has not represented reality, and referred to a campaign against the use of photoshop to change the look of women. “Women were thrilled that they are portrayed as they are, not as some kind of ideal.”
Actions that could be taken by news organizations for greater gender equality generated the greatest debate.
Verashni Pillay, Editor-in-Chief, Mail and Guardian, South Africa, said quota systems are important ways to ensure space and opportunity are made. “What we're forgetting is that we're dealing with the effect of a millennia of patriarchy,” she said.
“The kind of women who are rising to the top of their game are of a very particular kind of woman. Women who are gutsy, who are ambitious, who are able to push through and muscle our way to the top”, she added.
Ben de Pear, Editor of Channel 4 News in the UK disagreed with setting quotas, but said monitoring was critical. Citing his own channel’s monitoring practices, he said, “Over a month you need to be aware of who is on the news.”
Recruitment practices by news agencies, as well as conscious balance in journalism were highlighted as necessary steps for longer term change.
O’Brien added that, “By creating opportunities for women who are experts” to be seen and heard will influence a young girl to become such an expert herself.
Chaired by BBC Presenter Philippa Thomas, the debate had dynamic exchanges among panelists, “witnesses” bringing specific challenges”, audience members and listeners participating on social media.
The debate was also filmed, and will be broadcast on BBC World Service Television this weekend, 28-29 November.
Coverage related to the debate: