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Less opportunities and less wages female journalists face as they fight for equal rights

LAUSANNE, July 29, 2020: As a 19-year-old cadet journalist working for a newspaper in the late 1970’s, Roslyn Morris would write “all manner of articles”, take and develop photos, produce newspaper supplements, drive the paper to the printers and even deliver stacks of papers to newsagents. “I felt very important doing this,” she recalls. However, she realized years later that her boss at the time, a man, “was being paid quite handsomely for my work” and she resolved to not let that happen again.

“Throughout my career working as a TV, radio and newspaper journalist in Australia I was a member of the Australian Journalists’ Association and covered by an award that dictated salaries according to experience for both men and women,” she explains.

The AIPS Honorary Secretary General shared this story during the penultimate session of the AIPS Seminar entitled “the Cost of Reporting while Female”. In the meeting, held via Zoom on Tuesday, Morris (Australia), alongside Leila Behferhat (Algeria), Christine Brennan (USA) and Rica Roy (India), established that lack of respect and limited opportunities – influenced by a deep-rooted partriachal mentality – are some of the factors fueling gender pay gap in society.

Unfortunately, many women journalists across the globe still have to work more for less or even no pay, decades after Morris’ experience. 

MALE DOMINATED HIERARCHY She may have been “fortunate enough to never be paid any less than a man of the same experience”, but she points out an underlying discrepancy. “The problem is the entrenched male dominated hierarchy where men flourish and women’s careers and thus remuneration remain stagnant. In many cases more qualified women are overlooked for promotions and pay rises in favour of men.” 

In explaining lack of opportunities, Morris shared a story of two young women who were assigned to report on a breaking news story involving several deaths in a small community. They carried out this task so passionately and painstakingly; from door knocking for interviews to writing up the story as it developed. But all that hardwork was sacrificed at the altar of sexism so that their male counterpart, who was not involved in the reporting, could “get experience”, according to the senior editor.

The lady, who narrated this incident to Morris, was taken off television coverage of the breaking news story for the male journalist, who also got his name on the byline when the story got published online.  

“Two young women were sent out to do the tough, emotional, sensitive work, and (not that public credit is ever why we do the job) a young man was given the credit and subsequent opportunities that arose from it,” Morris says.

EQUAL TREATMENT Leila Behferhat could not agree less. She has been working for the Algerian public television since 2001 and is one of the first Arab commentators on both women’s and men’s football matches on Algerian television. “To start with, we can say that female sports journalists in the Arab world are being looked at from a perspective of inferiority,” she observes, adding that women are largely undervalued as their opinions and suggestions are usually regarded as unimportant.

“It is important to treat us with equality, respect my opinions and suggestions just as you do the men’s, by doing so, it means that you have to adopt my ideas, count on me in leadership roles, trust me, and believe in my administrative capabilities,” she states.

Just as Morris learnt from her research, even in some countries where female journalists are paid the same as their male counterparts, disparity still exists in other rights and benefits, including opportunities for career advancement.

She also found out that some countries like the former Soviet state Moldova are still in “the dark ages” when it comes to pay parity. “I’m told the pay gap doesn’t exist as such, because there are currently only two female sports journalists. Young women wanting to follow a career in sports journalism have to work extra hard, and in many cases, according to my colleague, are not compensated – they do it out of love. And this eagerness is exploited,” she laments.  

EFFECT OF THE PANDEMIC In India, the percentage of women that join the workforce has fallen to 24 from 27 in 2014. “India ranks 120 among 131 countries in female labour force participation rate – rates of gender based violence remain very high,” Rica Roy, Deputy Editor at New Delhi Television, says. And the situation is getting worse because of the global pandemic.

Regarding the fate of women in journalism, especially  with the pandemic dealing a crippling blow to the newspaper industry, Rica says “the pages that employ women more – culture, feature, society, entertainment, and environment were few of the firsts to be knocked out.”

She continues: “While in Digital media there are a lot more women, in TV the numbers have shown a decline. Till 2017, I worked in a team that had 10 women sports journalists, today I am the only one.”

THE GLASS IS HALF-FULL But Christine Brennan is optimistic for the future. “During the pandemic, we will likely lose ground on the battle for pay equity. But demographics and the march of women wanting careers in sports is only increasing,” she smiles. “I remember the days when 20-30 women wrote sports in America. Now there are more than 1,000. The glass is half-full for sure.”

Brennan, who has covered 18 Olympics in a row since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, is grateful for the impact of Title IX on her career; from when she was a six-sport athlete in high school till today that she is the USA Today’s national sports columnist and a commentator for CNN, ABC News, NPR and PBS NewsHour. According to her, Title IX offered incredible opportunities for women and girls to play sports and also to have careers in sports. “I feel fortunate and lucky,” she says as she shared a photo of her first Olympics coverage 36 years ago.

POSITIONS OF POWER Brennan, who is also a best-selling author and a nationally-known speaker, believes “women can make a lot of money in sports journalism. It’s about longevity and about rising to positions of authority and power”. She has been USA Today’s national columnist for more than 20 years, worked for ABC News for 25 years, worked for CNN for six years, NPR for 25 years and PBS NewsHour for 20 years.

She continues: “USA Today’s sports editor, my boss, is a woman, the second woman to hold that job in a decade. That makes a difference. She is the boss. Being the top editor, being the top columnist – that’s where the prestige is, and it makes sense that that’s where the salaries are.”

BETTER THAN A MAN In Roy’s words: “For a woman to make a mark in a man’s domain like sports journalism, she needs to be better than a man, each day of her life. At times even that is not good enough. It isn’t just about making a breakthrough but also holding onto the position by performing every day.” 

Speaking of other ways to level the playing field in terms of money, Brennan advices that: “If you are a print journalist, do TV work. Write books. Give speeches. Become an expert in a few specific areas and become the go-to person for everyone.” Just as Roy also emphasises on the need to be multi-skilled.

“When I started doing television work, I didn’t get paid a dime, not one dollar, but it led to the contracts later on in my life and I was in my thirties at that point,” Brennan says.

While encouraging young journalists, she explains that getting to where she is now was not instant. When she started in Miami, she had a small salary right out of college but she “

was thrilled to be doing what I love and I wasn’t worried about money”. She was thinking about opportunities and adventures.

OPEN DISCUSSION During the open discussion, Mirian Bacho from Venezuela shared her story of the challenges she has had to face in getting a job. It was said that hiring a woman in sports would incure more expenses because an extra room would be required for the coverage of events. After she had done enough to earn a promotion, a faction of the board of directors didn’t think she had “enough skills and was responsible enough” for the position because those under her are men, who are older than her. But she scaled that hurdle as well. However, when the ownership of the newspaper changed, the new owner frustrated her efforts and made her resign from her position and nothing was done about the situation.

Chidiebere Ezeani from Nigeria used to work for a TV station in Nigeria but is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Sports Management in Seoul, South Korea. She lamented that “being a sports journalist in Nigeria as a female was one of the most difficult things to do”, especially with regards to lack of opportunities.In the first place, “there are hardly any media houses in Nigeria with more than one woman as a permanent staff in the sports team”, then when it comes to covering international tournaments, the male colleagues are usually considered first.

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