Media stakeholders are raising concerns over the lack of gender-inclusive reporting in East African newsrooms. They want concerted efforts to ensure more female journalists get equal opportunities like their male counterparts.
Whether in the newsroom or the field, in a panel discussion or in selecting analysts, media disparities in news coverage, especially on women’s matters, is a perennial challenge.
At a recent workshop in Nairobi, various industry actors raised their concerns. They espoused the action plans needed to ensure that Kenyan newsrooms and the wider sub-region attain gender-inclusive reporting.
East Site examines what has contributed to the lack of gender-inclusive reporting and suggests possible remedies.
Lack of comprehensive gender policies
The absence of comprehensive gender policies is particularly prevalent in legacy media houses across the three East African countries. In Kenya, for instance, out of the 15 mainstream media houses, only the Nation Media Group and the Standard Media Group have Gender desks.
Unfortunately, many media houses and media managers disregard the establishment of such desks, which would have helped amplify the input of women not just in storytelling but also as an aspect of inclusivity in the newsrooms.
Only a handful of media houses have put measures with clear guidelines on how victims of sexual harassment can find help.
In addition, there is a lack of robust implementation of these guidelines, and most media houses lack policies to deal with the vice.
Inadequate capacity among the media practitioners
The inadequacy in capacity is evident in how media practitioners interrogate, analyse and report topical issues through various lenses, including gender and human rights.
Few women leaders
Most leadership opportunities are given or occupied by men. The situation is dire in print media, where most journalists and managers are male, leaving women at the periphery.
Allocation of duties
The distribution of journalistic tasks in the media often takes a gender dimension. In most cases, “softer stories” are assigned to women while their male counterparts get to cover the “hard stories”. Moreover, reporting on gender is still seen as a “woman’s thing.”
“Media houses should encourage equal participation of women in producing and writing of hard news. Let’s have more women covering the hard news; politics, science, governance, business and many others,” Churchill Otieno, the president of Kenya Editors Guild (KEG), said at the workshop.
Societal stereotypes in newsrooms
For long, societal stereotypes have impeded the growth of women in society and even in the newsroom. Because society views women as the “weaker gender”, they have been side-lined in some critical roles. There is a misconception that women cannot execute certain roles. A perception Otieno says media houses must end.
Addressing the above challenges to gender-inclusive reporting will not be easy. However, the workshop suggested the following tips:
The teaching of gender-inclusive reporting in journalism schools
Many journalists enter the job market while still gender blind due to a lack of gender training – unfortunately, the ignorance becomes evident in their reporting.
Setting up gender-responsive policies
Gender-responsive policies would ensure that media owners employ more women in diverse roles.
The policies include an immediate review of prohibitive laws and administrative procedures (in both print and electronic media) that impede women’s advancement in career development.
Media houses in East Africa should encourage women’s equal and full participation in gathering, writing and producing hard news (such as in politics, crime, violence and science and technology).
Gathering data on gender representation
Media houses should generate comprehensive data on gender representation and preferably publish it quarterly in print and electronic media.
Such data will help identify gender irresponsive media houses and assist in determining what barriers exist in giving fair coverage to men and women.
There should be a deliberate effort to increase access and participation of women in media reporting and coverage through capacity building and training.
Sensitisation of media houses on gender-balanced reporting
Media houses must adapt and apply gender parity policies and expand and build a fair and balanced reporting of women’s issues, including women’s rights and child rights.
Media houses should reinforce or expand alliances and partnerships and leverage resources to train women reporters in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzanian in leadership, management and governance.
According to Otieno, who, apart from being the KEG president, also serves as the Head of Digital at Nation Media Group, for media houses to realise gender-inclusive reporting, they must exercise the responsibility bestowed on them as the Fourth Estate.
“The media in Kenya is a force to reckon with and it comes with some responsibilities. The media speaks for all Kenyans but gender mainstreaming must begin within the media,” he said.
“We tend to a large extent lack stand-alone gender policies even in the mainstream.”
Pia Weurlander, who works with UN Women, said the organisation would continue to support the implementation of constitutional commitments to achieving gender equality and empowerment of women.
Betty Sungura, the chief executive officer of the National Gender and Equality Commission, also shares Weurlander’s views. According to Sungura, there is a need to re-affirm principles of gender-sensitive and inclusive reporting focusing on special interest groups. She also called for the identification of opportunities for media to highlight and track incidences of exclusion, including gender-based violence persecution directed at women rights defenders and journalists.
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