As a new report makes clear, urgent action is required to eradicate sexism in the industryby Rory Palmer / April 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
The media establishment must find the resolve to confront some challenging home truths in relation to the experiences of women working in the sector.
Two important and inter-connected sets of issues were considered in a report voted on in the European Parliament last week: the experience of women working in the media profession and the ongoing challenge to tackle abuse, harassment and hostility towards journalists.
Through my work on the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee on this report, I met with organisations representing media professionals who provided me with key insights into the day-to-day experience of women journalists. Large parts of the media remain male-dominated and recruitment and career progression can be deeply imbalanced. We have seen recently unacceptable revelations about the pay differentials of high profile men and women at the BBC; scandalous practice made known because of courageous women speaking out.
It seems employment culture and practice across the media industry has inbuilt bias against women. For example, the widespread use of short-term, temporary contracts with little or zero provision for parental leave is a factor which clearly disadvantages women. Digitalisation is changing the media industry landscape and in places creating a downward pressure on contract arrangements, pay and conditions, leading to more and more journalists and media professionals finding themselves in precarious employment situations.
I don’t just want to see a media proactively commenting and reporting on the need to smash glass ceilings, I want the media establishment to demonstrate that it has smashed its own glass ceilings for women. The media’s unique role in shaping public opinion and guiding debate means “leading by example” in this area is particularly pertinent. It requires practical solutions to some of the problems highlighted in the report approved in the EP.
The problem doesn’t just lie within the media itself, however. As unstable employment practice has become more widespread across the media industry, we have seen at the same time the alarming explosion of abuse and harassment of journalists. Sadly it is most often female journalists who find themselves the targets of the most violent and sexualised abuse. The International Federation of Journalists told me that 44 per cent of female journalists had suffered online abuse: this must stop.
Social media platforms need to do more to remove material that is hateful and violent. A strong, independent press is vital in democratic society: reporting on important issues and events, lifting the lid on and pursuing injustices and holding those with power to account. All journalists must be able to go about this important work free from fear of harassment and violence: online and offline.
Unfair employment practices, outdated male-dominated culture and the proliferation of abuse and harassment directed at female journalists has created a toxic combination demanding urgent action. We need to see practical measures and cultural change in the industry but we also need the dial reset completely on decency and respect in public debate.
The underpinning premise of the report is that to advance the cause of equality in society, we must also advance equality in the media. The press has been a crucial lever in the cause of social progress and this must continue. The media must itself be a place visibly committed to equality.
Gender equality in media professions is not an abstract concept: it represents a very real challenge requiring action. Failure is not an option.