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A stronger voice for women in the media

8 March 2017

Fiona Davidson

Nevertheless, she persisted.

It’s almost 50 years since equality laws were introduced and yet women are still fighting to be heard in the newsroom and in the news. Women in senior editorial roles are in the minority. Diversity in the newsroom is sadly lacking. This is reflected in the news agenda, determined by men – often, white middle-aged men (although we shouldn’t use stereotypes).

Women are still judged on appearance and as they get older, they are often unseen and unheard. The invisible woman is a common complaint, both in terms of recognition of their years of experience and their achievements as a journalist.

Or in terms of being reported, a woman murder victim through domestic violence can be virtually ignored, as if she hadn’t existed, while the perpetrator is almost eulogised in the search for possible motivation by certain sectors of the press.

Just look at the media focus on the shoes worn by Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon and prime minister Theresa May – two women who have achieved significant positions in politics yet they are defined by their shoes. Women in politics face greater scrutiny than men about their personal life and their family situation.  

Then there’s the victim blaming – whether it’s blaming young women for what they wear, where they go, what they drink, if they are sexually attacked or raped. Sky News presenter Stephen Dixon recently caused outrage when he questioned whether women had to take responsibility if they were out in short skirts and drunk. In his defence, he said he was playing devil’s advocate.  

Or the tabloid headlines about the domestic abuse cases, where the "nagging wife", the "cheating girlfriend", the "lazy partner" or the "woman who dumped her husband", caused the abuser to "snap" and attack his victim.

Then we have double standards where certain sectors of the press adopt the moral high ground, calling out the sexualisation of women in the media, yet publishing photographs of semi-clad females, always young, always attractive, always slim, just to illustrate their point. Or reporting on hurtful and abusive sexist comments directed at women but almost adopting them with relish in the lurid headlines causing further hurt, offence and humiliation.

But it’s not all bad. Things are improving in Scotland at least with the NUJ working with organisations representing women victims of abuse and media editors to foster more responsible coverage of difficult issues. 

The Stronger Voice for Women in the Media project, funded by the Union Modernisation Fund through the Scottish TUC, comes at a time when there is growing recognition of the everyday challenges women face and the need for the media to report more responsibly on issues such as sex crimes and violence against women and its role in educating society.

Recent examples include a new campaigning and networking group, Women in Journalism Scotland launched by Scotland’s first minister. Entries to Zero Tolerance’s Write to End Violence Against Women competition of published articles, supported by NUJ Scotland, show the growing awareness of issues that affect women and the role of the media in identifying the real cause of violence against women.

But they are not only women’s issues, they affect everyone, men and women. It’s important that all those working in the media, the NUJ, the wider trade union movement, management and groups represented in the media all work together to improve the situation

The project will address the key characteristics identified in the Scottish government-backed Fair Work Framework – to provide workers with an effective voice, opportunity, job security, career fulfilment and respect in the workplace.

There are many other issues affecting women in journalism, the macho culture, job insecurity, precarious working, long hours, work/life balance, lack of promotion opportunities, lack of female representation on current affairs debates, pregnancy and maternity issues, online abuse, sexism and equal pay.

The project aims to provide opportunities for women’s voices to be heard, as well as those of men, with a major event for women and men both in the media and who care about the media and the wider trade union movement culminating in a call for action to move the cause forward. After all, if women aren’t involved at senior editorial level, this can have consequences for 51 per cent of potential readers and audience. Equality and diversity from the top down and the bottom up is good for business, and society.

Fiona Davidson is the Women’s Project Worker for the NUJ in Scotland.

Tags: , gender, discrimination, women, women in the nuj, women's rights, scotland, parliament scotland, ethics