The recent editorial changes at the Nations Media Group Uganda (NMG-U) showed a rather common challenge the media industry grapples with. Out of the over 10 top editorial positions that were announced, only two were occupied by females.
This is a not a problem of the NMG-U or Uganda alone though. It is one the media across the world faces. According to the 2011 study by the International Women Media Foundation, globally, 73 per cent of the top management jobs in the media were occupied by men compared to 27 per cent by women. In the United States, the American Society of News Editors reported in 2013 that women accounted for only 34.6 per cent of supervising positions.
In South Africa, women occupy only 19 per cent of top management positions, according to the South African National Editors Forum. Their report is as recent as 2018! The East African Journalists Association reported that in East Africa, only 3 per cent of female journalists sit at the decision-making organs of their media institutions.
The media should be of interest to all because it is an important function as both producer of narratives and narrator to public audiences.
It is only when women are equal partners in the multi-layered work of deciding what constitutes a story that we can paint a more textured, accurate picture of the worlds that we all – male and female – inhabit.
The power of the media is in its crucial role of framing public debates and shaping public perceptions by selecting the issues to be reported and how they are presented. UNESCO, the UN education and scientific body, notes that to accurately mirror societies and to produce coverage that is complete and diverse, it is critical that the news reflect the world as seen through the eyes of women and men. That’s achieved at editorial level.
For my Master of Arts in Gender Studies at Makerere University, I did a thesis on gender and decision-making in the print media in Uganda. I documented experiences of newspaper editors regarding participation and decision-making on news content and newsroom culture in the print media in an effort to realise a gender responsive and inclusive media.
The study established that the number of females in editorial positions decreased as one rises up the editorial ladder. The number of males increased as one ascends up the editorial ladder. There were more male journalists at the level of managing editor for example. There were more female sub-editors, positions at the lower editorial level. With more senior editorial positions occupied by males, decision-making in the print media in Uganda is largely conscripted in favour of males.
Reproductive roles were the biggest limiting factors for female journalists to rise to senior editorial positions in the print media as one male key informant at a level of an editor, explained, “I have severally been involved in selection of candidates and I can say that it depends on people who stay longer in the newsroom. Many female journalists do not stay long. For some, because of competing work and marital responsibilities, the husband becomes uncomfortable with her journalism work.
Men, however, stay longer in the newsroom and when an opportunity opens up, they will likely be picked on for the job because of the experience they have.
Indeed, a news article announcing NMG-U editorial changes highlighted how most of those who had been appointed to various top editorial positions had stayed in the newsroom for a number of years!
The study recommended that media organisations institute gender responsive support systems such as human resource and editorial policies that are gender responsive and promote women advancement and tackle all forms of violence against women including sexism and sexual harassment, supported by journalism schools and civil society.
Brian Mutebi is a gender and development communications consultant.