- World Press Freedom Day yesterday was a day to remember the importance of jealously guarding the hard won gains of an independent and fearless media. But how free is the media, when thirteen years into South Africa's new democracy it is still so unrepresentative of the people whom it serves, gender activists ask.
This was the critical question posed by "Glass Ceiling Two: An Audit of Women and Men in South African newsrooms." A project of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) the second phase of the study, being released earlier this week, has put some stark numbers to what the first study, released on Women's Day (9 August) 2006 revealed: a host of barriers to the advancement of women in the media profession.
'Glass Ceiling One' found that despite having a South African constitution that entrenches equal rights, "discriminatory practices, structural inequalities, cultural factors, prejudices, patriarchy and sexism are still alive and well in our South African newsrooms. These are clearly prohibiting South Africa's women journalists from realising their potential."
This subsequent audit of women in newsrooms, conducted in collaboration with the organisation Gender Links, involved administering a factual questionnaire to the media 'SABC', 'Citizen', 'Kaya FM', 'Media 24', 'Primedia', 'SAPA', the Independent Group of newspapers, 'Johncom' and the 'Mail and Guardian' between September and December 2006.
This study, which covered 4364 employees - or an estimated half of all journalists - found that with 45 percent women in newsrooms (compared to 33 percent in a 1995 study) there was a progressive move towards achieving gender balance in South Africa. But black women, who constitute 46 percent of the population only account for 18 percent of newsroom staff - compared to 45 percent of the population and 28 percent of newsroom staff in the case of black men and four percent of the population and 28 percent of newsrooms in the case of white men.
At rand 184,387 per annum, the annual average salary of women in a South African newsrooms is 21 percent less than the average annual salary of men (rand 233,737). While the income differential between white men and black men in newsrooms is narrowing, black women earn, on average 25 percent less than white men in newsrooms, national statistics say.
These salary figures, more than any other, reflect the gender gaps in newsrooms. As one respondent puts it: "It is the money, honey!" According to analysts, they are not due to formal discrimination between women and men, but rather reflect the lower positions that women occupy, and the lower paid areas of work in which they predominate.
In South Africa, women occupy less than 30 percent of top management posts and constitute one out of three senior managers in newsrooms. Conversely, they comprise 48 percent of junior managers and almost 70 percent of all semi-skilled workers. While black men constituted 16 percent of top and senior managers in newsrooms in 1999 in 2006 this percentage has increased to 23.5 percent. On the other hand, black women account for a mere six percent of top and senior management in newsrooms.
While there are now roughly equal proportions of women and men in the editorial divisions of newsrooms, women dominate the presenter and lowest paying administrative categories while men make up 86 percent of the better paid technical category. Male journalists dominate in all of the hard beats - such as politics, economics, investigative reporting, crime and sport - in which promotion chances are better, while women journalists predominate in the "soft" entertainment, education and general reporting categories.
In the first phase of the study the term "old boys club" and "network" featured repeatedly in explanations for why women are overlooked for more senior posts. "They are simply not seen as equals by the vast majority of men, who still hold the reins of power in all news organisations," one respondent said. "Examples: Women are patronised and their opinions do not appear to be taken as seriously as those of men. This can be subtle, like jokes made at their expense when they give their opinions, or teasing. It seems friendly and even affectionate, but it is actually demeaning."
While governments in Southern Africa have committed themselves to achieving gender parity in all areas of decision making by 2015, none of the media houses in the South African study could point to specific targets for ensuring gender equality. South Africa now has 42 percent women in cabinet; 40 percent in local government and 32 percent in parliament. "Judged by these measures, the media has lagged behind," activists hold.
A frequently asked question within the media fraternity is why the preoccupation with these numbers: What difference would more women managers really make?
Activists agree that having more women decision-makers in newsrooms would not necessarily lead to more being written for and about women. However, 'Glass Ceiling Two' establishes a positive correlation between having women in senior and top management positions and hiring higher numbers of women journalists.
The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) in which South Africa participated in 2005 showed that women journalists are more likely to consult female opinion in their reporting (28 percent female sources) compared to their male counterparts (19 percent of female sources). Overall this study found that women constitute 21 percent of news sources globally (26 percent in South Africa).
As the so-called "torch bearer of freedom and fairness in society", the media is seen by many as having a duty to lead by example in ensuring a level playing field in its backyard and in the content that it produces. As the media was issuing various challenges to governments on World Press Freedom Day, activists hold it will be challenged from within its own ranks to demonstrate that freedom starts at home. As a respondent in the study being launched this week noted: "SANEF really has to pull finger instead of providing lip service." Another put it more bluntly: "Just do it!"
By Colleen Lowe Morna. Ms Morna is executive director of Gender Links, which partnered with SANEF in conducting the Glass Ceiling Two Study.
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