Back in April, The Media Show on RTE had a segment about the shocking level of sexism that exists in Irish Media. Dr Tom Cloonan and freelance journalist Alison O Connor presented research and personal experience to back up this fact.
I have written before about the appalling state of Irish radio with regard to women’s voices but the fact is that sexism exists across all media organisations in this country.
Therefore not only is our political system totally skewed so also is the media that reports it.
Gender balance in media is not some lofty aspiration to be achieved by a slow change of mindsets and culture, it is an urgent problem that needs to be fixed NOW.
You can listen back to The Media Show here and below is the transcript of the broadcast.
Transcript of Media programme Sunday 19 April 2015
Presenter Conor Brophy
Are women getting a raw deal in the media?
Debate: Alison O Connor (Freelance journalist) and Dr Tom Clonan (Security correspondent with the Irish Times)
Is there sexism at play in the how women are treated within media organisations?
Q. Tom, do you think there is particular macho or masculine culture within the media?
A. I suppose I am coming from military background. As an army officer and as a captain I did my doctoral research (PHD) on the experiences of women in Ireland’s armed forces. The military would be constructed as a very hyper masculine environment with a very robust canteen kind of culture in it. Unfortunately the research I conducted revealed unacceptably high levels of discrimination, harassment and particularly bullying and sexual violence against women in the army.
After I retired, quite by accident, with the twin tower attacks and so on, I found myself working in the journalism space and, I suppose, coming from the military, I had expected or I suppose I had this idea that media would be progressive and would have an equality friendly environment and would be very different from the military. In fact I found and find that many workplace settings within the media would make the army’s eyes water in terms of the masculine, casual sexism and quite a lot of bullying in this environment. That was both an unexpected and disappointing finding on my part.
Q. Would that be your experience Alison?
A. Absolutely Conor. To put it another way the media is a big Mickey industry. It’s so male dominated. I did an informal ring around today. If you take, for instance, each day a news conference takes place to decide what sets the agenda what’s important, what’s setting the agenda for the next day-80%-90% of the people at that are male. These are also the people who would be writing editorials lecturing politicians or others in industry for having a poor gender balance or for not doing their bit and I suppose the worst is that they would often consider themselves to be pretty right on and if not a feminist a friend to the feminist or to the female. I think it comes from the fact that the media is a very competitive industry. It is quite a selfish industry in that in many ways you are trying to get that scoop, you are working on your own; the hours are very anti social. I work freelance now and I work from home so I’m observing it a little bit from the other side. There’s very little effort, from what I can see, to accommodate women with children who want to stay in their jobs. It’s part of the macho culture to stay late and being seen to stay late. It doesn’t make it easy and I see friends my age who really want to stay in their jobs and who are immensely talented and would be a huge loss to the industry and I see no effort whatsoever to accommodate them in any way in terms of trying to mix both work and being a parent.
Q Tom, you had a point to make there
A. Sure. I’m a journalist in practice but I also do a lot of radio and TV so I have a footprint in all the major Irish media organisations. I have observed the workplace culture in each of those settings. The other thing I will say is in my capacity, I am now regarded as a whistleblower. That was not a term in use when I did my PhD. Over the years, whenever I appear in the media, like when there is a TV documentary or a radio documentary as there was here in RTE on the series Whistleblowers I have been contacted by female journalists in Ireland who have repeated similar stories of harassment, sexual harassment and bullying. I think in relation to the status and role of female journalists within the Irish media. This is a particular Irish phenomenon. I think there is a requirement for major investigation and further analysis in order that we remove those obstacles.
Q, There is an issue there Alison that you referred earlier-if these sort of allegations were made, if this sort of thing was to happen in any other sector it would be very much seen as and would be the duty of the fourth estate to hold the powers that be to account.
A. It’s something funny to do with journalists. I do not know if we see that journalism is a vocation or something. Even if you walk into the average newsroom it’s been my experience that a lot of the time even the desks and the chairs and the computers are pretty crap. Journalists don’t collectively look for better conditions. It’s as if we are being Superman or saving the world. It extends a bit to that, to do with the conditions. A particular thing in relation to Leinster House- It’s like a boy’s boarding school. It’s overwhelmingly male. We have such a poor representation of female TDs. The majority of women you see in Leinster House are either parliamentary assistants or catering staff or ushers. It is testosterone laden. There are very few places where you could replicate that. There are very few institutions that are so absolutely and immensely male.
Q. Even at a low level Alison and I hesitate to use that term, in preparing for the programme I contacted some female journalists who are prominent within the media. Some have never experienced sexism. Some have but say they take it on the chin. You put up with it.
Alison: If you have an exclusively male environment, if decisions are taken at a level where it is testosterone driven with no oestrogen feeding in then the balance is all wrong.
Q What needs to be done then Tom?
A. If you look at the arm forces, an organisation that operates in very difficult circumstances in Golan Heights and Syria and so on. After my research was published and investigated by an independent government enquiry they developed a mission statement with regard to equality. They also have a very strong dignity in the workplace charter. It’s incumbent on the NUJ and all the media organisations that they put in place very clear and explicit policies, goals and objectives that are measureable with regard to the participation and promotion of women and female voices at all levels in our media. That would be a start.
A. I know it would be difficult to implement but I would favour quotas for current affairs panels and for the experts- the people that programmes bring on to tell us what we should think about an issue on any given day be it domestic or international. That’s the way things will change Things have improved. There is now more awareness. An argument you will hear from senior people in the media and which is trotted out is that listeners don’t like female voices. I have never seen that research. They are not used to listening to women’s voices. On certain radio schedules on certain stations you can go for hours without hearing a female voice
Tom: Research in International military scene shows that women’s voices are actually the most compelling and attractive voices. In cockpit prompts in fighter aircrafts they use the woman’s voice as they believe we are more genetically disposed and hardwired to listening to our mothers. There is no research that shows that female voices are not attractive but there is plenty of research to show that sexist men will often quote false science to support sexist misogynistic views.