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.
Q  Alison?

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.


On Friday it will be January 6th – the feast of the Epiphany, or in the Spanish world Dia de Los Reyes marking the visit of the Three Wise Men to the stable in Bethlehem. Mmmm, I will resist making the obvious witty aside about the improbability of not one, not two but three wise men together, but how ridiculous is it that Mary gave birth in the company of lots of men? Joseph, shepherds and kings? Not woman in sight. Like as if? Perhaps the wise men were originally wise women – although if they were, they definitely would have brought better and more useful gifts.

Here in Ireland, the 6th of January is Nollaig na mBan. A day to celebrate what we women contribute to our loved ones over the festive period. A day when traditionally women would get together, for tea and cake and probably a bit of a gossip!

2011 has brought me many opportunities and has generally been quite a good year. As I looked back I realised that, for me, it was the year of wise women! I am very lucky to have always managed to surround myself with brilliant women, from my mother through to my great girlfriends. These women are without exception clever, funny and intelligent but more than anything they are hugely supportive. These are the friends who have stood shoulder to shoulder with me as life threw flowers and sometimes tomatoes my way. They are there to celebrate successes and pick me up when I fall down!

But in 2011 I seem to have added significantly to my harem of fabulous women. These new Wise Women of 2011 have brought me one precious gift – that of self confidence. Having been at home with young children for ten years, I had the title of Housewife indelibly inked on my forehead and on my psyche. There were numerous occasions when I had to remember that I had designated 2011 as my year of fearless living. Regularly I had to fight to silence the voice in my head which constantly asked me “what the hell do you think you are doing? You’re not a writer. You are not a radio contributor. You are a deluded housewife.” I hear that voice less and less, thanks to some fantastic women who I am going to name check now!

The very first person to take a chance on me was East Coast Radio‘s Morning Show producer Claire Darmody who got me to come into studio to shoot the breeze on various news topics with presenter Declan Meehan; himself a source of encouragement and regular dispenser of sage advice.

Vanessa O Loughlin of Inkwell Writers and Writing.ie is someone that anyone who is interested in writing should check out. She offers great courses, runs the best writing resource website and is an amazing motivator. She’ll happily and charmingly deliver a kick in the ass to move you on when necessary but never fails to applaud your efforts when you do get writing.

Last but most of all I want to thank the FANTASTIC WOMEN ON AIR COMMITTEE. Let me single out three of said committee for particular mention.

Helen McCormack who also risked me on the Tom McGurk programme on 4FM and who a year ago gave me a regular slot on the (then) Gareth O Callaghan Saturday programme which ran for four months and was a wonderful experience.

Eleanor Fitzsimons befriended me when I knew absolutely no one and has since become a great pal and colleague.

And of course the mighty impressive Margaret E Ward, who terrified me until I met her and realised that she was actually a pussy cat and in true American fashion, a total ‘Can Do’ person. She was saying “yes, we can” way before a certain Mr Obama, I am sure of it.

These Wise Women of 2011 are all professional, busy people. But they all have open minds and a generosity of spirit which allowed me to benefit from their experience and wisdom. They also never failed to cheer me on as I took my tentative steps into the media.

As we head towards the beautiful of Nollaig na mBan I want to publicly salute these amazing women. Mile buíochas dhaoibh go léir.

I recently stumbled across a lovely blog called Sanctuary of Women run by a woman called Jan Richardson in Florida. She wrote this beautiful poem and has graciously allowed me to reproduce it here. I humbly offer it to you my Wise Women of 2011.


Wise women also came.
The fire burned
in their wombs
long before they saw
the flaming star
in the sky.
They walked in shadows,
trusting the path
would open
under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came,
seeking no directions,
no permission
from any king.
They came
by their own authority,
their own desire,
their own longing.
They came in quiet,
spreading no rumors,
sparking no fears
to lead
to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s
inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came,
and they brought
useful gifts:
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came,
at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labor,
crying out with her
in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings
into her ear.

Wise women also came,
and they went,
as wise women always do,
home a different way.