"IRISH MEDIA IS A BIG MICKEY INDUSTRY"

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.

"JUST A BIT OF HORSEPLAY.."

Last night I toddled off to bed way too late after staying up to watch ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ followed by Primetime on RTE.  Both programmes were on much later than usual to give us an insight into the workings of our Parliament as the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was being voted upon.  Twitter was as usual great craic particularly as the team on TV3 kept rolling out pairs of TDs to be interviewed outside Dail Eireann by Vincent who was in studio.  There was Fidelma Healy Eames who faced sideways to camera and kept her finger in her ear the whole time and better still was Peter Matthews who kept his eyes fixed on the floor.  All of this to the distant chants and prayers of protesters gathered at the gates of Leinster House.  The subject being discussed in the chamber was serious but the theatrical element of this late night sitting was captured beautifully especially by TV3.
As I bid farewell to Twitter at about 2am, I did wonder about what kind of Banana Republic has a Parliament sitting until 5am.  It’s not like war had just been declared and there was a fierce urgency to their deliberations.  I wondered if the Dail Bar was still open – Gerry Adams had referred to the number of staff that were being kept late by this rather melodramatic approach to serious legislation.  As I climbed under my very light sheet I wondered why a workplace has a bar anyway.
I woke this morning to another fabulously sunny, hot day; nothing like it to put a smile on your face and banish all negativity.  But then I turned on my phone and found that my Twitter feed was a blaze of anger and indignation over what had, by about 8:30am, become known as #lapgate.
You all know the details.  During a break in the early morning proceedings, TD Tom Barry (FG) grabbed his female colleague Aine Collins and pulled her onto his lap.  Barry has since issued a sincere apology for the incident and apparently Ms Collins has accepted it.
So – should that be the end of it? 
No I don’t think so.  This kind of casual, sexist behaviour is an appalling abuse of male power and strength.  To be a woman on the receiving end of such boorish attention is humiliating and intimidating.  It is also against the law and has no place whatsoever in the workplace.  The fact that this workplace was our national parliament – the seat of our democracy and cradle of our legislation makes it even more offensive.  Dail Eireann by its very nature has to be a place where the laws of the country are upheld with transparency and vigour.
I was angry when I viewed the recording of the incident last night.  I accept that there was no malice intended… but that is not the point.  Tom Barry’s actions undermined the natural equality and dignity all women in the chamber.  But also have a look at the men around at the time… no one looks shocked or perturbed. 
As the firestorm on Twitter took flight this morning a Fine Gael spokesperson was quoted as saying that it was all a bit of horseplay and nothing more.  It was the polished version of ‘calm down girls and get a grip’.  This is far more worrying.  At a time when our Government is committed, through the system of quotas, to recruiting more women into politics, the main Government party thinks grabbing a female colleague and forcing her onto a lap is just a bit of nothing.
Journalist Colette Browne wrote recently of her own experience of this kind of everyday sexism in The Examiner.  As I read it I slowly became aware that I too had encountered just such ‘abuse’ in my past.   I have a vivid memory of when I was about 14 walking home from school alone, in my school uniform in bright summer sunshine.  I passed a workman involved in roadworks nearby and as I did he casually put his hand right up my skirt.  He said nothing and walked on by.   At the time I got a shock but, said nothing.  Told no one.  When I read Colette’s account of her own experiences I realised that for generations of young women being subjected to this kind of predatory behaviour and violation was commonplace.  We accepted it. That’s the tragedy.
And it is that silence which is now deafening from the women TDs of Dail Eireann. 
Individually some have posted comments on Twitter but I am very dismayed that there is not an organised statement from these women, across all parties calling for an assurance that no women (or man) will be subject to such humiliation in the future. 
I have to admit I was late to this party.  Having been out of the workforce for ten years, and having always worked in female dominated industries I can honestly say that I never experienced sexual discrimination or harassment in the workplace.  I am also 6 feet tall which probably provides me with some protection from being grabbed and man- handled at the whim of a passing stranger or colleague.
I have always believed that the world is largely as we find it and if you want to look for problems you will find them.  As women we are lucky that our rights as equal citizens are enshrined in law so we can be reasonably sure that we cannot be discriminated against in any overt way. 
But I am now realising that sexism is alive and well and thriving just below the radar.  It is just as wrong and possibly more damaging not only to women but to our society.  It is time that we all call it out whenever we see it happening.  And it starts at the top – in Dail Eireann.

Thank God the cameras were rolling…. cos to me it sure didn’t look like anyone who was present was much disturbed by what they saw.  
Note:  later in the day Fine Gael changed their tune and issued a statement which described the behaviour of their TD as unacceptable.  

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