"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.

THE HEN HOUSE CELEBRATES ONE YEAR ON AIR

In the last year 58 amazing women have made the trip out to Dundrum Town Centre to be my guest on The Hen House.  This week marks the programmes first birthday!
When I came up with the idea for the Hen House I worried that I would quickly run out of women who were willing to come and talk to me for an hour.  I never doubted that there were lots of interesting and funny women out there.. but asking them for a large chunk of their afternoon to come into studio and be interviewed by yours truly was and is a big ask.  I am very grateful to each and every one of you who have given me your time, your pearls of wisdom and some great laughs.  But more than anything I want to thank you for using your voice to tell your story.
Some stories were intensely personal, some were related to your work and some were related to a cause you feel passionately about.  But each of you gave your talent and your time very graciously and generously.  And for that I am very grateful.
But more than all of that you women have made your voices heard.  Amid the male dominated noise and chatter on our airwaves, The Hen House is providing women with a platform and a space to talk, to tell our stories.
These are the women who made the last year such a great experience for me personally and who have helped to redress the gender imbalance on air in Ireland:
Jillian Godsill, (on surviving bankruptcy)
June Shannon (medical journalist and mental health campaigner)
Joanna Fortune (child psychotherapist)
Sarina Bellissimo (broadcaster – Spin 1038)
Jill O Herlihy (PR supremo)
Eleanor Fitzsimons (writer)
Vanessa O Loughlin (all things writing)
Dil Wickremasinghe (broadcaster and social justice campaigner)
Caroline Grace Cassidy and Sorcha Furlong (actresses and writers)
Abby Wynne (healer)
Sinead Buckley Quinn (Design Loft in Powerscourt)
Andrea Hayes (broadcaster, TV Presenter and animal campaigner)
Mary Mitchell O Connor, TD
Michelle Jackson (author and travel writer)
Sharon Lawless (documentary maker)
Andrea Smith (journalist)
Janet O Sullivan (pagan, witch and feminist)
Orla O Connor (CEO NWCI)
Noirin Scully, Mairin Cullen and Stephanie Batt – wise older women
Maeve O Sullivan (poet)
Caroline Erskine (Women on Air former Chairperson)
Susan Lohan (Adoption Rights Alliance)
Carmen Browne (singer)
Elaine Lavery and Hannah O Reilly – Improper Butter
Aisling O Toole (Editor – Irish Country Magazine)
Ann Colgan, Jeanette Kavanagh, Ellen O Connor – local election candidates
Ailson Canavan (model, business women and mental health campaigner)
Denise Deegan (author)
Louise Bayliss (Spark) and Grainne Sherlock on lone parenting
Hazel Gaynor (author)
Margaret Scully (radio documentary maker and broadcaster)
Sinead Burke (fashionista, blogger and small person)
Jen McGuirk (actress and intrepid traveller)
Ellen Gunning (PR)
Muriel Bolger (author, journalist and travel writer)
Maria Duffy (author)
Grace Kelly, Aimee Corcoran and Megan Brady – the Class of 2014
Deirdre O Connor (care of the elderly)
Andrea Mara (office mum)
Dr Ger Scanlon and Laura Haugh – Education special
Jillian Van Turnhout – Senator
Hazel Larkin, (blogger and writer)
Irene Lowry, (CEO, Nurture)
Mary White, Senator
Vicki Mooney (Plus size models)
Helen Walsh (holistic fitness instructor)
Cindy O Connor and Trish Errity from Pieta House
Ciara Meehan (history lecturer and curator of Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition)
Claire McGing (lecturer in political geography).
Thank you all so much……  And thanks to all of you have listened – either live or by listening back to the podcasts.
I am hoping that all of these past programmes will be available on the Hen House page on the Dublin South FM website in the not too distant future.

WOMEN ON AIR… MAKING PROGRESS

I was really pleased to attend the inaugural ‘Women On Air’ conference this week in the magnificent surroundings of Dublin Castle.  Walking across the upper yard of one of Dublin’s most iconic locations on a sunny morning was just stunning.  As I carefully picked my way on the cobblestones I was vaguely aware of the centuries of history that was all around me;  ghosts of the British administration and laterally the whisperings that signified subterfuge and intrigue as Ireland pushed for independence.
There was no subterfuge however at the ‘Women on Air’ event which was officially opened by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, who didn’t annoy me at all with his speech.  He was followed by Margaret E Ward who outlined how ‘Women on Air’ came into being after a ‘debate’ on Twitter.  I was a silent witness to that debate back in 2010 and felt a frisson of excitement when Margaret along with former radio producer Helen McCormack decided to organise a seminar which was aimed at providing tips and support for women who wished to go on air. 
Back in 2010 I was a …. here we go again… housewife (I HATE THAT TERM – but all others are equally grating) buried deep in suburban Cabinteely.  However my children were 23, 11 and 9 and I was itching to get involved back in the world of work and had decided to attempt to pursue my passion of writing and talking!  I had done a few radio interviews before in my previous career as PRO for a national charity and it was a medium I found very comfortable.  I also passionately wanted to hear more women’s voices and more importantly women’s stories on air.
So taking my courage in both hands I sent a very timid tweet to Margaret E Ward asking if it might be possible to attend this planned seminar.  It was. 
The seminar took place on Tuesday 12th of October and was held in the National Library at 6:30pm.  I got there way too early and heading to the coffee shop for a coffee while I waited.  As I sat on my own in the empty cafe the voice in my head grew louder and louder saying “what the hell are you doing?”, “go home, you eejit, why on earth would you consider yourself part of this?”
As I walked towards the lecture theatre, I tried to counter the feeling of seasickness and terror.  There were lots of women milling about and they all seemed to know each other.  The voice in my head was now in a right panic.  “No-one knows you – turn around and leave before you make a show of yourself”.  I tried to keep my face looking calm and confident as I negotiated a place to sit when I suddenly saw one face that was familiar.  I had met writer Eleanor Fitzsimons just a week or so earlier at a book launch and we had chatted.  Thankfully she remembered me and I clung on to her like she was a life-raft in treacherous seas.
Later that evening I met Helen McCormack, who asked me if I would be willing to come into studio on a news review panel on the Tom McGuirk programme, which she produced on 4FM.
So on that night four years ago, I arrived into the city a bag of nerves, wondering what the hell I was doing.  But thanks to the support, encouragement and faith of just three women I went home wondering if it might actually be possible to pursue a new career in the media… or what Fiona Looney (bless her) calls my midlife crisis media career.
Women on Air has come a long way since October 2010 and I guess I have made some progress on the journey too.  Change is definitely in the air.  RTE Radio One seems to be leading the charge at the moment with rising numbers of women presenting programmes during the peak hours of 8am to 8pm. 
TV3 also have managed to attain a relatively good gender balance in their news and current affairs output – most noticeably on Vincent Browne’s programme.  Something I think they don’t get enough credit for.
During the first session of the Conference TV3’s Political Editor, Ursula Halligan, made the point about women on TV being constantly made feel that they have to fit a specific body type… young, pretty and very slim.  An image, she said, that was largely constructed by men but which was bought into by women.  Aine Lawlor referenced the excellent documentary by Kirsty Wark, ‘Blurred Lines’ and the amount of violent sexual threats that can be made against some women in media, something that another panellist, journalist Una Mulally knows all about.
It struck me that both issues have a connection to each other.  Because TV companies seem to be so reluctant to put older women or women who don’t fit the specific ‘TV type’ on air, broadcasters are actually feeding this view that all women must be attractive and specifically sexually attractive regardless of their qualifications or ability.  The most obvious example of this is that of Mary Beard, the respected academic in the UK, who received horrendous online abuse regarding appearance after a series she made, was aired on the BBC.
Perhaps when we have more balance in the physicality of the women we see on our screens – across body types, age etc we will see a decrease in the amount of abuse someone like Mary Beard receives.  It is much easier to bully the minority.
In broader terms we need to ensure as more and more women make it to air that we don’t follow the men and have airwaves that are almost entirely populated by middle class voices. 
Just as the women at that very first ‘Women On Air’ seminar were accepting of the interloper housewife from the suburbs, as more and more of us make it to air we must ensure that we are bringing diversity with us. 

Congratulations to Caroline Erskine – chairperson of Women On Air, Margaret E Ward and Helen McCormack the originators of the movement and all the current committee for a wonderful conference.  Onwards and upwards sisters.

Ni Neart Go Cur Le Cheile

When I watched the first of TV3’s new format People’s Debates with Vincent Browne I admired the courage of the station in attempting to give equal voice to ‘ordinary’ people as to elected politicians and aspiring politicians.  However I did feel that there was a lot of shouting and not a lot of coherence.  So when the second one was announced as being a women only debate on the subject as to whether or not we had yet achieved ‘liberation’ I wasn’t overly enthusiastic. 
But being me and afraid I might miss something, a character trait (flaw?) that has kept me on Twitter for six years, I rocked along to the magnificent HD studios in Ballymount last Wednesday. 
As someone who is a member of the National Women’s Council and also involved with the Women on Air group, I was immediately surprised that I didn’t know more than a handful of the women present.  As I took my seat in the studio I wondered if there was some kind of snobbery at work here.  There weren’t many (if any) TDs at the first People’s Debate and there was not a sign of a woman TD last Wednesday either.  I know we don’t exactly have a lot of female TDs but I was disappointed that not one had shown up.
I enjoyed the evening very much.  There is something very …. I am slow to say special…but it is special when a group of women come together.  Perhaps it’s the very different energy, the different dynamic. 
I was struck by the humour of the evening and also by the very articulate contributions from almost every woman who spoke.  There was passion too.  And believe me there were all points of view in the studio… from very Catholic women to women who were very vocal campaigners for liberal abortion. 
I am aware from the commentary on Twitter afterwards that some women felt their voices weren’t heard and that is a shame but I guess an inevitable fact at any event. 
But I felt that there was a tangible willingness in the studio for women to listen to each other.  It was said time and time again that true equality is about choice.  And this is something I have written about many times.  But more than choice I also think that in order for the cause of feminism to move forward we women must be tolerant of views that run completely to our own.
Abortion is possibly the most divisive of these issues but there are others too. It is vital that as women we realise that to move forward we must all stand together.  We must park our differences and our battles over issues such as abortion.  I understand that abortion is something many feminists will say is fundamental to our freedom as women… but if we continue to insist on all women signing up to that agenda we are doomed to failure.  There are also very feminist women who do not support liberal abortion laws.  That does not make them less of a feminist.
Equality is indeed about choice but it is also about tolerance.  We are not a homogenous group – we are as different as we are the same. 
As the debate wound to its conclusion two things were clear to me.   The new Irish women – many of whom on the night were African had so much to add to our conversation about equality.  Their voices were such a welcome addition and they brought wonderful insights to the debate.  The other thing that came up time and time again was the ‘work of caring’.  Until we as a nation value the work of caring and until it is subsidised by our taxes we will never be fully liberated.
Exactly 100 years before we gathered in a TV studio in Ballymount, a group of women met in Wynne’s Hotel in Dublin and founded Cumann na mBan.   I have no doubt that these women were equally full of passion and enthusiasm for their cause and the cause of national freedom.  But in the end they were divided, like the rest of the country on the issue of partition and the Treaty.  And so the cause of Irish women’s liberation ground to a halt.
There is a lesson there for women of 2014.  Some issues will remain divisive for years to come.  Don’t let that force us apart and therefore delay our full liberation for another century. 
Ni neart go cur le cheile

MIRIAM O CALLAGHAN & WOMEN ON AIR

I have written before about Women on Air – a great bunch of women who believe we should have more female voices on the airwaves in Ireland. I am on the organizing committee.

Women on Air began as a one off seminar to encourage and educate women on making themselves available to broadcast media. Such was the success of that first event just over a year ago, that Women on Air seminars are now regular events. However our most interesting seminar is happening this week and is open to all… and like all WOA events, the lads are most welcome too.

So if you have ever wondered how top broadcasters and journalists juggle family life with a high-flying career, now’s your chance to turn the tables and ask the journalist those very questions. On Wednesday night we’d be delighted if you joined us to hear Prime Time’s Miriam O’Callaghan talk about her life in broadcasting. Everyone is welcome to this Women on Air event at Independent Colleges, Dawson Street, Dublin 2 at 6pm on Wednesday. To book your €6 ticket (cash or card) please just follow this link: http://womenonairmiriam-ehometext.eventbrite.com/.

We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

PUTTING THE BROADS INTO BROADCASTING

This night exactly one year ago, I was preparing to take my courage in both hands and get the bus into town to attend a seminar which was aimed at promoting Women On Air. The bus wasn’t that scary in the end – in fact I think bus ceilings have gotten higher making them far safer for me. I distinctly remember in the 80s I used hit my head off the roof regularly. But I digress. As I approached the National Library, the voice in my head was going great guns with really helpful stuff like “what the hell are you doing?”, “you’ll know no one”, “are you going to announce to all these smart career women that you are a suburban housewife with delusions of being a writer?” and finally “go home you big eejit.”

But one foot kept placing itself in front of the other and so I landed into the lecture room trying my best to blend in with the background. As I took a seat I found one friendly face – Eleanor Fitzsimons – a real journalist and writer and someone I had met just once before. To this day Eleanor remains one of the best women I know and that’s not just because she gifted me a little bit of credibility on that day last year.

As I listened to the great presentations by Helen O’Rahilly and Helen Shaw, the little voice in my head was still asking, “why are you here?” The honest answer was that I was not entirely sure. All I was sure about was that I love radio.

Before I reached the dizzy heights of being a housewife, I worked for a national charity as their Public Relations Officer. In that capacity I had done interviews on Morning Ireland, Today with Pat Kenny and (God Bless Him) Gerry Ryan. On retirement to the world of domestic goddessship I occasionally emailed programmes with views and had done phone interviews with Marion Finucane and Gerry again. I had recorded some pieces for Sunday Miscellany and Lyric FM. In the months immediately before that first Women On Air gig, I had begun doing occasional panel pieces with East Coast FM in Wicklow. All of that experience qualifies me as nothing other than an opinionated woman, albeit one with plenty of life experience. It also confirmed the fact that I love radio… but still I felt very much a fraud sitting with all these career women and very experienced journalists.

The effervescent Margaret E Ward, founder of Women On Air didn’t seem to think I was a dinosaur or “big eejit” and neither radio producer Helen McCormack who I also met that night. In fact Helen asked if I would come in to be a contributor on the Tom McGurk programme which she produced on 4FM.

I floated home that night last year. Not only had I enjoyed the event, especially the networking afterwards, but I had been accepted, as me! And that is what is special about Women On Air. Along with presentations by industry experts and leaders, it is a supportive and encouraging forum encouraging any women who wish it, to find their special voices. I am passionate in my belief that we need to hear more women on air. We need to put more broads into broadcasting! More importantly we need to hear from women from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all qualifications and from all kinds of kitchen tables.

I still love radio, have done some more work with 4FM, am a regular on East Coast FM’s Morning Show and still contribute to Sunday Miscellany. I am also now on the organising committee for Women On Air (you gotta give something back). So if like me, you are wondering about radio, get up and get involved. Leave a comment and I will make sure your details are on the mailing list for future events.

In the meantime – Margaret E Ward – take a bow for a great idea. We’ve only just begun.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY WOMEN ON AIR!