There are still many gender disparities in SA newsrooms, according to a new study conducted by the SA National Editors' Forum and Gender Links.  And it's the pay differences that show that women continue to be given lower level jobs, writes Gender Links executive director Colleen Lowe Morna.

Colleen Lowe Morna writes:

World Press Freedom Day on 3 May is 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 our new democracy it is still so unrepresentative of the people whom it serves?

This is 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 today, 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 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 Gender Links, involved administering a factual questionnaire to the SABC, the 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% women in newsrooms (compared to 33% in a 1995 study) there is a progressive move towards achieving gender balance.  But black women, who constitute 46% of the population only account for 18% of newsroom staff (compared to 45% of the population and 28% of newsroom staff in the case of black men and four percent of the population and 28% of newsrooms in the case of white men).  

At R184 387 per annum the annual average salary of women in newsrooms is 21% less than the average annual salary of men (R233 737). While the income differential between white men and black men in newsrooms is narrowing, black women earn, on average 25% less than white men in newsrooms.

These salary figures, more than any other, reflect the gender gaps in newsrooms (as one respondent put it: “it’s the money, honey!”). 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.

Women occupy less than 30% of top management posts and constitute one out of three senior managers in newsrooms. Conversely, they comprise 48% of junior managers and almost 70% of all semi-skilled workers. While black men constituted 16% of top and senior managers in newsrooms in 1999 in 2006 this percentage has increased to 23.5%. 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 study could point to specific targets for ensuring gender equality. South Africa now has 42% women in cabinet; 40% in local government and 32% in parliament. Judged by these measures, the media has lagged behind.

A frequently asked question within the media fraternity is why the preoccupation with these numbers: what difference would more women managers really make?

It is true that having more women decision-makers in newsrooms will 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% of news sources globally (26% in South Africa).  

As the torch bearer of freedom and fairness in society, the media must surely have a duty to lead by example in ensuring a level playing field in its back yard and in the content that it produces.  As the media issues various challenges to governments on World Press Freedom Day, it will be challenged from within its own ranks to demonstrate that freedom starts at home. As a respondent in the study being launched today noted: “SANEF really has to pull finger instead of providing lip service”. Another put it more bluntly: “Just do it!”

* Colleen Lowe Morna is executive director of Gender Links, which partnered with SANEF in conducting the Glass Ceiling Two Study. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.