Media leaders and journalists had a conversation on March 29, 2022 about among other things, the place of the ordinary women in the news. The conversation happened at Uganda Media Women’s Association during a breakfast meeting that brought together over fifty media stake holders including those in the academia.
Rural women rarely make news and the benefit has gone to the few select prominent women. Reality has become unreal for especially children who only see celebrated women more than the ordinary faces of the women who work so hard to educate and contribute to development but do not appear in the media through paying fees and home care
Key concerns that emerged from the meeting hosted at UMWA offices in Kisaasi, Kampala were; the portrayal of women in the media and creating diversity in opinions.
The stake holders including media managers, editor and field journalists did ‘reflect on interventions towards improved women visibility in the Ugandan media through a three-tier levelled regulatory framework.’
“How much have we achieved in terms of numbers? How many men and women are reporting about gender in the media? How much of the leadership is representative of the women in the different spaces compared to men? We need to see more women reflected in the media,” Dr. Florence Ebilo, one of the board members in UMWA said.
“I was thinking aloud about; the level of reporting, have we maintained bringing women in the news in a positive way or do we bring women in the news when it is bad news? We need to consciously report and contribute to challenging gender stereotypical reporting.”
She says the media should beware of reinforcing misconceived perceptions of society and misrepresentation of women versus the way men are portrayed in the media.
The women leaders in the media observed that gender equality is best represented through the media, their writing, editorial policies and the laws that regulate media content.
Dr. Patricia Litho Board Chair, UMWA said, “Often times as media, we forget to talk about ourselves. It is important to speak to each other. The aspect of taking responsibility and the consequences related to editorial decisions we make concerning gender and equity is key.”
At the leadership level, the participants raised a red flag on the need to assess the quality of the quantities in female leaders. The parameter to measure the quality could consider how many women are aware of the policies and the laws that matter to issues gender and equity.
Dr. Litho says the talk about gender equity should not focus on ‘power over’ but sharing spaces for the good of all.
Dr. Emily Maractho says the focus for media content producers should be on the quality of content and relevance to society.
Whereas some participants argued that women stories are better told by women, research shows that a glass ceiling exists for women news reporters in newspaper bylines and newscast reports, with 37 per cent of stories reported by women as of 2015, showing no change over the course of a decade.
According to UN Women, despite the democratizing promise of digital media, women’s poor representation in traditional news media is reflected in digital news, with women making up only 26 per cent of the people in Internet news stories and media news tweets.
Among other factors, stereotypes and the significant underrepresentation of women in the media play a critical role in shaping harmful attitudes of disrespect and violence towards women.
According to Uganda Communication Commission, UCC, Uganda has 325 radio stations spread across the country, 62 television stations and seven more will be licensed in the next two weeks.
UCC regulates content but does not have a clause that deliberately targets gender and equity or regulate the portrayal of women in the media. What happens in advertising and talk shows may not be considered as journalism but regulators have to consider journalism as an ecosystem for intervention.
“Media is supposed to be a tool for empowerment,” Ms Margaret Ssentamu, the Executive Director of UMWA concluded the meeting urging participants to keep the conversation going about gender and equity.
Journalism mirrors the society! Journalists, it’s said, are in the business of holding up a mirror to society and reflecting it back to itself. The idea is that we enable readers, who are really citizens, to self-correct, to make the world better, through our insistence on shining a glaring light on what needs improving.