GL ED talks to The Media Magazine

Date: January 1, 1970
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The Women in Media Awards are hosted every August (Women’s month) in South Africa by The Media Magazine and Vodacom. The CEO of magazines at Media24, Patricia Scholtemeyer won this year’s overall award. GL Executive Director Colleen Lowe Morna was one of the two finalists for the award. The following is her unedited interview with The Media Magazine (August 2007)

Gilbert Mokwatedi, radio lecturer, Tshwane University of Technology:
The South African Gender and Media Baseline Study released in August 2003 found that women constituted only 19 percent of known news sources. Your organisation (Gender Links) is advocating balanced gender reporting. What area of news or type of issues would you like to see women used more as news sources?
Women constitute 52 percent of the population and, like men, are citizens in all respects. It follows that they have views on all issues: politics, economics, sports, disaster, conflict, lifestyle, media, entertainment etc. I would like to see women’s views and voices reflected equally in all these areas, and not just in the gender equality topic code, as is currently the case. 
What’s your view on media organisations setting quotas or targets for themselves with regard to the number of gender related stories they would like to use per day as one of the methods in which to address inequalities in the way news sources (male sources in comparison to female sources) are being used, e.g. a radio station saying it wants to include at least three gender-related stories per day in its bulletin?
I think this is useful up to a point, but the much bigger concern is how women’s views and voices are reflected in all areas of coverage. It’s true that as a topic, gender equality constitutes only about two percent of total coverage, which is low, considering that it is one of the most important social revolutions of our time. But equally important is to mainstream gender in all areas, because ultimately this is how equality is attained and reflected. A useful target that many editors we work with have adopted is to insist that at least one out of every three sources in any story is a woman. Portia Kobue, former head of news at Kaya, tells how she insisted a young reporter go and interview a black woman farmer in a piece on agricultural prices rather than talk to the white male spokesperson of a commercial farmers association. He came back with a rather more interesting and relevant story!
Ferial Haffajee, editor, Mail & Guardian:
Would you do another campaign to scrap the back page? What were the learning curves?
Like any high risk strategy, the “Strip the Back Page campaign” had high costs and high benefits. As a communicator, I learned one important lesson: that no matter how nuanced your message, the media will run with the most simplistic line especially where bottom lines are perceived to be at stake. The relatively innocuous campaign called on all papers to replace content that treats women as mere objects with a celebration of different kinds of beauty (other than just the blonde, blue eyed Hollywood pin ups who generally adorn the Back Page of the Sunday Times, for example) as well as feature women in diverse roles for one week in the run up to 8 March (International Women’s Day) in 2004.  This got instantly turned into a “ban all sexy images” campaign.
On the plus side, Gender Links found itself catapulted onto the media stage in a way that no serious research we have ever conducted (and we do a lot!) has ever achieved. On the negative side, my then deputy, Kubi Rama and I were vilified in ways that shocked even toughened hacks and hurt our families.
I believe we succeeded in avoiding the temptation to hit back in equally personalised ways, arguing our case through facts and figures and citing the hundreds of women who had signed the petition. But in some mainstream quarters we were painted as radicals and lost some of the ears that we would have wanted for our work in South Africa (one of twelve countries in which we work, but an important one, nonetheless).
As regards whether we would mount such a campaign again, I believe that campaigns that from time to time take us out of our comfort zone are critical if progress is to be made. As one paper put it, everyone in the media is talking the talk of gender equality, but how willing are we to walk the walk? What is important is to be careful how one crafts the message so that it does not backfire, and always to ensure that campaigns are underpinned by solid research; training and other strategies for change so that it is not just a case of grand standing. This is where I think GL scores high.  
(PS: We have recently noted that the Back Page is receding further back in the Sunday Times and that it has not been imported into the new daily version of the paper. Could this indeed be a sign of the Times?!)
Sandra Gordon, publisher, The Media magazine:
If you had remained as a journalist in the mainstream media, where do you think you would have been today?
A political or business editor with a strong bent towards the development sector. My last tango with mainstream media was as editor of the Mail and Guardian’s “Reconstruct” supplement in 1996/97; by now I would have hoped to have progressed a bit beyond that!  
What impact do you expect your glass ceiling report to have when the boards and executive levels of media houses are dominated by men?
The first response to any report that challenges the status quo is invariably one of resistance. A typical tactic is to dwell incessantly on technicalities as a away of casting doubt on the validity of the report. Of course there are many limitations to such a report; not least the fact that it was done almost entirely by volunteers with no financial support from the sector, and therefore did not cover every media house etc. But there is no getting away from the central findings. These may not be acknowledged openly or constructively at first, but the fact is that a veil has been lifted and a space, however, small has been opened for debate in each newsroom.
Much will also depend on how SANEF takes the report forward. The great thing about this report is that it has the backing of at least this industry grouping. SANEF cannot dictate standards and norms. But it can engage; develop useful tools and templates; and act as a conduit for sharing good practise. Half of the media houses that participated said they wanted to develop gender policies. This is an important opening that we hope will be taken up by the media houses concerned as well as the SANEF diversity committee. A few media houses have already gone this route and are able to show progress. In the end, nothing succeeds like success!
Libby Llyod, former CEO of the Media Development and Diversity Agency:
What is your biggest regret?
Life is too short for regrets! My dad used to say when you get lost, you learn to read a map; ask for directions; think on your feet and be resourceful. And you get more exercise than you bargained for! My mum lived by the motto, “count your blessings.” My own philosophy is live, learn and move on.
What kind of impact has your career choices had on your family?
My first response to this question is: if I were a man I wonder if this question would be put to me! But the answer is a simple and happy one. Next year my husband Kofi Morna and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We have supported each other in our careers, and shared the raising of our two children, Janine and Michelle, in a way that I believe has made us both better professionals and better parents. Yes, there have been periods of high stress in both our careers. But we have worked through them, learned to read many maps, and get stronger through the additional exercise! (Walking is literally a big part of our lives!)    
What have you achieved in the past year that you are proud of?
Over the last year, I have put a lot of effort, as Chair of the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network into building this umbrella of organisations and individuals who strive to “make every voice count, and count that it does.” We now have ten registered chapters across Southern Africa. GEMSA and GL are currently building a Gender and Media Diversity Centre that is both a physical and virtual knowledge exchange centre for this area of work. An external evaluation of GL conducted last year described us as a “small organisation with large footprints” and credited us with creating a gender and media movement in Southern Africa. This is a source of pride to me. 
What can we expect from you in the next year? We hear you are doing research on tabloids?
We are launching research on gender and advertising in August. Our next “Mirror on the Media” report, due out next March, is indeed on tabloids. We have taken our time to try to understand this phenomenon better before conducting the research, by engaging with media academics at the Universities of Rhodes, Stellenbosch etc. 
It’s a complex area, because clearly tabloids reach a whole new audience previously by-passed by the mainstream media. Our own audience research tells us that women and men are crying out for more local and more human interest news. Tabloids of course capitalise on both of these. But they also perpetuate some of the worst gender stereotypes (like a rape story in which the man’s penis is referred to as “the spear of the nation”) and breach some of the most basic principles of human rights and fairness.
The research will cover the three countries in the region with the highest density of tabloids: South Africa, Mauritius and Tanzania. The first half of the research concerns content analysis. These results will be discussed in our next issue of the Media Diversity Journal, focusing on tabloids and being launched at an inter-active event at Highway Africa in September. We will then use the content analysis to frame questions for audience research and bring this all together for the final report.
On the training front our focus this year is rolling out GL’s training on gender, economy and the media based on our manual, Business Unusual. In South Africa we are running the course in partnership with the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism  and the media studies departments at Rhodes and Stellenbosch.  
Dr Melanie Chait, consultant to the Monash South Africa Film and TV Unit:
If you could wave a magic wand, what would be the first thing you would do to promote: 1) Women in media
Get them to where they can make decisions, and put women there who are not afraid to rock the boat!
2) Women in society
Do away with the schizophrenic system we have in which the rights of women are extolled in laws and in the Constitution but daily undermined by the customary law that governs the lives of the majority of women. It makes a mockery of justice!
Marital status? Married
Children? Two, Janine (23) and Michelle (19)
Age? 47
Nationality? South African
What are you currently reading? The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court by Mmatshilo Motsei.
Colleen Lowe Morna is executive director of Gender Links, a Southern African NGO that promotes gender equality in and through the media, and chairperson of the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network. Born in Zimbabwe of South African parents, Colleen began her career as a journalist specialising in economic and development reporting, travelling widely in southern, east and west Africa.  Among positions she held were co-ordinator of the Africa office of Inter Press Service in Harare; correspondent for the London-based South Magazine, Economist Intelligence Unit and Africa Business; New York-based Africa Report; Development Business and Institutional Investor; as well as Africa Editor of the New Delhi-based Women’s Feature Service.
Colleen joined the Commonwealth Secretariat as a senior researcher on the Africa desk in 1991, and later served as Chief Programme Officer of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to South Africa in the run up to the elections. Following the elections she joined the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation as a technical expert on gender and institutional development; served as editor of Reconstruct, a development supplement of the Mail and Guardian, and then as founding CEO of the South African Commission on Gender Equality.
A trainer, researcher and writer, Colleen has written extensively on gender issues in Southern Africa, and is author of several publications and articles on gender and the media. She is also editor of Ringing up the Changes: Gender in Southern African Politics, the first comprehensive study of the impact of women in politics in this sub-region. Her most recent work, co-edited with Susan Tolmay is At the Coalface: Gender and Local Government in Southern Africa.  
Colleen holds a BA in International Relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations at Princeton University; MSc in Journalism from Columbia University and certificate in executive management from the London Business School. She is married to a Ghanaian, Kofi, whom she met at university in the US. They have two daughters, Janine and Michelle. 
Please give a brief summary of your career (you can just attach your CV or resumé) and tell us how landed in the media industry – was it your first choice?
I have always loved travelling and writing. At age nine my grandmother told me: “you will be a journalist!” I fashioned my life after this command- how could I do otherwise! I wonder though if my gran ever expected me to be a campaigner for women’s rights as well. My guess is that she would have gone with the flow!
Highlight in your career?
Writing my thesis on Rastafarians and their fascination with Ethiopia in New York and then Jamaica soon after the death of Bob Marley; living the liberation war in Zimbabwe in the worst hit area- Operation Hurricane- and covering the country in the first few years of independence; having a white farmer sue me for writing about his corrupt acquisition of land that led to thousands of poor peasant farmers being dumped and made homeless;  witnessing the second Rawlings coup in Ghana and being trapped for two weeks with no phone, telex or contact with the outside world; covering the war in Mozambique (over several years and from different angles);  being smuggled into Malawi during the Banda regime as an “ecumenical information officer”;  travelling with an Irish battalion during the preparations for elections in Namibia; covering Namibia’s independence; writing a six part series on SADC; travelling the TAZARA;  serving as the eyes and ears of the Commonwealth Secretary General in South Africa in the run up to the 1994 elections; meeting the then President Mandela with my then boss, Chief Emeka Anyaoku;  founding Gender Links.
Low light in your career?
Taking the Commission on Gender Equality to court for unfair labour practise. I won my case and retained my dignity, but three years of going back and forth to court is a debilitating experience. I only survived because of my incredibly supportive family.
What would you want to be in your next life?
A sherpa climbing Mount Everest! I can’t think of anything more exhilarating than being at the top of the world!

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