South Africa: No press freedom until women’s voices are equally heard

Date: October 19, 2010
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19 October: There can be no press freedom in South Africa until women’s voices are equally heard in the media, Gender Links has said in a statement to mark National Press Freedom Day.

Launching the findings of the South African Gender and Media Progress (GMPS) study (see attached summary) the Southern Africa organisation said it was “appalled” that the proportion of women sources in the South African media had increased by a mere one percent from 19% to 20% since the original baseline study in 2003.

Commenting on the findings at the Gender and Media Summit Awards last week, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Deputy Chairperson Thoko Mpumlwana said “I am embarrassed to be a South African… I am also advised by the organisers that the South African participants cancelled participation at the last minute and failed to present papers. This is embarrassing and shocking. Our media comes from the “know it all” school that likes to watch others but refuses to be watched. This does not sit well with our democratic traditions and ethos.

“I work for the IEC, an independent body established by the Constitution. Ours is to cerate an equal playing field for all South Africans. We watch others and we are watched. This is how democracy works. Every institution requires checks and balances. The media is no exception.”

During the summit, the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) shared the findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) conducted at the same time as the GMPS in November 2009 showing that across the globe women constitute 24% of sources, and 19% in Africa.

The Southern African proportions of women sources vary from over 30% in Lesotho and Seychelles to 14% in Mozambique. While some countries such as Malawi and Tanzania have made significant progress over the period, the proportion of women sources in Mauritius, South Africa and Namibia – three countries with supposedly the freest and most progressive media in the region – has remained virtually stagnant at 20%.

“These findings beg the question of what we really understand by freedom of expression, democracy and citizen participation” said the the 130 delegates from Southern and East Africa, who included a representative from the International Federation of Journalists. “While more blatant forms of censorship may be subsiding, our media daily silences large segments of the population, notably women.”

The delegates from 20 countries said the gender disparities in the news occur within a broader framework of lack of diversity in media ownership and “armchair” journalism which results in the media seeking out a few voices of authority: often men. The GMPS shows that 67% of stories in the Southern African media are based on single sources.

The Summit took place within the context of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development that brings together and enhances international and African commitments to gender equality by setting 28 targets to be achieved by 2015. Specific provisions on the media include achieving parity in decision-making (an area in which there have been rapid strides in politics); giving equal voice to women and men; challenging gender stereotypes; sensitive coverage of HIV and AIDS and gender violence. The Protocol also calls on the media to mainstream gender in all laws, training and policy.

Gender Links Executive Director Colleen Lowe Morna said that while GL firmly supports the Southern African Editors Forum (SANEF) in its campaign to ensure a free press in South Africa, it is necessary to acknowledge the “silent forms of censorship that occur every day in the media.”

“These are issues we have raised and discussed with SANEF since the original Gender and Media Baseline study in 2003,” she noted. “While they are acknowledged in some quarters they need to be taken up far more vigorously,” she said.

For more information contact Saeanna Chingamuka on 0822292337. The full GMPS study can be found on:

Download : Summary findings of the GMPS

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