Bringing women into the African media agenda

’MAKERESEMESE LETUKA and

KHAHLISO KHATALA

 

MASERU – The position of female African journalists in the newsroom today and their role in shaping their future in the industry is coming under closer scrutiny, with local female reporters demanding their space. Opening the Africa Media Convention in Arusha, Tanzania, in this year’s commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the African Editors Forum (TAEF) recommended for targeting women journalists to safely enter the journalism profession, facilitate their rise up the structural ladder and ensure their meaningful and equitable representation in matters relating to the trade.

TAEF chairman, Jovial Rantao, called for more female representation in the annual Africa Media Convention and other media-related workshops, conferences and conventions. “Women journalists are exposed to alarming additional risks that range from discrimination, sexual harassment and cyber-harassment to rape threats, sexual attack, rape and even murder,” Rantao observed in a statement released to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day.

He went on to observe that journalism on the continent was under siege from governments who have used Covid-19 as a cover to restrict media freedom, pointing out that, “journalism is under siege from repressive governments who are responsible for the attacks on journalists, detentions, harassment.

“Just the other day, 14 journalists from Somalia were arrested while on assignment. Female journalists, in particular, are under siege from those who harass them in cyberspace.” Rantao also said that the profession is under siege from purveyors of propaganda who are flooding social media platforms with lies and half-truths dressed up as journalism. He called for a partnership and support to strengthen digital platforms for the safety of journalists in Africa.

He added that media practitioners should “prioritise capacity building of journalists, including mentorship, to ensure those joining the profession possess the right skills that are key to professionalise journalism. “Special attention to strengthening the capacity and use of community radio, embrace new media business modules, media innovation and new skills for content development should be heightened.” In relation to WFPD and targeting women journalists to safely enter the profession and rise up the structural ladder and ensuring their meaningful representation in the local media, Lerato Matheka, a young, local female journalist who is also managing editor and publisher of a newspaper believes there should be space for female journalists.

However, she is not convinced that the environment does create that space for local female journalists in Lesotho. Instead, she notes that “unfortunately women journalists in Lesotho have a benchmark set for them by their male counterparts and managers.” Matheka argues that Lesotho already has very capable female journalists who just need to be afforded opportunities to serve in management positions, and that a large number of practicing journalists in the country are female after all.

“That alone is proof enough that with promotion and support, the local media sector has a seat for women on the decision-making table.” She also underscored the need for more opportunities for female journalists to ensure “real change in the local media landscape.” In an interview with Public Eye veteran female journalist Violent Maraisane said when we talk about the safety of women journalists the name that immediately comes to mind is Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-American journalist who was recently killed Israel, who worked as a reporter for the Arabic-language channel Al Jazeera.

“Whether she had become vulnerable because she was female I cannot say. Also, in Lesotho no name comes to mind about a journalist being victimised because of being female. “But what is glaringly obvious is that there are more female journalists in Lesotho but very few female editors and managers. It brings a question – what happens? Are female journalists not good enough to become editors, but good enough to be reporters?”

Furthermore, she is not sure if there is bullying in newsrooms, adding “probably, violence against women journalists is not reported because it mostly takes place in the private sphere.” What she sees is the need for clear policies and legislation that can decisively deal with perpetrators of any form of violence in newsrooms as a way of protecting female journalists. “Also, media content in the country is dominated by the voices of men more than women, could it be that the male editors, chop off and spike stories where women have been quoted?

“I think that needs further analysis because her voice is one of the most important measures in development. Women also need to have their voices and concerns heard in the public space that is provided by the media,” she concluded. On the other hand, Mpinane Thulo from a local radio station, MoAfrika FM, argued that female journalists have a very positive impact in journalism because they are there to fight for the inclusion of the voice of the voiceless, and that they are given the platform to express themselves and work on different stories without pointing out that they are female.

“We can talk of MISA, it does not discriminate, we can talk of their committee we have a number of females in the MISA-Lesotho committee which focuses on journalists. “We have sectors like Gender Links that engage in fighting for women’s rights, so some of the things are just caused by lack of knowledge but in our country there is that knowledge that we have from attending workshops held for both male and female journalists.

“So in general there we have good working conditions between our sources and male workers. The threats in this industry are not 100 percent but the threats made to a female can still be made to a male,” she said. She also added, that approach is not impressive when it comes to addressing matters where politicians are involved and journalists who require information are denied it in a manner that makes them feel belittled.

Lesotho has had very little reporting of women journalists being harassed, though the practice is said to be rife in some areas such as the workplace, where female journalists seek interviews, especially with politicians and other leaders.

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