The majority of journalists reporting from the field on most Kosovar television networks are women. They even report in dangerous situations, such as during the recent tensions in the north of Kosovo. They do it all: protests, parties, vox-pop and more. More noteworthy is that over the years there has been a marked increase in the number of women journalists covering politics, a field that has traditionally been dominated by men.
Despite the predominance of women journalists in the field and in politics, after the evening news when political talk shows infiltrate our homes, women start to disappear from the screen. We see instead panels of men. This perpetuates the idea that women’s voices and expertise are less valuable and that women are not valued contributors to social or political dialogue.
This gender imbalance and the reinforcing of harmful gender stereotypes is evident in the output of media outlets. This deprives us of different perspectives. Women, in particular, are far less likely than men to be featured as subjects in newscasts, perpetuating a distorted and biased view of society.
The discrepancy between the visibility of women journalists in fieldwork and in panel discussions and other media content was also highlighted in research published last month, which I led. The survey for this report included 265 women — journalists, photojournalists, moderators, editors, editors-in-chief, directors, lecturers and video editors — employed in all types of media organizations.
The findings from this survey started at the request of the journalists themselves. In 2021, the Peaceful Change initiative (PCi) brought together dozens of women journalists from Kosovo and Serbia for an hours-long virtual meeting to talk about gender representation in the media and the experiences of women in newsrooms.
At the time of the research, Covid-19 continued to be an entrenched part of life. It was clear that the pandemic was further exacerbating inequalities and that many of the hidden experiences of the crisis were gendered. For example, there was the burden of unpaid work, which fell more and more on women’s shoulders. There was also an increase in the number of cases of gender-based violence.
Likewise, we witnessed how among the women who were on the front line of the pandemic, such as nurses or cashiers, there were also journalists who were reporting from the moment the first cases emerged in Kosovo.
During the virtual meeting in 2021 the participants agreed that their considerable workload was only one problem. Worse still was that the sexism that perpetuates the oppression of women is not only present within media content, but also in the workplace.
Two years later, stories about the harsh and unsafe environment in newsrooms have turned into tangible and clear documentation.
About half of the women surveyed earn less than the average salary in Kosovo, which in 2021 was 484 euros. Meanwhile, almost 40% of them work more than 40 hours a week. Of course, more analysis is needed to determine whether these insufficient economic conditions are a consequence of the gender pay gap or just a familiar portrait of worker’s exploitation in Kosovo’s newsrooms. The survey did not analyze the salaries of male employees in the newsroom.
The research shows how women journalists encounter obstacles, confrontations and additional difficulties due to being discriminated against on the basis of gender. Some of the forms of discrimination highlighted in the research are sexual harassment, ageism and the lack of support for journalists who are mothers.
“I quit my job”
The research revealed that sexual harassment is a serious concern in many media outlets, where one in four women are a victim of sexual harassment (26.4%).
A significant number stated that the harassers are their male colleagues — journalists, editors-in-chief, managers, directors, cameramen and video editors. Examples of the sexual harassment included inappropriate or unwanted sexual gestures, making sexual comments or jokes and harassment through spam messages and calls. Some women journalists also reported forms of sexual assault, such as fondling or unwanted sexual touching.
Outside the newsroom, harassers included men who hold public positions within institutions and political parties, but also businessmen and others who were important sources for the women journalist’s articles and research.
Although the survey did not ask women if they had reported sexual harassment to their supervisors, some indicated that when they did report it, they were met with discouragement and indifference.
The frightening and traumatizing experience of sexual harassment in the workplace is particularly illustrated in the same response given by at least three respondents:
“I quit my job.”
Sexual harassment is an abuse of power and privilege. The media has a critical role to play in combating sexual harassment and holding abusers of power accountable. Instead, the media is too often complicit in allowing this abuse to continue, creating a toxic culture of fear and silence that undermines the safety and well-being of employees.
Directors, editors-in-chief and other leaders in the media must take a stand and establish clear guidelines for reporting sexual harassment. They must provide support and resources for victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. It is essential that leading figures within the media recognize that sexual harassment not only endangers the integrity of women, but also prevents newsrooms from joining the global fight against gender discrimination in the workplace.
In addition to an abundance of evidence about how journalists are objectified and sexually harassed in their workplace and are faced with unwanted sexual advances, women journalists are also objectified by editors and managers for the purposes of news production.
“I have been asked to look more sensual and attractive when I have interviews with any artist,” said one of the respondents.
How can the media effectively combat gender discrimination in society if it does not first address it within the media industry itself? As is, the media is perpetuating harmful gender roles that encourage the objectification and dehumanization that pave the way for gender-based violence.
Ageism and lack of support for journalists who are mothers
Nearly 30% of respondents stated that they have been discriminated against because of their age. This applies both to younger journalists (18-24) and to those over 55. For example, a number of young women reported receiving derogatory remarks from editors and not being taken seriously by sources because of their age.
The urgency is obvious — media outlets must start discussing ways to keep older women journalists in the newsrooms, instead of losing their valuable knowledge and expertise. Similar to the overall labor market, the lack of participation of older women in newsrooms and panels suggests that newsrooms are also failing to accommodate older, more experienced women journalists.
The latter is not only a matter of justice, but also a matter of quality journalism. Experienced journalists bring a level of depth, context and institutional memory to their reporting that is difficult to replicate. This is also part of the media’s responsibility to the audience — to provide journalism that informs from different perspectives and experiences.
The fact that women are not welcome in the media after a certain point in their lives is also reflected in the answers of a significant group of respondents who say that they are facing difficulties in career progression due to family life.
“Since I have to come home when my child returns from school or when the kindergarten closes, sometimes I have to push my career goals to the side. I get involved as little as possible in training and discussion tables in order not to waste time, because I have a family at home who expect care from me,” answered one of them.
Almost 30% said that their family responsibilities have a major impact on their media engagement, while half of them responded that their personal life has some kind of impact.
Considering how the burden of unpaid work and parenting falls disproportionately on the shoulders of Kosovar women compared to their male partners — for single mothers it’s even worse — it’s no surprise that the compiled data shows that 97% of those who answered that family responsibilities influence their career “a lot” are married with children.
Journalists, along with other mothers, have to shoulder the burden of public policy failures and the lack of progressive legislation, putting mothers in economic hardship and reinforcing the harmful notion that they are the absolute caretakers of their homes.
The media, instead of condemning mothers because of cultural norms, should find solutions and join the conversation that many newsrooms around the world are having about how to facilitate the family-work balance of women in journalism.
It is vital that the media in Kosovo apply feminist concepts and policies to employment and media production, thereby addressing power relations and taking into consideration gender and the interaction of social identities that structure experiences in the workplace. Only in this way can the media create an inclusive and diverse environment that supports and empowers women journalists.
When women journalists are given equal opportunities and their perspectives are valued, the media can better represent and reflect the diverse voices and experiences of individuals and social groups. In this way, the media can lead the way to a fairer and more equal society.
Feature Image: K2.0.
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