The root cause of a sexist press

The media strives hard to keep up with a changing world. So why is it so behind the pace when it comes to diversity?

Journalism remains a white, predominantly male profession – a revelation that will come as no great shock to anyone who either reads a paper or who has spent any time in a newsroom. A 2016 survey found 94 per cent of the industry to be white, 86 per cent university-educated and 55 per cent male. This is something we have heard before, but these statistics should continue to shock us. The lack of equality in an industry of such influence is frankly unacceptable. It is also dangerous. The very body responsible for identifying what stories have a right to be told is suffering from a chronic lack of diversity. If editors do not believe that has a real world effect, then they are mistaken.

It is an issue that has been hashed and rehashed for decades. Although there have been some changes in newsrooms to make them more inclusive and to encourage diversity, women are still not making it to the upper ranks of senior management – despite making up the majority of journalism students. In 2016, even the British Press Awards were in on the act, shortlisting 94 men and just 20 women. Sadly this also reflects wider gender equality trends – with just one in ten of the most senior roles filled by women, according to one 2017 study.

One poll revealed female journalists end up occupying the lower end of the salary scale and find themselves stuck in junior management positions. Men however, are more likely to be propelled into senior roles. This kind of representation can be deceptive. Journalists might look around the newsroom and be pleasantly surprised to see a relatively even distribution of men and women – but how many of those women have roles of influence?

One explanation is senior editors and management tend to hire in their own image – the old boys’ club. While efforts have been made to bring greater transparency to hiring practices, the industry has historically thrived on nepotism, and undoubtedly continues to do so, albeit in a less contrived way.

Another theory is that women have been less able or willing to put in the long and inflexible working hours required to make it to the top ranks. Journalism is notorious for its anti-social hours and research has found women are much more likely than men to experience significant career interruptions in order to attend to their families’ needs.

But don’t these explanations feel distinctly tired to you? Journalism is not the same industry it was in years past. The birth of digital media should have revolutionised newsrooms. It drastically changed the way the public digests news, and caused a shift in industry working patterns as more publications invested in their online arms. It should have been the trigger for a complete overhaul in media work practices. So why are so many newsrooms still being run in the same way they were years ago?

News has never been a 9-to-5 business, so flexible working patterns would undoubtedly benefit the industry, while offering greater freedom to those who need it. Job shares are happening more and more, so why shouldn’t this be commonplace in journalism too? It could help usher more women into senior management, while offering up options for both men and women who want to prioritise projects, family or their lives outside of work.

Home working has become routine in digital workplaces. And journalism as a profession lends itself perfectly to this modern approach. Why, when so many newsrooms are run using digital resources, do employers insist on having a physical presence in the office? Journalism can be extremely solitary. It is rare that you collaborate with wider teams while working on a story in the early stages, so what difference does it make if you are working remotely? This would offer an opportunity for people who are unable to come to the office Monday to Friday – caregivers, those with health conditions, parents, the list goes on – to make valued contributions.

Perhaps, you might argue, change doesn’t occur overnight, especially for those publications that have been in print for decades. But even The New European – a brand spanking new paper – is guilty. On its website, it lists just six female contributors in its writers list, compared to 18 male. Of the total 23 contributors listed, just four are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (Bame). I was wrangled enough by this to ask Editor Matt Kelly what possible justifications he had for this disparity. Did the paper’s readership – the 48 per cent – not vote in equal parts, male and female, to remain? The paper is brand new, it has no insidious sexist working culture, or if it does – it has been hired in and not borne from decades of gender inequality in senior management. Kelly tells me the situation is not as bad as the website would have you believe, but it is something they are unhappy with and actively working to address.

But the issue is perplexing. What possible barriers could there be for getting more female writers on staff? Why in certain organisations are white, male voices prioritised over female or ethnically diverse opinions?

The National Union of Journalists wants to see media organisations forced to collect and publish employment data, including gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality and disability in terms of access to jobs, pay rates and employment status.

The arguments for this are strong. Not only would it make the issue impossible to ignore but it could also expose the reasons why we see so little diversity in the upper echelons of media organisations. Perhaps it would also incentivise more effective schemes to ensure equality and diversity are prioritised in the hiring process.

There is public appetite for greater transparency in both politics and press, so perhaps this is the way to enforce it. It would offer the industry an opportunity to regain its credibility and for the public to feel represented. It would undoubtedly set the tone for a wider debate on equality and diversity in the workplace.

However, we must accept the issue runs deeper than hiring practices alone. Financial barriers to entry in journalism remain incredibly high. NCTJ courses or Masters degrees are the preserve of the privilege and the unpaid internships that follow are only open to graduates who have the financial support to go unpaid for months at a time. Making sure these internships are paid would, at the very least, open the doors to candidates from more varied backgrounds.

Equality is an urgent issue, and I don’t pretend to have the answers. What I do know, is the media needs to wake up to the value of diversity. It needs to be taken very seriously and recognised as an asset. Just as workplace sexism is no longer accepted as normal, neither should an insular outlook. And we must continue to call it out. Gender equality is not about benefiting women. It is about fairness for both sexes. It is about challenging outdated ideas and workplace practices, going back to the drawing board and understanding where our weaknesses are. It is about producing quality work of integrity.

The enduring prevalence of white, male writers gravely limits the kind of journalism the industry is able to produce. How many important stories go untold because we are blind to them? The media industry has always been trend setting, but now it feels distinctly like many newsrooms are playing catch up. Diversity and equality should have been prioritised – and championed – years ago. No more excuses. Now, more than ever, it is time to rebel loudly against a homogeneous media.

Originally printed in The New European

Countless human rights violations show why we should boycott Dubai

The Great British Summer is upon us and escaping the wash out is looking more and more appealing.

With London’s sky-rocketing house prices, stagnating wages and never-ending university debt, it’s no wonder generation-rent are looking for more than just a holiday.

The prospect of booming economies and faraway adventure have seen countless of my friends up sticks and head to sunnier climes.

Australia’s budding tech scene is quietly seducing Europe’s digital talent, with big budgets and a developing e-commerce market that has room for growth.

What’s more, if you are to believe the media hype, a deluge of Britain’s junior doctors are flocking to its shores to regain that work-life balance lacking under the NHS.

To the East, Singapore and Hong Kong have long tempted bright city talent as global financial hubs offering big payouts in more exotic climes.

And then there’s Dubai.

A jewel in the crown of the Arabian Gulf perhaps, but that’s not hard when you’re competing with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Don’t be fooled by its outwardly cosmopolitan image, the Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf it ain’t.

Pre-2008 recession, there were 120,000 Brits living in the UAE.

By 2012, there were 240,000, the largest western community in the country cashing in on the oil-rich economy and favourable exchange rates.

With less and less red-tape, businesses are increasingly capitalising on its connectivity and infrastructure, with job opportunities for expats on the rise.

But Dubai’s appalling human rights track record is notorious, and visitors who fall short of its hardline laws pay the price.

Dubai’s tourism industry has worked hard to position itself as the playground of the middle-east, but in reality it is no such thing.

Some of the most extreme forms of self-censorship are practised in the region, with reporters practising ‘polite’ journalism under the government’s restriction of press freedoms.

International press was up in arms over Saudi blogger Raif Badawi‘s flogging and subsequent imprisonment for ‘insulting Islam’ last year, but the same thing is happening as we speak in UAE.

According to Human Rights Watch, Emirati academic, Nasser bin Ghaith and UAE-based Jordanian journalist, Tayseer al-Najjar, are currently being detained without charge for comments made on social media criticising Egypt.

Women’s basic human rights are repeatedly criminalised as seen in the case of Marte Deborah Dalelv, the Norwegian woman imprisoned for 16 months after reporting a rape incident to police.

Homosexuality is not only taboo in Dubai – it’s still outlawed.

But legal jeopardy facing rape victims and LGBT citizens is a drop in the vast ocean that is Dubai’s dubious human rights record.

UAE’s new plans to position itself as a global manufacturing hub will do little to force them into improving conditions for their migrant workers who underpin Dubai’s ‘luxury’ economy.

So when will we start boycotting Dubai?

Activists have been calling for change for years yet human rights violations continue and visitors continue to arrive.

Holiday-makers and expats alike have a social responsibility to use their economic leverage to force change in the region.

It might offer tempting opportunities for work or play with sun, sea and sand but those in search of international adventure should look elsewhere.

Next time that job opportunity in Dubai pops up on Linkedin, think again.

Until Dubai cleans up its act, we should all think carefully about whether its tax-free shopping and glitzy skyscrapers are worth the trip.

 

Willkommenskultur after Cologne

On 31st December, gangs of men gathered in Cologne with the premeditated intention of sexually assaulting and stealing from women.

The news was hard to swallow. As many as 1,000 men were said to be involved, with upwards of 90 complaints deposed by female victims, and eye-witness accounts claiming the majority were of Arab or North-African origin.

The horror of the scene is hard to imagine. Especially for Germans who have been praised and criticised in equal measure for their Willkommenskultur.

This summer, Europe suffered its biggest migrant crisis in history, and Germany responded by opening its doors, with more than 1.1 million claiming asylum in the country in 2015 alone.

The German response was heavily praised by the European left as an example of progressive, humanitarian politics and as one of few to offer a compassionate solution to the crisis.

In the UK, there was appetite to increase the number of Syrians given refuge, with Amnesty International leading a high-profile #OpentoSyria campaign that gained much public traction but did little to change opinion in Whitehall.

Following the attacks, German mood shifted and the far right were quick to stoke the flames. On Monday, a rally held by the Xenophobic Pegida movement turned violent. Protesters hit back at Merkel for her ‘open-door’ policy, holding signs proclaiming ‘Rapefugees not welcome’ and shouting ‘Merkel out’. Cars were burned, buildings were vandalised and 211 arrests were made. And tensions are only escalating.

In response to the growing anti-migrant sentiment, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor has announced tougher punishments for those seeking asylum convicted of serious crimes, including deportation. And it’s not just Merkel’s own party the CDU who are pushing for tougher measures in response to the assaults.

Linke, the traditionally leftist party are also behind the measures which will require parliamentary approval before they are passed.

Politicians must now strike a finite balance between appeasing the growing anti-migrant and increasingly anti-Islam sentiment, whilst finding tangible solutions to ensure that an episode of this scale will never happen again.

Merkel is right to firm up internal policy but she must be careful not to victimise or discriminate against the 99.9% of refugees who had no part in the events.

The crisis meant that millions arrived in Germany before appropriate home affairs measures were put in place, so now is the time to review.

As Sahra Wagenknecht, the Linke co-leader, said this week, “Those who abuse the right of hospitality, lose the right to hospitality.”. Whilst the message is uncharacteristically conservative, she’s right. Germany should not rush to abandon their Willkommenskultur, instead they should ensure that correct legislation is there to protect them in the case of a small percentage of opportunists slipping through the cracks.

A group of Pakistani and Syrian refugees wrote to the Chancellor this week. They said, “We strive to uphold the dignity and honour of women…we respect the laws of our host country without question. We are happy to have been given protection in Germany”. Their views doubtless echo hundreds of thousands of other asylum seekers who have escaped unthinkable oppression and violence in their countries of origin.

The last notable influx of refugees to Germany was in the 90s, and they were, as a whole, left to their own devices. German immigration policy must evolve as a result of previous failings.

Germans will have to adapt to this New Society and Merkel’s tougher stance will be imperative for them to do so.

Going cold turkey: can Britain beat the booze?

This week, Chief Medical Officer for England, Sally Davies, announced new, tougher guidelines for recommended alcohol consumption in Britain based on evidence that drinking, even in moderation, increases our chance of cancer. Her advice is clear, cut back on the booze or risk the consequences. So can Britain kick its alcohol habit, just like that?

The issue is a complex one. Britain has a reputation for its booze culture that spans continents, and a social dependence on alcohol as part of our Anglo-Saxon DNA. The Great British Pub represents the beating heart of our communities, with the unique potential to unite groups of strangers, friends, families and co-workers irrespective of age, sex, race or gender. Our economy also reaps the rewards, with pub culture, as of 2014, injecting £21 billion a year into the national GDP.

But that’s where the romance ends. According to the latest figures released in 2014, our nation’s alcohol dependence costs the NHS in excess of £3.5 billion each year, a figure that is rising along with alcohol-related illnesses such as liver disease and cirrhosis. This 31st December, like many before it, 48 alcohol-related arrests were carried out on London’s streets alone with the associated anti-social behaviour putting unprecedented strain on our already sorely stretched public services. It’s clear that our dependence is a problem on a national scale, seeping through every strata of society, with claims that drink rather than fees is the biggest problem facing British universities today.

Introducing revised alcohol consumption guidelines will do little to change the habits of a lifetime, when our drinking bears the most resemblance to any recognisable British ‘culture’ we have. Our healthcare providers have an obligation to inform us of the risks associated with drinking but we need tougher, alternative measures to curb the habit and relieve the strain on both our health and our social services. Before we can go cold turkey, a wider shift in mentality needs to take place, which won’t be popular. Implementing minimum pricing per unit should be a priority and further deterrence measures should follow, including increased advertising regulation. A pro-health stance has to be adopted by our government if we’re to tackle the problem, although there is a clear conflict of interest at play here. David Cameron, since first announcing his support for minimum pricing per unit measures in 2012, has flip-flopped on the issue, amid increasing pressures and aggressive lobbying from the global alcohol producers.

Until public health is prioritised over the economic power of the alcohol industry, change will be hard to come by. Britain is in the grip of addiction and guidelines alone won’t be enough to tackle the problem.

 

Distorted mirror: why the media is failing to reflect today’s women.

Last month, I looked at  anti-ageing adverts and the implications of their dangerous inference that ageing is a solely women’s issue. Sexism in advertising is rife and sadly, anti-ageing ads are just the tip of the iceberg.

Advertisers’ sustained misrepresentation of women reaches as far as the eye can see, an undeniably cult example of which has to be the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. For weeks in the run up, the media examine the models in forensic detail, offering up tips on how to achieve that model figure with the perfect Angel arse. A mere cursory glance at the comments below any such articles crudely exposes the impact of this scrutiny on women’s own self-perception, with the hashtags ‘bodygoals’, ‘thinspiration’ and ‘thighgap’ gaining ever-increasing popularity in 2015. The VS catwalk is socially-accepted sexism in its purest form, a multi-million dollar publicity stunt born out of the objectification of women’s bodies perpetuating a dangerous myth: that one single body type alone equates to beauty and success.

Caroline Nokes, Tory MP and chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, has hit headlines in the past weeks as she picks up the baton from many campaigners before her on the age-old size debate in the fashion industry. It’s been a contentious subject since the ‘90s and despite increasingly vocal warnings against emaciation as an aspiration, there has been little to no change in the advertising arena. Nokes rightly defends the importance of realistic representations of women in our media stating, “If someone can come forward and offer an explanation of why a size six woman is too large to model clothes when the average woman in this country is a size 16, then I am very happy to hear it”.

Nokes herself has been criticised as an ‘obesity-enabler’ and, ironically, her position as chair of the committee has put her own size under media scrutiny, making the importance of what she’s doing all the more stark. Portrayals of women in the media need to be inclusive and truly representative of their diversity. That should include young, tall and slim women, but it should also include the 99% of other body types, ages and demographics that are sorely underrepresented.

Advertisers change when consumer habits force them to but when consumers are presented with so few alternative examples, how can they flex their purchasing power? Advertisers need to recognise that their rhetoric is harmful and wake up to a growing discontent for media misrepresentation, although I fear they’ll be loathe to do so without a legislative nudge.

Female empowerment has come a long way since the ‘50’s – all the more reason to stamp out the out-dated, cultural misogyny in our advertising.

Fair Tuesday, Cyber Monday’s conscious cousin

For anyone who’s done so much as opened their browser this week, they’ll have noticed something’s up in the retail world. It is of course that time of year again for the inaugural Cyber Weekend, and those who work in retail will tell you, it’s mayhem. Last year saw record numbers of online sales, and total carnage on the high street, with frantic shoppers literally fighting each other for the best deals.

This year, across the four day period from Black Friday to Cyber Monday,  spend is expected to peak at £2.2 billion from online sales alone but what does this mean for those in the background? Factory owners are put under ever-increasing pressure from foreign retail giants to keep up with demand, driving their workforce hard, often in poorly-paid, unsafe conditions. The retail industry is built on the eager, plentiful workforces grown out of the developing  world and when prices are driven down in the West, the factories feel the squeeze. It is this very price deflation that has led to some of the worst tragedies in our industrialised era, including the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, indirectly a product of our consumerism.

So what about Fair Tuesday? Fair Tuesday is all about conscious consumerism and making a positive impact with your purchasing power. It’s not about tightening your purse strings or boycotting the high street but it is about making ethical choices that give back to communities instead of exploiting them. Fair Tuesday sends a powerful message to those retail giants that are still unable to guarantee the principles of fair trade for their workers and who continue to exploit those who have no other choice but to accept the job given to them.

It’s important we stand up for those who don’t have the platform to stand up for themselves so here, I’ve rounded up my top 3 ethical and environmentally-conscious fashion retailers to support on this Fair Tuesday:

  1. People Tree

People Tree has been a pioneer of sustainable and ethical fashion since its inception in the early 2000s. The geometric prints found on their dresses and skirts this season is very in.

2. Victoria Road

Victoria Road’s innovative designs are sourced from around the world and made by skilled, artisan, female workers in safe and fair working conditions. Their jewellery collection is stunning and there’s 40% off until Fair Tuesday.

3. MATT & NAT

MATT & NAT (MAT(T)ERIAL + NATURE) specialise in bags made from vegan and recycled materials. They are working to bring all of their factories up to SA8000 standard, which ensures quality work conditions for all. Their bags are classic and affordable and offer an eco option to their leather-producing competitors.

When did ageing become a women’s issue?

I’m just going to come right out and say it: anti-ageing ads are bullshit. Did no one let those advertising execs know that this isn’t the ‘50s? You’d be forgiven for thinking not.

Earlier this week, I tuned in for my weekly fix of my favourite series. The ads were playing, and an actress was promoting a brand of anti-wrinkle cream. Her opening line was for us ‘ladies’ to ‘listen up!’, as she described the new ‘secret’ in beauty.

There was nothing unusual about the advert; in fact it was archetypal in its predictability, the same format that has been running since I can remember, with the same underlying, culturally-ingrained misogyny that the beauty industry thrives upon. Spoiler alert, the main takeaway was that youth is beautiful, hence women who show their age are not. And clearly, if you’re not beautiful, you’re not important. Did I get that right?

But when and how did ageing become a women’s issue? At my last check, the ageing process is indiscriminate to sex, so how did it become a battle that solely women are not only expected to fight but also win? Who decided that a woman’s age was intrinsically linked to her worth?

By no means is this a new concern. On the contrary, anti-ageing products have been around for decades and the industry as a whole has weathered high profile scrutiny throughout its history. In 2009, Olay was reprimanded for photoshopping one of its models and Nivea’s advert was outright banned in 2013 for misleading consumers as to the benefits of its anti-wrinkle creams. In spite of this, the industry is booming, expected to be worth a mind-boggling $345.8 billion by 2018. But the issue runs much deeper than consumerism. It’s time we as a society retired our youth-obsession and start championing age for what it is; knowledge, wisdom, expertise and so much more.

A woman’s value doesn’t expire after the age of 35 and our media has a responsibility to reflect that.