Leading in a Different Language: Will Women Change the News Media? Condensed from the Report Published by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF). (Media Section)

Article excerpt

If there was ever any doubt about the power of the press, consider the experiences of Peruvian journalist Cecilia Valenzuela. In the last decade, Valenzuela has been arrested, fired from several jobs and has received countless death threats, some from her own government.

Valenzuela's offense has been her steadfast reports on politics and the military in her country.

Most recently, in September 2000, this 1993 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award winner published a report charging the Peruvian national intelligence service with trafficking in drugs and weapons. Her reward for careful investigative reporting was a physical assault.

Valenzuela has become a lightning rod because her reports are substantial, documented and, most important, have the power to sway public opinion.

Still, she is not the only reporter to suffer reprisals for telling the truth. And though many editors stand behind crusading reporters, others --including some who fired Valenzuela in an effort to silence her--are controlling the news.

Though this may be a stark example of the power that media leaders have to shape the news, it is still instructive. Whoever controls assignments, whoever decides how a story is going to be covered, whoever decides what placement that story gets in a newspaper or over the airwaves, is not only shaping content of news, but is deciding what readers and listeners know and how they know it. Media leaders are not just industry leaders, they have the power to shape society's attitudes.

And in most newsrooms around the world, most media leaders are men. Though women are more than half the world's population, men routinely decide what news they should hear and read. What is the impact on women when the news is constantly reported from a male point of view?

To explore what happens in the news when women are absent from decision-making positions, the IWMF brought together 100 of the top women in the news media from 60 countries in May 2000. The forum also provided the opportunity for discussions on the status of women in the media, the role of women as media leaders and the potential of women managers to influence news content and news audiences.


The overall number of women journalists employed in the media around the world has decreased by two percent in the last five years, according to a recent study by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). Today, women are 41 percent of working journalists; they were 43 percent in 1995.

For all women employed in the media--which includes those working in administrative and support positions--the figures are even lower. The only international analysis of women's employment in the news media was conducted in 1995 by Margaret Gallagher for UNESCO. Gallagher's report, An Unfinished Story: Gender Patterns in Media Employment, found that in all regions of the world, women are not a significant part of the media workforce. In Asia, women are 21 percent of the total media workforce.

In Latin America, they are 25 percent. In Southern Africa, they are 27 percent. In Western Europe and the United States, they are 35 percent. In some countries, the figures for women in the media are astonishingly low. A Nepalese journalist speaking at the UN Beijing Plus 5 Conference in New York in June 2000 said that in her country, women are only six percent of media workers. According to UNESCO figures, in Japan women are only eight percent of media employees; in India and Malawi they are 12 percent; and in Argentina and Mozambique women are 16 percent of the media workforce.

Worldwide, women are 79 percent of all part-time workers in the news media, wrote Gallagher in the 1995 report. Since part-time work is seldom an avenue to promotion, women in these positions rarely transition to full-time positions, much less leadership posts.

A majority (nearly 60 percent) of the women journalists from around the world who responded to a 1997 IWMF survey said that not even one out of 10 decision-makers in their companies were women. …