Our podcast: Why are women experts missing from the news media in Ghana?
In this episode of our podcast, we explore how well women's voices are represented in the Ghanaian news media compared to those of men, using findings from a research project led by a prominent broadcaster and former Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute. We look at the reasons behind the unequal representation and treatment of female and male experts and what could be done to address these discrepancies.
Nana Ama Agyemang Asante is the leader of the Ghana Expert Women Project, a new initiative to count the number of women interviewed as experts and authority figures in this African country. Nana Ama is the former co-host of one of the most popular morning radio shows in Ghana, and also the creator of Unfiltered, a podcast that provides Ghanaian women with a platform to participate in national conversations in which their voices are often missing. She is also a former Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute.
Our host Eduardo Suárez is Head of Editorial at the Reuters Institute. His role involves designing and executing a comprehensive editorial strategy with a focus on serving the needs of the Institute’s most important stakeholders. He is also a senior journalist with experience in Europe and the United States. He started his career at the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, where he worked for 14 years as an opinion writer and a foreign correspondent from London, New York and Brussels. He's written for El País, Univision, Nieman Reports and the Washington Post. In 2014 he won the Gabriel García Márquez Award for a story on the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Measuring women's presence in Ghanaian media ↑
Eduardo: So let’s start with the basics. I’m very curious about the project, which basically came about at your time at the Institute. So what’s the Ghana Expert Women Project, and how did it come about?
Nana Ama: OK. So first I’ll tell you how the project came about. You know, I spent six months at the Institute and COVID extended it, and so during the period I was stuck in the UK and that prolonged my stay as a Fellow. Meera connected me with the Department of Journalism at the City, University of London. They had worked on this project, where they had counted the number of women experts who appear in media in the UK, and she did this because this is something I had been talking and thinking about but I had no idea how to proceed. And so Meera, who knew that this project had happened, sort of put me in touch with Suzanne, who is at the City, University of London’s Journalism Department, and that started a conversation towards, “How could this project be replicated in Ghana?”
When I came back home one of the things you think about when you’ve heard about how this project took off in the UK and has become a major success, and so they started, it was a challenge when they started, but it’s become a success, that it’s something the media look out to check their performance. So how do you come back to Ghana, the context of Ghana, and replicate this? You need money [laughs] to do this, hire monitors to do this. So thankfully the department had some funds and they were willing to share and help me sort of replicate it in Ghana, that’s how it started.
What we did was to design a survey that counted the number of women in media over the five-month period. Hired monitors who were counting every week, so that we will be able to know how many women actually appear in Ghanaian media as experts, you know, not just as announcers, not just as readers, not just as host of shows or presenters, but actually women who come because of their expertise.
Eduardo: I was going to ask about the start of the project. You said that obviously a project like this takes money and you got some help from City University to do it, but what was the main challenge in terms of designing the project and choosing the shows that you were going to monitor and so forth?
Nana Ama: You know, I think that if I had done this without the guidance of the team at the Journalism Department that would have been harder, but because they sort of had a template it was easy to tweak it to fit my context, which was Ghana. So the challenge was deciding on which to choose. We have so many flagship shows [laughs], you know, so you have 400 radio stations in Ghana, just 400 stations alone, so which ones are you going to choose from, first of all, and then which television programmes, because most of the television programmes that were dominant were not shows that fit the model that we were going for? So the challenge was choosing which outlets, which television programme, which radio programme, that was one of our challenges.
Then also, because some of the programmes, even though they were flagship shows, they were weekly, not daily shows, so then how do you monitor those ones, how do you design something to fit that?
Eduardo: What were the criteria that you used to actually choose one show instead of another one? Was it popularity? Was it representativity? What were the reasons that you were using when choosing them?
Nana Ama: So our key factor was what the radio stations themselves describe as they are flagship shows, or the media outlets themselves describe as their flagship shows, and were popular in Ghana and were most listened by ... you know, in fact other indicators available out there. So there are award shows that came in which shows how popular, there were people who track which shows are most listened to. So we used all of these, we put all of these together to select which shows would be useful for this project.
Eduardo: Again, what many listeners are probably thinking or asking themselves is, what did you find when you measured the contributors and the people interviewed in these programmes?
Nana Ama: [Laughs] You know, like going in, you have your assumptions when you’re going into any research. So I had assumed when we were going in, that we will find, you know, just a fairly high number of women, because, to my mind, even though there weren’t a lot of women’s voices in media, you know, we may be around 30 percent, that was my assumption when we were going in. I complain about the absence of women’s voices in media, but I thought we were doing really well. It is 2020-2021, so we were making progress, and then we finish, and what we established is that only one out of 11 experts is a woman, who are interviewed on radio and television in Ghana as a woman, only one, and this is a country that has more than 50 percent of the population are women. So, you know, to put it in perspective for you.
Unequal treatment of women in media ↑
Eduardo: And it’s not only that they were much fewer women, it’s also that they got much less time on air, right?
Nana Ama: Yes, a bit.
Eduardo: Yeah, and also I’ve read that they were actually treated with less respect. I don’t know if you can elaborate on that and describe some of the situations that you encountered when monitoring?
Nana Ama: Yeah. So one of the things we found, that men were given more time during the interviews, male experts had more time, they were treated with more respect, their knowledge was not questioned much as women’s knowledge, women’s expert knowledge were questioned by a host of presenters of these shows, and the women were treated with far less respect. So there were comments about their looks, women who went on TV, there were comments about ... even on radio people received comments about their looks and comments about ... some people had received comments about their relationships, you know, whereas men do not get any of those questions about, “So how are you doing with marriage, how are you doing all of these two things, with combining your work with marriage?” and things like that, men were not getting some of these questions, but women who went on shows were getting questions. Or sometimes they were just simply cut off in the middle of the interviews.
Eduardo: Who were the women that were actually interviewed in these shows, who were the women experts and authorities that you found when you monitoring the output of these TV shows in Ghana?
Nana Ama: So that’s a really interesting question. So there were people who came and spoke for banks, like for their knowledge in banking, in health, in education. It was really broad, it was really broad, it was just that there were fewer women who were invited to speak, but the areas that people were invited to speak were broad.
Eduardo: And who were the men?
Nana Ama: Oh, well, men got [laughs] ... well the men got ... it’s the same area except I think the men received more respect. So the same areas, just that more men were invited, say they needed to have a conversation about banking in Ghana they were going to invite more men than women, that was the standard. If women were lucky then one woman would be invited to come in.
Reactions to the findings ↑
Eduardo: You’ve now presented the initial findings of the project and they are available, by the way, on your website for anyone to check. Which kind of reaction did you get from journalists, from news executives in these radio and television stations, or from the broader audience? What do people think when they saw this?
Nana Ama: So, for women who are activists and feminists, who have been talking for years that there are no women in media, women’s voices are absent, for people who have been making these complaints there was finally ... here’s the evidence for them. So it was a relief for them, it was an affirmation of something they had observed, and this was exciting for them. For the media outlets, well it was [laughs] ... it was mixed, I would say, it was mixed. There were people who were like, “Well, we know, we know, we know that this problem exists, but there are reasons why they exist,” and there were people who were like, “Actually, we disagree, this is not true, we do much better than you are claiming in this survey,” even though there are shows that had zero women during that period. But I had hosts and producers saying to me, “You are wrong, we did better than you claim,” even though the evidence says otherwise.
Steps to furthering diversity in Ghanaian media ↑
Eduardo: Obviously with this project you’ve been looking into experts and authority figures that are quoted in the news media, but I wonder if you can walk us through diversity in newsrooms in Ghana? Not just in terms of gender but also in terms of socioeconomic status and maybe ethnic background. Are newsrooms in Ghana truly diverse? And if they are not, what do you think are the steps to take to make them more inclusive and more diverse in the future?
Nana Ama: Well, Eduardo, this is a really hard question. You know, on the surface it would appear the newsrooms are diverse, but once you go in you realise people are over here underpaid and overworked, you sort of need to come from certain backgrounds to survive. First of all you have to have had ... be educated in certain places, so you have to go to either the Institute of Journalism or have gone to university, first of all, and very few people from the lower end of the economic scale make it to university or are able to go to the journalism school. So that means that people from the lower end of the scale do not make it into newsrooms, if you come from a really poor background you are probably not going to make it there.
Of course, not everybody there, I’m not saying ... because Ghana is not a rich country, we’re a poor country, so it’s different levels, right. So the people that do not come from rich homes, but I would say that people from the lowest end of the scale do not make it to the newsrooms. Then, because we come from ... Ghana is made up of different ethnic groups, you have to look at which ethnic group is represented, and not all the groups are represented. You have to think about religion as well, and not all the religions and people from the many religious groups are represented in newsrooms. Then you have to look at women, and I would say that if you walk into a newsroom, most newsrooms will have a fairly high number of women, except they are not people in higher positions, they’re people at the entry level or mid-level, and then at the top level, always, for some reason, women do not ... are unable to make it to the top.
So newsrooms are largely Christian in Ghana, southern Ghana, so when I say southern Ghana I’m dividing Ghana into two, I’m thinking of northern and southern Ghana, and southern Ghana is largely Akan, and so people from the Akan-speaking areas are largely represented in newsrooms, which also means they’re really Christian, you know. So the orientation of the newsroom tends to be Christian, yeah, they tend to be largely Christian, I would say, and not reflective. You probably might have two or three Muslims and that would be it. I don’t think I even remember anybody in a newsroom that was a practitioner of African indigenous or Ghanaian indigenous religious practices. Yeah, there may be people from poorer backgrounds or impoverished backgrounds who make it to the newsrooms, but they are not the majority. The people who succeed and thrive are people from ... you know, your mother is a teacher, your father is a doctor, at least you come from a home where people were educated, you’re not first generation university per se in the newsroom.
Building on the project ↑
Eduardo: So it sounds like the same dilemmas that news organisations are grappling with in other countries too. I would like to know, Nana Ama, about the next steps for the project. You’ve now shown that 89% of the experts featured are men, we’ve discussed that, I think it’s 95% of the time is given to men in these programmes, and they also are treated with more respect, even if sometimes they have actually less expertise than the women featured. So these are really striking figures and striking details, so what would you like to achieve with this data, what are the kind of things that you would like to get done after showing this striking data?
Nana Ama: You know, I had been complaining for a long time about the absence of women in media, and I had never thought about it in the context of women experts. I always thought there weren’t just women’s voices, you know, you go into newsrooms and there are a lot more women, but they are not the ones in authority positions. And on radio we are the new readers or we’re giving shows, to host the shows we define as entertainment and relationship shows, and so we’re not involved in the serious issues. So I’m excited that we’ve been able to do this project that shows clearly that women experts are absent in national conversations, which, for me, says that, because all of these conversations goes to shape national policy, national law, you know, even decisions people make, because if you exclude women you’re not hearing what the other side think about banking, insurance, human rights and even legal issues, you’re not hearing all of these perspectives which are necessary in framing policy and laws and making decisions about how life should work in this country. Actually it is also not fair, just that we’re 50% of the population and we’re not there.
So I’m happy that we’ve done this project. I hope this is our first round and there will be more rounds, so we can actually check to see if people are making ... if media outlets are making the changes they said they will make when we went out for interviews. That’s how we launched the report, we went for all of these interviews where producers and journalists promised they would do better than they have done. So my hope is that this report and this data will keep them in check, they will have it at the back of their minds that this is necessary. First of all, it’s unfair that we’re not represented, and it’s necessary because women’s voices and perspectives on issues matter. So that’s my hope for the project, I hope, I hope that media outlets and those producers, presenters, take this further. So this is not one of those things where a report is launched and we do all the interviews and everybody says the right things, and then, you know, we go back to our old ways. I hope this is a move towards change, you know, this triggers a move towards change for all of us.
The impact from inequality in wider society ↑
Eduardo: And I was wondering, in terms of impact and in terms of change, what are the things that you think are needed, you know, to feature more experts, more female experts on Ghana’s media? Is it a question of the media, or is it also a structural question? As it happens, in some countries where people in charge are usually men, still men, and they are more featured. I mean, how much of the blame would you put on the news media and how much of the blame on the structural inequalities in Ghanaian society?
Nana Ama: I would say probably 50/50 [laughs], 50/50 I would say. I would put half of them on media, I will put half the blame on society. Let me start with media. So after we did the report and I found out that nearly 90%, nearly 90% of experts on radio and television are men, I decided I needed to understand; why aren’t women showing up for these interviews? Because I had spoken to producers and journalists who said to me, “Look, we try to find women, we just can’t find them. When we call them they have one excuse after the other.” I know professional women, a lot of Ghanaian women have surpassed men in getting education in Ghana, so I found it really strange that we were not showing up for interviews.
I decided, how about I go and interview professional women and ask why they don’t do interviews, speak to those who actually go on shows and ask what their experience has been, maybe this will shed some light on what is happening and why producers can’t seem to find women. What I found was that, look, women, because culturally women are the ones that run the home in Ghana, and we live in a city. Most radio stations, especially the popular ones, are located in the capital, it’s hard to get from one end to the other. So women were telling me, “Look, if you call me at 7pm and ask me to come on the show the next morning at 7am, when I have a family, children to take care of and dropped, I won’t be able to make it, that’s not going to work. If you want to do a phone interview I may be able to do that, but you have to give me time to prepare.” And producers do not want that because, you know, in the newsrooms everything goes very fast, right, so there is that.
There were women who said to me, “I have been on shows where I have been so disrespected,” or, “I’ve been on shows with other men where men have spoken over me, and I’ve realised that the presenters on the show are far more interested in the arguments of the men,” which are not reasons at all, not an argument, “So why stress myself, you know, why bother, if they’re just going to pitch me against a man and listen to the man and not even consider my arguments, so I will not go.” So that’s the structure, the design of the programmes themselves, you know, you have programmes, high ranking programmes that start at 9pm, that’s when people are going home, and if women have children they have to tend to these children, and you want the women in the studio, that’s going to be hard for them to come to the studio, so there is that.
There is also ... there are women I spoke to who said, “I don’t want trouble, I don’t people to be calling my husband or my loved ones to complain about my views,” because, for some reason, no matter what you say, whether you go on radio and you say Jesus is love or women are great, it seems radical because you’re on radio. People’s parents and loved ones get calls all the time, you know, to sort of, “Rein in your woman.” So married women do not want to put themselves out there, and women who are not married do not want to be presented as radical, and so they don’t go, and that’s because the culture itself is conservative, there are certain expectations of women. So, if we’re going to move forward, then everybody’s going to have to make changes. So our society is going to have to realise that for us to progress women have to speak and engage actively in the political and the media space, and speaking and participating in media conversations is a start.
Then, for the radio and television and the media outlets, just to consider the design of the programmes, you know. COVID has taught us that we can have Zoom conversations, like you and I. I’m in New York, you’re in London, we’re having this conversation, it’s possible, you know. People do not have to be physically in studios for conversations to be had, for it to be interesting or engaging. So for me I think the outlets have to consider the design, the way they treat women when they appear on these shows. So you can change the format of the shows to include more women, but if they show up and they’re not treated with respect, if you allow men to talk over them, or if you sort of dismiss them live on the radio or in the middle of an interview they’re not going to come back. So both sides ought to make changes, I’m not placing all the blame on media outlets, but also we women have to sort of take certain steps, recognise that we’re present and we have to play a role.
Eduardo: There are so many nuances that you just described in those interviews. So it’s not just the survey data or the monitoring that you did, but also the nuance of these interviews that reveal real reasons for women not to be featured on the Ghanaian media.
Finally, I would like to know what would be your advice to journalists who may be listening right now, who live in other countries that are not in Europe or the US, and that would like to replicate something similar to this project, try to monitor which kind of gender breakdown experts feature or authority voices. Any advice, any tips that may be useful for them in terms of trying to replicate your success?
Nana Ama: I would say, you know, keep your monitors in check [laughs], if you want solid data please keep your monitors in check, because, you know, you asked me about challenges earlier, Eduardo, and I forgot to mention that. That was one of my ... you know, so that you don’t have false stats, you hire people and they promise to do everything, and then you need ... on the evening that you need to receive that data you start calling and they don’t pick up. So I would say that’s number one. Also pay attention yourself, so you know if somebody is fudging the data. I would say pay attention yourself.
What to expect as a Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute ↑
Eduardo: Just the last question. I mean, the applications for the Fellowships are approaching here at the Reuters Institute, and you’ve been a Fellow with us, a dear Fellow. I wonder what would be your advice for people who are considering applying. What did you learn while you were here with us at Oxford, even with the difficult conditions that we got from COVID-19 and from the pandemic? What do you think people can expect when they apply to the Journalism Fellowship here at the Institute?
Nana Ama: Oh my god, what did I learn? Do you have another hour [laughs]? Look, I will never stop saying this, I came to Oxford basically depressed about my job as a journalist, because I thought, “God, nothing moves, nothing changes.” You know, I was in Ghana, I thought my problems were unique and intractable and there are no solutions to this, and then I got to Oxford and I met all these amazing, incredible, brilliant people, with different perspectives, who sort of have similar challenges. Look, they may not be the same, so the corruption may differ but corruption is happening. The gender issues may be different but they were present. So that alone, just being in conversation with the other Fellows, the perspective reshaped mine and offered me tools to take back to Ghana, to then move in addressing some of the issues I saw. So my perspectives on democracy, gender, human rights, technology, information and disinformation, all of that was transformed because of our conversations together, you know, with Meera and Rasmus and all the other people who were invited to come and talk to us.
Also, when you work in mainstream media in a context like mine, Ghana is a middle-income country on paper but we’re really poor, and so it’s impossible for you to independently do something. But then I come and I meet Jaakko, whose organisation is doing the Black Box Theatre, that’s so innovative, that’s something that, “Oh god, that’s something that an outlet can do,” and it doesn’t have to be one outlet in Ghana, you can sort of pitch it to other people. Then I speak to Kohei about Japan, how stories are done and how to make sure that you can do insightful, long-form pieces that people will be interested in. I would say, by all means apply, you have to sell yourself when you apply, but it’s a transformative Fellowship. It might not come in a form of rigid class structure, but all the people who come to speak to us during the period that we are in Oxford bring with them knowledge that will sharpen or, you know, open your eyes to things you didn’t see in your own context.
So there were things I didn’t know, I didn’t even realise were present in Ghana until we started having those conversations. I remember when they brought ... I forget his name, but the BBC guy, the 50:50 person.
Eduardo: Ros Atkins, yeah?
Nana Ama: Ros Atkins. I’m so sorry, Ros. So when Ros Atkins came to speak to us, I had been whining and complaining about, “There are no women’s voices in media, there are no women’s voices,” and I thought it required so much to do it, but then he came, and after his presentation I was, “Oh, that’s illuminating!” You know, it sort of opened my eyes to ways in which I could do that in my context and it didn’t require so much, and I could actually find allies to help me through this, you know. So I would say, please apply, it’s a journalism-enriching experience, and also a life-enrichment experience because some of the people I met have become friends. I am meeting Zoe this Sunday to have a conversation about work and life. So yeah, by all means, please apply for the Reuters Institute Journalist Fellowship. I haven’t abandoned journalism because of the time I spent there.
Eduardo: And it was such a pleasure to host you here in Oxford, Nana Ama. Thank you for joining us today, it’s been a great conversation.
Nana Ama: You’re welcome, you’re welcome. I enjoyed this, I really enjoyed this.