Our podcast: How can we amplify women's voices in journalism?

In this episode, we ask women journalists from three countries about the role of gender in newsrooms and news coverage
International Women's Day March in Indonesia

People take part in a rally calling for women's rights in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

The topic

In this episode of our Future of Journalism podcast, to mark International Women's Day, we speak to three women journalists from Kyrgyzstan, India and Indonesia to discuss female representation in the news media, why they got into journalism, and how to ensure women’s voices and interests are heard.

The speakers

Guests: Bermet Talant is a reporter from Kyrgyzstan who, for the last four years, was working at the Kyiv Post, focusing on politics and human rights. Ipsita Chakravarty is Associate Editor of Scroll.in where she supervises coverage of Jammu, Kashmir and North East states. Christine Franciska is the Managing Editor for the Indonesian section of Glance, a lock-screen content platform.

Host: Meera Selva, Deputy Director of the Institute and Director of the Journalist Fellowship Programme

The podcast

On Spotify | On Apple PodcastsOn Google Podcasts

The transcript

On women in digital-born news outlets 

Meera: Scroll is an independent digital first forward-looking platform.  Do you feel that it’s a better place than many larger legacy organisations to work in as a woman?

Ipsita: I would say so, yes.  I started my career in legacy media and I think sort of worked my way through increasingly progressive newsrooms, but, I mean, even they had a long way to go. But I think Scroll, in terms of editors and writers, the gender balance is still skewed against women. But one of our senior editors is – our executive editor is a woman. And I think Scroll kind of tries to consciously push back against this sort of old boys’ club culture that is very much entrenched in the Indian media. And I think, across the board, digital organisations are slightly better in terms of women being represented in by-lines or in leadership roles. But there’s still quite a long way to go.

On coverage of sexual assault in India 

Meera: The status and treatment of women in India frequently ends up making headlines around the world, and do you think that coverage is fair? And also, do you think what’s getting better and what’s changing, and do you think the media reflects this in the way the media portray women – and in particular, portray sexual assault – is an issue everywhere – in newsrooms everywhere? And I just wondered what you think about it in India.

Ipsita: About the portrayal of women in the international media, I think, in India, we tend to get a bit defensive about it. But I think it’s not unwarranted at all, the coverage it gets. In the India media, I think legacy media – and especially TV – has a long way to go. There’s a sort of dichotomy between women are either sort of hapless victims or [unclear], but it has a long way to go. I mean, the reporting on sexual violence, rape, it’s very often salacious or sensationalised and, I mean, the print and digital outlets are certainly better. But yes –

Meera: Do you think having women being the picture editors and news editors and framing the story makes a difference?

Ipsita: It would definitely make a difference, yes. And we don’t have enough of them.

On a female-only newsroom in Indonesia 

Meera: Thank you. Christine, can I turn to you? You work on putting news onto lock-screens of mobile phones and therefore reaching a much different population in many ways. Can you tell me a little bit about the profile of your readership at Glance and whether there’s a difference between the stories men and women want to hear. And also, a little bit about Glance itself, because I think that’s an interesting case study.

Christine: I think I can explain what Glance is first. So Glance – in Glance, basically, we create technology where audiences can reach and watch news on their lock-screen before they even unlock their phone or probably access a lot of apps in the home screen. And based on that, our audience segmentation is really wide. We targeted the general audience with different backgrounds and different ages, but the interesting thing about Glance in Indonesia and our newsroom is that we only have seven editors in Jakarta, and all of them are women.

We didn’t mean to create an all-women newsroom at the beginning, but when we built the newsroom, we see there’s a lot of talent and then a potential editor that we cannot just say, ‘no, I cannot accept it because she’s a female’. So the creation of all-female newsroom is basically incidental, but I feel like I learnt a lot from this. And then there’s a lot of advantages of having an all-female newsroom because I think we discussed a lot about how the content fit for kids. And then we kind of have a lot of thinking about how we deliver certain news for women specifically, especially about health, diet, fashion and everything. Because we know all of those things are problematic in the culture that we have now.

Meera: You feel that the more traditional news outlets don’t deliver that the news that women would be interested in?

Christine: Yeah, so basically, in Indonesia, we see media industry still dominated by men and I think in the top position as well. And I think there’s some research saying that, among ten journalists, only two or three are female in Indonesia. So the gap is really huge and I think, in our newsroom, we try to put different perspectives, because I think that’s important to enrich the whole media ecosystem in Indonesia.

On women journalists in Kyrgyzstan 

Meera: Thank you so much, Christine. Turning to you, Bermet, could you talk a little bit about the media landscape in Kyrgyzstan and your work with the Kyiv Post in Ukraine? Because I’ve spoken to lots of senior editors in Ukraine who have had real concerns about the safety of women journalists on their team, especially covering the Maidan protests and then going out into the Donbass region. And is this something you’ve encountered?

Bermet: Hi, thanks for having me, Meera. I work for the Kyiv Post, which is an English language media outlet based in Ukraine and we were positioned – we were kind of in the middle on one hand. We were a Ukrainian-registered media outlet so we were part of that Ukrainian media landscape. At the same time, being an English language media outlet, we targeted foreign audiences. From my experience of working in Ukraine, I think that the media market there is amazingly represented by women. Thinking about top media outlets in the country, leading political reporters and investigative journalists, a lot of them are women.

I, personally, didn’t have experience with covering Maidan protests and the war in Donbass, to be honest, so I’m not sure that I can answer that question. With the Kyiv Post, at different times, the newsroom had more men and other times it had more women. There were definitely more foreign men, foreign male journalists, working at the Kyiv Post, but I think that, in general, reflects the foreign reporting in the region of former Soviet Union.

The majority of foreign journalists and foreign correspondent who come to the region – and freelance journalists – are men. At the same time, we had a lot of Ukrainian female journalists working for us. I’m not sure if I answered your question.

Meera: Thank you. No, I meant about the safety of journalists and about – I don’t think it’s something that necessarily applies to you, but I know that a lot of editors – female editors – were worried about sending their correspondents out into the field for the sake of their physical safety, because they were being attacked by the crowds in different ways. But let me talk to you about Kyrgyzstan, and can you talk a little bit about the media landscape there, please?

Bermet: So I haven’t been able to find any academic research or statistics on the gender breakdown in journalism in Kyrgyzstan, but I looked at the chief editors in television, print and online media and I saw a clear gender disparity. And this is actually quite different from what I’ve seen in Ukraine. There seems to be more male chief editors in Kyrgyz language media outlets, especially newspapers and television channels. Particularly, men dominate on leadership positions in state-owned media. For instance, the public broadcaster has always been chaired by a man and major national and regional state-funded TV channels are also led by male editors.

This, I think, in general, correlates with the under-representation of women in Kyrgyz politics and on leadership positions in the government. There are considerably more women top editors in online media outlets, especially privately-owned and Russian language ones. So we have this sort of two, because we have two languages spoken in the country so the media market is also kind of divided into those language segments. And there are more men top editors in the Kyrgyz language segments than in the Russian one. –

Meera: –  Why do you think that might be?

Bermet: I think it has to do with just the traditional view on the role of woman, because we see that women comprise the majority of students in journalism departments and many of them enter the job market. But at some point in their 20s they feel powered to get married, have families, and it’s just the traditional view is that a man should be the boss. And I think the general problem is that a lot of female journalists, they just don’t reach the height of their career because they have to stop at some point.

On getting into journalism 

Meera: That’s true, and I want to ask that of all three of you, actually, because all three of you have become journalists in countries with fairly traditional cultures. And I’d be really interested to know, firstly, why you went into journalism, and whether you feel that there is a clear path for you, going forward. Many of you reach the top or very close to the top anyway, but whether you felt held back in any way by the kind of social expectations. Ipsita, if I start with you, why did you go into journalism and was there any kind of pressure on you not to?

Ipsita: No, there wasn’t actually. I just kind of drifted into journalism by accident. I had turned up for an interview when I was in college and my parents wanted me to actually take the interview to see if I was employable. So I got the job. So no, there was no pressure on me to scale back, and I work very long hours and erratic hours and it helps that I am single and I don’t have children or a partner to think about.

Meera: And what about you, Christine?

Christine: Well, I think, at the very beginning, I think it’s the same with Ipsita. It’s a bit accidentally, because at that point, I just like writing and I like hearing people’s stories. But then the things that keep me going until now is, I think, because I come from ethnic Chinese minority in Indonesia. And when I was a kid, I saw that there’s a lot of discrimination against the minorities, not just with ethnic Chinese. That thing – and I feel like the urge of serving public interest is the thing that keeps me going until now.

Meera: That’s really important. Bermet, what do you think about that kind of idea of journalism as a mission really, as a cause, as well as, hopefully, a way to pay the rent and pay the bills?

Bermet: Oh, this was totally my case when I chose journalism. I wanted to become a journalist since I was child, but when I told my parents that I was going to study journalism, my mum and my dad, they strongly opposed that saying that it was not a job for a woman because it was considered to be too dangerous or too unstable. I’ve always navigated towards more like hard news and over the course of my career, what I saw with myself and my other female colleagues is that there have always been topics that have traditionally been associated with women. And they were assigned to women reporters, mostly, such as education, healthcare, and so-called ‘social issues’, like daily news reporting, kind of that stuff.

And because I’ve navigated towards harder topics, and I’ve always been interested in like international affairs, like those topics are mostly covered by men. And I sometimes thought, ‘will I be able to make it?’ –

On gendered news topics 

Meera: – And have you had to fight to – have you had to convince editors about this or have they been able – have you basically been able to convince editors to report on these? Have you been pushed towards the more traditional female topics?

Bermet: No, not really, from the beginning. Like when I started at the Kyiv Post and the chief editor, he asked me what I was interested in and I said, “Hard news, definitely.” So I had to start on a business desk to sort of gain a little bit more knowledge and context and then I was moved to cover politics and elections and that kind of stuff. And I, personally, am thankful to my experience in Ukraine, which, like I said, in my opinion, has great representation of women in investigative journalism and top editor positions, political journalism.

Because if I worked in Kyrgyzstan, I think my view would have been very different, because the harder topics – and currently investigative journalism is kind of gaining in momentum in Kyrgyzstan – is now dominated by men.

Meera: That’s really interesting. I do think there’s something about Ukrainian journalism. I know there are a lot of very powerful, very good female editors who have risen through the ranks and are quite inspiring to journalists all around the world.

I’m going to – one final question about what you know about your news organisations’ readership, and I know that you might not always all have data that you can share on this. But Ipsita, you cover – you oversee coverage of Kashmir, Jammu – these kind of hard-hitting, quite gruelling stories to cover. Do you get a sense of who’s reading these stories? Do they tend to be more men – more women? Is there no difference?

On women and 'hard news' 

Ipsita: I think we have quite an attentive readership in Kashmir – probably more men there. In the rest of the country, I think it would probably be equally – I mean, I don’t have a sense of whether it’s more – I mean, I think it’s a misconception that women are not interested in hard-hitting or kind of harrowing stories about conflict or violence or politics.

Meera: Yeah, no, absolutely, I completely agree. And I think what’s more important sometimes is to make sure that women’s voices in these conflict zones are also reported on and heard. And that’s where it can matter having a diverse newsroom which can be recognised. –

Bermet: – Yes. That’s actually something we’ve tried to address consciously, to get more women’s voices, and it’s not easy, partly because of the structure of the society where you’re reporting in as well. So yes. –

Meera: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, all three of you, for a really fascinating discussion. And you’re all doing incredible work, both in your countries and with us at the Reuters Institute, so really, really pleased you could join us today. Thank you so much for your time. So thank you.

The following remarks were made subsequent to the recording of the podcast in a separate event.

On the framing of violence against women in Kyrgyzstan 

Bermet: There is definitely more coverage on women’s issues than there used to be. On domestic violence there are more reports on the cases happening.

The change is coming but quite slower. There is also a big discrepancy between the coverage of women’s rights ond urban Russian language media outlets and Kyrgyz media outlets that broadcast for more rural areas. That’s the difference that I see. Language actually plays a huge role. A lot of the emerging media outlets that address women’s issues and try to promote equality and rights, a lot of them are in Russian language or English language and these materials are inaccessible to women in rural areas that need them the most. Thankfully because of social media, I’m seeing more initiatives that try to promote the same ideas in Kyrgyz language. I’m hoping that we’ll see this change in the future, that we’ll see the results of these new initiatives in the future.

But yes, these new entirely digital-born women’s rights initiatives, they talk about women in IT, they invite women to talk about their experiences in science and business and it’s all in Kyrgyz language and I think this is the most important thing. Because media outlets have been talking about these issues for a while but then if it doesn’t reach the women who are most affected by violence and inequality then what was the point?

Meera: And the issue of bride kidnapping in particular, it’s framed as a story, sometimes a romantic story, when actually it's a story of assault and rape and coercion and violence against women. Again, how do you see the media in Kyrgyzstan dealing with this at the moment, the language that’s used around it? Do you think that is changing, the framing of the story, and the problem is changing?

Bermet: Well every time there is some tragedy, the coverage peaks, the media start talking about how big of an issue bride kidnapping was. For example, after Burulay, the 20-year-old girl who was stabbed to death by her abductor in the police unit where she came to seek help, like after that case the coverage peaked. Everyone was writing about that case. Unfortunately, if there was no murder, no gruesome tragedy like suicide committed by a kidnapped girl it's pretty hard to attract attention to those kind of topics because it’s the same story. It’s, there’s nothing new about it. It’s done pretty much in the same way. Just like domestic violence is the same story, 'a man hits a woman', right? I used to be angry at foreign media outlets for making bride kidnapping the defining, number one story about Kyrgyzstan and a lot of foreigners would ask me about it whenever they heard where I was from. But I realise that our local media actually contribute a lot to perpetuating it just by portraying, like normalising kidnapping or portraying it as something romantic.