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It’s Just Banter? Still lots to be done to improve representation of women in the media

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There was lots of banter at the Stronger Voice for Women in the Media’s equality quiz night, compered by Scottish organiser Dominic Bascombe.

All images copyright Elaine Livingstone Photography @elainelivphoto

But there was also a very serious message conveyed by both speakers, Layla-Roxanne Hill and Anna Burnside, that there’s still a lot to be done to improve the representation of women in the media.The event was one of the last as part of the Stronger Voice for Women in the Media project, funded by the Trade Union, Fair Work and Modernisation Fund led by project worker Fiona Davidson.

Layla-Roxanne  Hill, a writer and independent researcher and joint head of engagement at investigative journalism co-operative The Ferret, specialises in representation of black Scottish women.  She is also co-founder of Yon Afro, a Black-led collective which exists to centre the voices of women of colour in Scotland.

She spoke of the problem that media and journalism in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, were still very much white spaces in most senses, with three companies dominating 71 per cent of the national newspaper market and dominated at the helm by white men.

“Perhaps there would be better balance in media story telling if there were black people in those UK media offices?” she asks.  “Recent research suggests that won’t be happening in a meaningful way anytime soon.  Research undertaken by City University London had 700 responses from a sample that is broadly representative of the total population of UK working across broadcast, print and digital in local, regional and national news organisations in the UK.

“It discovered that British journalism is 94% white.”

She added “The need for diversity in the media, from behind the scenes to the front page or in front of the camera, is not an exercise in window dressing.  It’s about telling Scotland’s story in full.  Media affects how people of colour are seen and how we see ourselves.  One look at how black people are portrayed by the majority of the media makes it clear we are still seen as discussed as the Other – and that’s if we make it into the pages or onto screens at all.

“Our stories, experiences and issues are told through a white lens which often fails to provide an accurate representation of the lives of people of colour in the media.”  She spoke about coverage of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, deaths of black and ethnic minority people in custody, and Sheku Bayoh’s death in Scotland in 2015.

When role models are provided, they often revert to stereotypes.  When an expert voice is needed, why is it unlikely to be a person of colour and even less likely to be a woman of colour?

Layla-Roxanne is about to take up a seat on a job-sharing basis representing Scotland on the NUJ’s National Executive Council, and is NUJ representative on the STUC Black Workers’ Committee.

Daily Record features writer Anna Burnside discussed her experiences as a woman journalist and how she had started out 30 years ago being referred to one of “two bimbos and an Apple Mac.”  She questioned whether much progress had actually been made since, recollecting how she was bitten on the thigh by a news editor at an office Christmas party.

“Nowadays, I think we have Stockholm syndrome where there is a toxic atmosphere in some newsrooms and we are so used to it we don’t even notice it anymore.”

She quoted statistics for Media Scotland, where , in editorial jobs, for every two men there was one woman, and there were huge areas where there were no women at all – on the news desk, on the sports desk – and the most senior woman in editorial was the features editor.

She said there was hope – women were less prepared to put up with bad behaviour from men and there were positives – “Carrie Gracie at the BBC is fantastic.  I call her Queen Carrie” and Carole Cadwalladr and her team exposing the Cambridge Analytica story – to see women smashing it in subjects not traditionally covered by women gives me hope.

Anna, who also does the weekly media review on the John Beattie show on BBC Radio Scotland with Eamonn O’Neil and Stuart Cosgrove and appears regularly as a pundit on to and radio, concluded “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit 30 years after I was referred to as one of two bimbos and an Apple Mac!”.

Congratulations to quiz winner Rachel Hamada after getting the tie-breaker question – What country recently elected its first woman president?


One thought on “It’s Just Banter? Still lots to be done to improve representation of women in the media

  1. Pingback: Where are all the women? | NUJ Scotland

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