The second panel discussion at the World Editor’s Forum was quite intriguing – ‘More women editors-in-chief = more readers?’ The session started out with views from each panellists about the journalism scenario in their country and the situation of women journalists. However, the discussions also brought in perspectives of the ‘choice’ of women for taking or not taking up the post and also their courage to bring in remarkable changes in the editorial set-up.
Bachi Karkaria, Consultant, The Times of India stole the show along with other panellists like Ferial Haffajee, Editor-in-Chief, Citypress, South Africa; Maria Eismont, Columnist on Civil society issues, Vedomosti, Russia; and Champika Liyanaarachchi, Editor-in-Chief, Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka. The session was moderated by Mehmal Safraz, Joint General Secretary, South Asian Women in Media, Pakistan.
Safraz started the session by giving the statistics of women journalists in Pakistani Media and then called in Bachi Karkaria, who noted that India did not have a single non-owner Executive Editor in English publications, while there were two in Hindi language publications. “Women in India come right to the final stage, but when it comes to the last milestone, they are not given the post,” she lamented, adding, “the male club is against them.” She also noted that a lot of women had opted out of the post of Editor-in-Chief to continue writing for their domain.
Karkaria said that she did not see the scenario changing in the immediate two-three years. “Five-ten years down the line, we might see a shift in this as there are a lot of young female journalists getting into the industry,” she noted.
Ferial Haffajee of South Africa then said that she had worked under a female editor-in-chief for some time and on seeing the problems that her boss had to face, she was reluctant on accepting the post when she got it. However, she managed to break the ceiling and took up courageous editorial decisions which eventually increased the readership of her publication. She ended her presentation by quoting an expert, “The truth may well set us free, but it is likely to posses us first.”
Young Champika Liyanaarachchi’s perspective on the Sri Lankan media scenario was also insightful. She said that being a woman, she never differentiated male or female centric stories. She cited the example of doing a story around the men at the IDP camp who were under trauma, while other publications just kept doing stories around women and children of that camp. “I think this is over emphasis of the gender issue, but it has to be taken on case by case basis,” she added.
The scenario of female journalists in Russia as presented by Maria Eismont was starkly different. “In Russia, the industry is dominated by women and men do not look up to this profession, the reason being that the profession has lost respect from the State, the corporations and the public at large.” It must be noted that Russia is today considered to be one of the most dangerous places for journalists. “It does not matter if the journalist is a male or a female. If the journalist is devoted to his profession and want to serve the public, they will do a good job,” she said.