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PPF Seminar on Women’s Role in Media

Date: March 4, 2004
Location: Karachi

As a part of struggle for genuine democracy in society, at large and in media institutions in particular, UNESCO’s theme for year 2004, calls for equality of women in media as in all other spheres.

Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) organized a seminar, “Media are not truly free unless women share an equal voice”, at PPF – Vickey Zeitlin Library, on March 4, 2004, in connection with International Women’s Day. Journalists, from both electronic and print media, largely attended the seminar.

Speakers at a seminar called for giving more opportunities to women across the country in journalism, and said there was a need to create an environment conducive to attract more females to this profession.

Women work in newspapers and magazines, in broadcasting and online media and cover every issue from education to war. But they are still a long way from achieving equality with men in the newsrooms or rising to key editorial positions where influential decisions are made.

They also emphasized the need to improve salaries and working conditions and working conditions in order to increase women representation in Pakistani media, which they regretted, at present was far less than many other countries.

Introducing the topic, Mr. Owais Aslam Ali, Secretary General of Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) said media, both electronic and print, has failed to project the problems of common man in a sensitive manner. He said our print media is different from electronic media. Only issues of elite living in big cities are highlighted on electronic media, which sometimes send negative signals about Pakistan in the world. He said, print media should make determined efforts to become more relevant to the daily lives. Only then it will be possible for publications to substantially increase their circulation.

He said issues relating to women are covered in most superficial manner by media, which tantamount to keeping 50 percent of the population of the country out of news. “Over the past many years, women did great deal in this profession. Now, women in journalism are holding decision-making positions but they are not in substantial numbers. However, to bring a change in the present scenario we need to bring women in media industry’s decision-making posts, besides increasing critical mass of women in field.

The Secretary General, PPF, called for motivating women to join journalism as a profession. He dispelled the impression that there was nepotism in journalism and said it was an open field where anyone can make use of her skills.

Dr. Shahida Kazi, who was the first women reporter, in Karachi when she joined Daily Dawn in 1966, said newspapers’ managements fail to encourage women reporters. She said, “women participation in journalism, like the history of Pakistan, is moving one step forward and one step backward. Till 1970s there were significant number of women in journalism, however, this number has fallen in recent decades due to various reasons. She added it seems that we are sidetracking women issues from media. It is the need of the hour that more and more women come in reporting, who can go into the field and can write on issues, which in the past have been left uncovered by men. Women can be more sensitive to an issue while writing in newspapers, especially when it is something related to women.”

Shahida Kazi said women are mostly working in desk job or in magazines. She felt while reporting cases like Shaista Almani’s, media went overboard, an attitude, which needs to be changed for a better and coverage of women. In other countries, she said, names of rape victims were never published but media in Pakistan regrettably identifies them, which causes problems for their families. She said some newspapers and magazines were only interested in covering fashion, which had nothing to do with common readers.

Dr. Shahida Kazi said women could write very well on women’s issues as they had a better perception of problems than men. She said women working in magazines should not only focus on fashion, cooking and other subjects, but also write on similar topics. She was of the view that managements do not want women to work in key editorial positions. She said although there were 80 percent female students in Karachi University’s Mass Communication Department, not many of them enter the profession of journalism. She said many women who have studied journalism are opting for careers in advertising and public relations and are not encouraged to join journalism.

Senior journalist and assistant editor of daily Dawn, Ms. Zubeida Mustafa said the number of women reporters in major newspapers, particularly in Urdu, was not enough. She observed that very few stories are printed in newspapers, which have female bylines. She blamed the discriminatory attitude meted out to women as the main reason for this state of affairs. However, she emphasized the need for creating awareness in colleges, universities and other vocational institutes for women participation in media.

Zubeida Mustafa cited low wages for continuously declining strength of women in media. She said managements should be flexible to those women who can not work late but can contribute through mail. She asked like-minded people to come forward and educate
Speakers (from left to right) Ms. Ayesha Haq, Ms. Zubeida Mustafa and Ms. Fariha Razzaq Haroon.
the general public about the need for women to work. She also said journalist unions should make separate departments for women.

Group Director, Jang Group and Geo Television, Fariha Razzak Haroon endorsed the viewpoint that media is not complete until women, who make 50% of the country, are missing. She agreed to the fact that there are some genuine problems, which are impeding women’s participation in media, like socio-economic and family constraints, which if resolved, can ensure better participation of women in journalism. She cited the example of Geo, a private TV channel, which employed 35% of its workforce from among women. She said being hardworking, qualified and more dedicated to the profession, these women are doing all sorts of reporting on all kinds of news. She asked male journalists to respect women journalists as equal partner in the profession.

Fariha Razzaq explained women could not afford to work late at night. It is our responsibility to arrange a proper working environment for them. She added that working environment at offices must be improved so that parents do not hesitate to allow their daughters’ join the profession. She said women journalists must go in the field so that they were able to have the right perception of people’s sufferings.

Ayesha Haq, Managing Director of Daily Times, said media was the reflection of any society, and since there was a lot of gender bias prevailing in our society, we see media reflecting the same attitude. The need to gender sensitize is immense, and we need to become more responsible, she said.

She felt the dearth of women in investigative journalism, a field that had a lot of potential for women. She said there were many women with master degrees in journalism but they were not being given opportunities. She was of the opinion that women should be encouraged to work either through e-mails or form their homes.

Abdul Hameed Chhapra, former president of All Pakistan Newspapers Employees Confederation, said ideally media was supposed to inform, educate people and mobilize public opinion about important national issues, but today’s media had failed to fulfil all these requirements. Instead, it has become a spokesperson for the establishment and a means for minting money. There are vested interests in the newspaper industry and the actual fight of journalists is against these vested interests. Only after doing this they will be able to bring a change in journalism scenario of the country.

Mr. Chhapra said both male and female journalists would have to struggle for empowerment of women. He said there was no gender bias in journalists’ unions and in press clubs and that low representation of women in decision-making bodies was because of women inactivity. “Reporting is a demanding job requiring courage. If women have courage, they can come and work. With aptitude and hard work they will survive”, he said.

Complimenting the role of women in print media Mr. Chhapra said Pakistani media and produced many renowned journalists including late Razia Bhatti who received international recognition for her courage.

Vice Chairman PPF, Fazal Qureshi, said women representation in media was confined only to big cities and media’s role could not be complete unless and until women are also included in journalism. He gave rural women an overview of the activities and efforts made by PPF to encourage women to enter the profession of journalism.

He said since 2001, Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) has organized over fifty training workshops for rural women to remedy the glaring absence of rural women among the thousands of rural journalists in Pakistan. The obvious result of the lack of rural women journalists is that women’s perspective is missing in news coverage from the rural areas.

Mr. Qureshi added the program also helps promote awareness of journalists to issues relating to women, so that they can cover topics such as education, health, population welfare, human rights, domestic violence, exploitation of women labour, in a more intelligent manner.

He informed, PPF has started a feature service headed by a professional editor to provide rural women professional advice and to distribute the articles to newspapers all over the country through special cooperation with Pakistan’s leading independent national news agency, Pakistan Press International (PPI). He told that women journalists are financially rewarded for their work which provides rural women as well their families a strong encouragement to make full use of their newly acquired writing skills.

Mr. Qureshi also gave an overview of Gender in Journalism Awards for two print media journalists that have been instituted by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) with the support of United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Islamabad.

One award is for excellence in gender sensitive reporting and is open to both male and female journalists. This award recognizes models of excellence and best practices in coverage of gender related issues. The second award is for outstanding coverage of any issue by a female journalist. This award recognizes the competence and contributions of women to journalism who are role models for women entering or planning to enter the profession.

Seminar concluded by a questions answers session.

List of Speakers
Abdul Hameed Chhapra
Former President
All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC)
Dr. Shahida Kazi
Mass Communication Department – University of Karachi
Ayesha Haq
Managing Director
The Daily Times
Fariha Razzaq Haroon
Group Director
Jang Group and Geo Television
Zubeida Mustafa
Assistant Editor
Daily Dawn
Fazal Qureshi
Vice Chairman
Pakistan Press Foundation
Owais Aslam Ali
Secretary General
Pakistan Press Foundation