Nigerian women and the practice of journalism

 (By Musa Efukun Jeremiah)

In explaining gender bias, it has been noted that news is not one reporter view of an event but a social, consensual product molded by a variety of consideration. Thus, it might be possible that journalists internalise popular perceptions and social stereotypes into consensual definitions of what is news. As these perceptions and stereotypes are perpetuated in Nigeria, it becomes doubtful that sexism and stereotyped presentations of women will soon disappear from the country’s mass media content.

IN the developed countries particularly, the European countries, women dominated numerous positions in the media houses. About 60 per cent of all field reporters are female, behind the camera, more than half of newscasters, producers and writers are female.

   Several reasons are behind this shift. Equal opportunity of employment laws and the journalism profession’s promotion of diversity have certainly helped. Additionally, news director realised that half their potential audience are female and might welcome a women’s perspective of news events.

   Some observers find the dwindling percentage of male in video journalism a disturbing trend that might lead to the “feminisation” of television news, and the alienation of the male viewers in the audience. Others note that today’s male audience is more accustomed to seeing females in powerful roles, and the growing journalistic gender disparity should be of little consequence. At any rate, it is highly probable that the television newsroom will continue to be a place populated by a majority of female.

   The recent trend in broadcast news shows that, when television news first started it was a male-dominated profession. Female reporters were rare, and female anchors even rarer. All this has changed. Starting in the 1980, the number of female anchors steadily increased. By 1990s the number of the female anchors equated the number of male anchors. But today, female anchors outnumbered male anchors. The male pairing is the typical co-anchor arrangement, but female-female teams are more common, as are solo female anchors. What is rare these days is what was typical a few decades ago: a male-male anchor team or a solo male.

   However, in Nigeria the reverse is the case. Over the years, research has shown that the prevalence of women stereotypes in the mass media can be damaging to the status of women in the society. Tuchman and others had called the mass media portrayal of women, a symbolic annihilation of woman which could be brought about by trivialization or the absence of women could well have its roots in the formal education, training given to the media practitioners. It has been noted with regard to communicating the status of women in terms of content, it is not simply what the media said or how they say it that bolsters stereotypes and limited or skewed perceptions of women. Equally important is what they do not say.

    The stereotyping of women whom the mass media are guilty of can also have its origin in mass communication departments dominated by andocentric tendencies. Most of the editorial board members for training newspapers or magazines published by departments of mass communication in Nigeria tertiary institutions are dominated by male students except the token one or two female students who may be appointed as either society page editor or her assistant or as entertainment editor and her assistant in the editorial board.

   However, stereotype is even among the women themselves not only in the mass media. It was observed in a situation where a head of mass communication department, IBB University in a routine task which constitutes supervision of an editorial board for one of the training newspaper publication (IBBU trumpet) by the department. The HOD set up editorial board base on the inauguration by students, the female students were busy inaugurating the male counterparts without voting themselves. At the end, the editorial board was dominated by the male students with a token of a female student for soft duty.

    As a matter of fact, enrolment figures show that roughly equal members of male and female students are admitted into the country’s communication schools. From this simple action, the stereotyping of women journalists are only fit for the soft and feature aspects of mass media work is already being inculcated in the student journalists.

   The veiled admonition here is that men play the strong and important roles, women the weak and unimportant one. When the students join the workforce, women journalists both as reporters and editors are more likely to handle feature stories while hard news is made the exclusive province of their male counterparts. The inferiority complex with this kind of division of labour breeds in the media women could condition them regard themselves as incapable of making any significance contributions to mass communication, thus causing those among them who are not very determined to give up any effort to make an impact in their jobs.

   In the face of this kind of division of labour, it appears inevitable that packaging of media content will be done to reflect a male perspective, thus giving rise to problems of sexism and gender bias in mass communication. In this type of situation, one guess is as good as another what type of news will they make? In explaining gender bias, it has been noted that news is not one reporter view of an event but a social, consensual product molded by a variety of consideration. Thus, it might be possible that journalists internalise popular perceptions and social stereotypes into consensual definitions of what is news. As these perceptions and stereotypes are perpetuated in Nigeria, it becomes doubtful that sexism and stereotyped presentations of women will soon disappear from the country’s mass media content.

   Poverty is a multi-faceted condition in most countries of the world; women represent more than half this population. It is documented that they perform the lowest paid activities and are concentrated in the low-end jobs and occupations. MacClintock writes that women do two thirds of the world’s property. In a country like Nigeria, culture and religion help to keep women in the chains of poverty, silencing and excluding them and allowing men to take the larger share of resources.

   Nigeria media seem to maintain the status quo through excluding women, giving them little voice demeaning them through various forms of behaviours and increasing their vulnerability. Yet it is vital that this cycle is broken for the liberation of women as Roach suggests would imply the liberation of the host of other poor. The culture of silence need to be addressed in Nigeria media as poverty seem gradually to disappear in media reports, obliterated by stories about the rich, top government officials, head of government and their relations. Ordinary Nigerians which include the Nigerian women are not key players in the media; this can be observed in Nigeria where media houses are dominated men single media house. Issues concerning the majority are simply avoided. The Nigerian media like her counterpart in other developing countries have been criticise for its empty content in emphasising news and reports such as a former head of state has called for improvement in life for rural dwellers, the head of the civil service has said that structures are being put in place that will generate job opportunities and fight poverty. Often time who said what becomes more pronounced than what was said, that is, what was said become less bearing than the actual news. One thing is clear; the presence of Nigeria women in the media is inhibited by governmental bodies, media owners even among journalists who are still not gender satisfied.

   Despite some growth in a female employment in areas such as programming, the status of women in this sector reproduces women’s subordinate status in the broader society. For every one woman employed in the state radio stations and state and federal television stations, there were seven male employees. However, female journalists are concentrated in the lowest status positions and tend to be relegated to coverage of woman’s and social issues rather than news and current affairs. The factors responsible for the low representation of woman in broadcasting are cultural factors, male chauvinism and lack of dedication. Greater visibility of female broadcasters in the higher ranks of the industry and in news-oriented reporting positions is essential to undercut stereotype of woman as wives and mothers only.

   It is pertinent to say here that gone are the days when the media was considered to be no place for a woman, times have changed to more and more women joining the fourth estate. However, just as woman in the larger society have broken many traditional barriers on politics, economic and social areas while their male counterparts have undergone less of an attitudinal change, women journalists too have to cope with similar biases within the profession. In the coming years, the number of women covering hard beats will undoubtedly grow, just as more men will become interested in writing on softer issues but whether this will also be accompanied with a change in perceptions is the moot point.

• Musa Efukun Jeremiah, 300 Level Department of Mass Communications, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University. Lapai, Niger State.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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