March of the media women

10 Jan 2018  |  Raymond Snoddy 
March of the media women

Whether it's sexual harassment or inequalities of pay, women in the media have started a long-overdue earthquake

The ladies in black, some more covered than others, will be one of the enduring images of 2018. The elegant and admirably visible protest at the Golden Globe awards was the crescendo of a campaign that is little more than three months old.

It all started as recently as October in the press - the New York Times and the New Yorker - which had the courage to face down legions of legal threats to print detailed allegations of sexual harassment against film producer Harvey Weinstein.

When the combined forces of the media - hugely amplified by Twitter and Facebook - finally decide to concentrate their attention on a social ill, social change can happen very rapidly. Things most emphatically are speeding up.

Some have mocked the protest of the pampered little black dresses and the #MeToo movement. But it is difficult to imagine that sexual harassment, of whatever sex or gender, will be able to strut its stuff in a similar way again in the entertainment and media sectors and beyond into politics.

There will always be problems of definition on a sliding scale between the seriously illegal and the mildly inappropriate and worries too about the dangers of witch-hunts.

Yet we are all in a better place than we were three months ago and the process looks irreversible.

Enough people have now had the courage to come forward and expose behaviour that flourished for years because of silence and acquiescence.

It amounts to a re-calibration of what is acceptable or not in working relationships between men and women.

After the exposures this will be the year of consequences - and prosecutions.

Weinstein, who naturally denies all allegations of non-consensual sex, will almost certainly now have to defend himself in court.

It wasn’t just the film industry. New York Times reporting ended the Fox News career of President Trump’s favourite television anchor Bill O’Reilly, and earlier exposed sexual harassment in Silicon Valley.

As well as giving a huge push to the #MeToo movement, the campaign and the Golden Globes may also have unveiled a plausible Democratic candidate to stand against Donald Trump in 2020, in the unlikely event that he lasts that long.

It may take more than a barnstorming speech at a media awards ceremony but suddenly Oprah Winfrey has put herself in the frame.

If the Trump candidacy was created by television and his television persona, then in the peculiar arena of the American political system it may take a woman with even greater television fame and wealth to defeat him.

It helps that Winfrey seems to be a lot nicer and smarter than the present “very stable genius.”

Everything could have changed by 2020, however, thanks to one man - Michael Wolff and his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. The bestseller could pave the way to either impeachment or deployment of the 25th Amendment of the US constitution, which allows for the removal of a sitting president through incapacity.

Either way, at the beginning of 2018 women are on the march both against sexual harassment in the workplace and on equal pay for equal work.

As with sex, equal pay in the media is not always an easy concept to unravel.

Does a US editor get more because he is a man, or because he is responsible for reporting some of the biggest running stories on earth, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis?

Or should a China editor get more because of the sophistication and linguistic skills needed to cover one of the big emerging stories of the decade - the rise of China.

Like the first actresses to break cover with allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein, Carrie Gracie’s decision to resign as China editor in protest at what she believes is the BBC’s illegal and discriminatory policies will blow apart the issue of equal pay at the Corporation.

Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale deserves a few kind words. It was Whittingdale who insisted that the BBC should publish the salaries of BBC staff earning more than £150,000 a year.

The resulting realisation that two people doing exactly the same job on the breakfast TV sofas, while being paid vastly different sums, ignited a toxic debate.

Figures on Radio 4’s Today programme presenters showed that John Humphrys earns between £600,000 and £649,999 while Mishal Husain gets less than £250,000 and Sarah Montague less than £150,000.

Carrie Gracie (pictured below) is the first to give up a major post in protest and choose to return to the relative obscurity of the BBC newsroom and with it, presumably a much reduced salary.

The Gracie move, combined with more than 200 other complaints from BBC women, many backed by lawyers, represents one of the most intractable problems faced by Lord Hall, the BBC director-general.

The new Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, as he replaced the unfortunate Karen Bradley who has shuffled off to try to deal with the complexities of Northern Ireland, was fast off the mark.

Hancock said the BBC should not just respond to allegations of pay inequality by increasing the pay of women but also consider the pay of men who were often paid more than the British ambassador in the same country.

The problems are obvious. The inequalities are often historic, and in some cases can be caused by luring talent from other broadcasters.

If you increase the salaries of so many women to ensure equality, a cash-strapped BBC will face even worse financial worries and wage inflation.

For legal reasons you have to honour existing contracts, although new ones could be frozen or reduced, short of asking some of the better paid to voluntarily give up some of their salaries.

An equal pay study showed that the media gender pay gap of 9.3 per cent at the BBC was significantly lower than a national average of 18.1 per cent.

That involved rank and file employees. The row should intensify when an investigation into “talent” gender inequality is published in the next few weeks.

One thing is sure, whether it's sexual harassment or inequalities of pay, women in the media are on the march - and not before time.


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Thank you for your comment - a copy has now been sent to the Newsline team who will review it shortly. Please note that the editor may edit your comment before publication.

LizGerard, Editor, SubScribe on 10 Jan 2018
“I’m here ;)”
DavidPidgeon`, Editor, Mediatel on 10 Jan 2018
“The editor here.

In response to the last few comments below Greg, we appreciate what you say, but when commissioning weekly op-eds - which are usually pitched to us - the vast majority come from men. We try hard to influence this with some success, and still try to mix the gender balance up each week, but it's not always possible.

Every week in December we featured female contributors and these were also featured in the Media Leaders bulletin. Also, if Ed had peered just a little further back, he would see the ten female guest writers in our two 2018 predictions articles.

The most notable female writers touching on the same subjects as Ray can be viewed here btw:

Additionally, next week, our newest regular columnist starts - Tracey Follows.

The biggest thing that would help us is businesses and their PR companies to pitch more female writers for our guest opinion pages and we will continue to try to influence this as best we can.

GregGrimmer, Global COO, Fetch on 10 Jan 2018
“I'll stick up for the Mediatel team here as I know ( having been a white male columnist for 4 years) they seek female writers continually but have more men writers seeking self/corporate publicity - prepared to put their head on the parapet.
However, If you want to see opinionated strong females look out of the coverage of Mediatel's year ahead later today where a balanced panel will include Lindsay Pattinson and Tess Alps, as well as the droll musings of Ray Snoddy.
On the BBC issue I solved this a while ago. Pay all BBC personnel whether on/off air like the civil servants they are with a fixed and maximum pay grade.”
EdHill, Director, Space and Time Media on 10 Jan 2018
“The newsline bulletin email promoting this piece led with four pictures of white men in suits.

The first eight contributors named on the opinions page are called Dan, Matthew, Tim, Dominic, David, Raymond, Stefan and Andrew.

The greater part of this piece seems to be a man writing about clothes that some women wore.

You really ought to be trying harder than this. Articulate women with opinions worth hearing do exist.”
MegH, People Strategy Manager, S on 10 Jan 2018
“Could you not find any one other than a white middle aged male to discuss this subject?”
peterking, tv research manager, omd on 10 Jan 2018
“Rather than up men's salaries at the BBC to the ridiculous levels that Claudia Winkleman & Vanessa Feltz find themselves, could we not reduce the wad of cash paid to them for no apparent reason?”



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