Our General Secretary on women in journalism:

War zone at work

THE NEWSROOM is the war zone for many women journalists, NUJ's General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet told London Freelance Branch at its March meeting, shortly after International Women's Day. It "makes me squirm when I'm introduced as the first woman General Secretary" of the NUJ, said Michelle: "it doesn't sound good" that it took the Union a century to elect its first female General Secretary.

Michelle Stanistreet © Hazel Dunlop

NUJ General Secretary Michelle speaking at LFB on women in journalism

She related how "64 per cent of women responding to an International News Safety Institute survey reported that, yes, they had been subjected to harassment while they were reporting from hazardous areas. The majority of culprits were men in their offices, often including their bosses."

Meanwhile, double standards apply to women journalists working in conflict zones. Channel Four News's Lindsay Hilsum responded to safety advice following rapes of women journalists in Egypt by observing that while male journalists had also been assaulted and killed in Egypt she had not heard any advice to that demographic to stay out of the country.

While an estimated 40 per cent of the journalistic workforce nationally is female, Michelle cited a recent Guardian study of bylines across newspapers over a month which found 22 per cent were from journalists with female first names.

On the "double whammy of ageism and sexism" with "older women rare in broadcasting," Michelle said the Union has "done a lot of work on older women in broadcasting" with "great personal settlements" - including back pay - for women who "discover years after joining that they are paid less."

At the Express newspaper, where Michelle was local workplace-based rep for the NUJ, "we fought for a woman who'd been put in a selection pool for redundancy" when freshly returned to work from maternity leave. One on occasion a colleague volunteered to take redundancy but the management turned round and said, "no, her" (that is, the woman who'd just returned to work). It ended in a settlement involving a "six-figure sum."

At the other end of the spectrum of age and experience are "more women journalists forced to work for free... on long internships" with "examples particularly in magazines" where they are subject to sexual harassment at a time when they are "very fearful of rocking the boat."

The NUJ compiled a dossier with evidence from staff and freelances which went to Dinah Rose QC's inquiry into the BBC and Jimmy Savile, giving detail on contemporary "bullying, sexism, harassment". It "had a massive impact" and led to the change in policy the BBC now have in place. There have been cases where abusers have been "stripped of management posts... sidelined on the way to a nice redundancy... this is progress to the way it should be."

Michelle ended by ask women members to email their experiences of harassment and discrimination to her, in confidence: please email generalsecretary@nuj.org.uk

Last modified: 27 Apr 2016 - © 2016 contributors
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