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Minister urges all media organisations to consider gender balance in the boardroom



Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here this morning to launch the annual ‘Women on Air Conference’. It’s gratifying to see many faces around me that I recognise from television, and to hear many voices that I know from the airwaves. ‘Women on Air’ have increased the number of these faces and voices, and it’s hard to believe that the organisation has only been in existence for just over 3 years. In that short time, they have established themselves as the ‘go-to’ organisation for women seeking expert advice and training on making their voices heard on the airways. ‘Women on Air’ has done much to raise awareness of and dismantle potential barriers to equality in media and I fully welcome the encouragement ‘women on air’ have given to radio and TV channels to do more to find women to speak on all topics.

However, all of us in this room are here because we know that, all too often, women in media see a ‘Keep Out’ sign on the door of every serious discussion. Research from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) tells us that, while women have considerably outnumbered men in university-level and practice-based journalism programmes and that the employment of women in media is increasing, the organisational culture of media remains largely masculine and women are still significantly under-represented at the decision-making level. This problem persists in both the media, and in my own field of politics, and Government has recognised this issue.

Our Programme for Government contains a number of explicit commitments with regard to equality, including that every one of our citizens has an effective right, free from discrimination, to contribute to the economic, social and cultural life of the nation. We are also committed to ensuring that the rights of women and men to equality of treatment and full participation in society are upheld. On the international stage, the Beijing Platform for Actionhas ‘Women and the Media’ as one of its 12 critical areas of concern. This recognises the key role that the media can play in the advancement of women in all facets of life.

The Beijing Platform for Action contains two strategic objectives associated with women and the media, namely:

1. To increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication; and

2. To promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media. Nationally, the National Women’s Strategy (NWS) is the Government’s statement of priorities in relation to the advancement of women in all areas of Irish society. They have as one of its key objectives ‘To use the media proactively to support gender equality and the advancement of women’.

To achieve this, we need to see more women in decision-making roles in media organisations, in broadcasting and in presenting roles. Diversity of voices and opinions is essential to keeping both viewers and listeners informed It will never be enough to hear just once side of a story, and I’m keen to see that your side of the story is heard. With the surge in technological development and its ever increasing presence in our society the media now reaches a broader audience than ever before. The rise of smart technology and social media, were instrumental in the development of this organisation as seen with ‘Women on Air’s’ early beginnings on twitter.

The media plays a key role in shaping public opinion and culture and therefore we have an obligation to ensure that it is representative and inclusive. The appropriate portrayal of various groups, including women, and the avoidance of discrimination against such groups in the broadcast media is covered by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s “Code of Programme Standards” and the “General Commercial Communications Code”. You will no doubt hear more detail on the BAI’s role when Celene Craig, Deputy CEO of the BAI addresses the conference this afternoon. The issue of discrimination is also covered voluntarily by the advertising sector through the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI). We have seen huge progress on these issues within our own Public Service Broadcasters in the last number of years. In May 2013, at the initiative of the then Managing Director of Radio, Clare Duignan, RTÉ hosted a training day for women who wished to be on-air contributors.

I am pleased to announce here today that I gather RTE are planning to repeat this exercise this autumn. The programme was facilitated and chaired by a diverse range of successful female professionals with broadcast and media experience and it is proposed to hold a similar conference this year. Apart from this specific initiative, the issue has been addressed frequently in Radio and firm commitments have been made to increase the representation of women through more female presenters and contributors. Indeed earlier this year I specifically asked the two Public Service Broadcasters and the BAI, to include a section in their annual reports on gender equality in their organisations. At the moment three peak-time RTÉ Radio 1 shows are fronted by female presenters on weekdays. There are also three in peak-time on Saturday and Sunday. Female representation on RnaG and Lyric FM is exceptionally strong. In News and Current Affairs, over the last year, RTÉ have started monitoring the balance of women/men on air more systematically and have reinforced with the programme teams the importance of looking for better balance and finding new women contributors and they have actively engaged with Women on Air.

In front of and behind the camera a number of women have been appointed to senior positions in News and Current Affairs in the last 18 months. New programmes such as Morning Edition have established a strong track record of finding new women guests and women’s representation on air. TG4 have been hugely successful in this area and there are a number of programmes currently airing specifically about Irish women including ‘Mná na Mara’, ‘Bibeanna’ and ‘Dochtúir na Réabhlóide’ They also have a boast a sizeable percentage of female on screen talent including a sports presenter, news anchor and political correspondent as well as production talent and senior management. Of course, we look to other broadcasters to play their part also and in recent weeks we have seen another important appointment being that of Mary Curtis as Head of Channel in UTV Ireland. The Government recognises the need to ensure that the diversity of women’s talents, experiences and opinions are reflected in our media in all its forms. With this in mind, Ireland, during its Presidency of the European Union Council of Ministers, in 2013, chose to focus on the topic of Women and the Media in our gender equality Presidency Programme.

Council Conclusions and indicators on ‘Advancing Women’s Roles as Decision-Makers in the Media’ were prepared and successfully negotiated by the Irish Presidency and were adopted by Council in June 2013. These Council Conclusions, which are binding for Member States, note that an increased presence of women in decision-making roles in the media is likely to lead to more gender-sensitive media content and programming, presenting a more balanced picture of women’s and men's lives and women's contribution to society, which would have a positive impact on public policies, private attitudes and behavior. These indicators will be monitored to benchmark the progress of Member States in promoting and supporting gender equality in the media. Later this year the Government will appoint new members to both the Board of RTE and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Incidentally appointments to these boards are now shared with the Joint Oireachtas Committee - an innovation the merits of which I am not entirely persuaded.

We are committed to enhancing gender equality on State Boards and personally, I feel these are two where the policy is of particular significance and ones where the existing, pretty even, balance between women and men needs to be maintained. I’d urge private media organisations to examine their conscience on this point also. If women are consistently absent at the critical point of the decision-making process at the highest level in Irish media, the coverage, the schedules, the programmes, the agenda and the analysis will be flawed. Irish media will largely lack the perspective of 50% of the population – women, whose perspective draws on women's life experience, priorities and values, and these clearly are different to men’s.

I suspect that one or two of you may be familiar with Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In’, and I would echo some of her wisest words here. Keep your hands up and ask that question. Sit at the table in the meeting. Make sure that your voice is heard. Organisations such as ‘Women on Air’, assisted by the sector and working with a like-minded Government, remind us to do all of those things. Here today, you can build on progress made to date to ensure there are no barriers to gender balance on the airways – I wish the best of luck.  

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