By Elzabeth Mbula

NAIROBI, Kenya May 3 – Gender inclusivity in newsrooms featured prominently at a forum to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day organized by the East African Editors Society, with many calling for the establishment of gender desks.

Editors, journalists and media stakeholders from various organisations were united in a rallying call, saying women and gender-related issues are not well articulated in the daily news across the region.

The virtual session was attended by journalists and other stakeholders from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius.

“We should not just limit the kind of content to be reflective to the gender lenses,” said Mustapha Dumbuya a Journalism Trainer at Journalism for Human Rights, “We need to make a deliberate effort, either from a policy or institutional level to ensure content is balanced.”

Judie Kaberia, a Gender Media Trainer at JHR said that lack of desks or departments within newsrooms to specifically focus on issues affecting women and girls is a contributing factor to the lack of inclusivity in news churned out daily by print and electronic outlets.

However, Kaberia said such desks must be balanced in representation to avoid scenarios where they ae branded with names such as ‘gender activists.’

“There is a dangrof being cunrtproductive at the gender desks that are largely managed by women,” she said, “it tends to get a backasj as there is a likelihood of it being branded as gender activist.”

Tanzanian journalist Raziah Mwawanga weighed in, calling for mentorship programmes by stakeholders to train both men and women on the need to advocate for and uphold gender issues in the society.

 “We need to invest in mentorship, groom women and men on gender-inclusive and sensitive content to produce quality content,” she said during the session modetrated by Judith Ene Laizer, a Content Creator from Tanzania.

In Kenya, most media houses do not have desks specifically dedicated for gender issues, in what limits the coverage of gender-related matters.

As demonstrated by a recent factsheet by the Reuters Institute released last month, women representation in newsrooms is still low.

The factsheet analysed the gender breakdown of top editors in a strategic sample of 240 major online and offline news outlets in 12 different markets across four continents. Only 22% of the 180 top editors across the 240 brands covered are women, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists in the 12 markets are women.

During the virtual forum by the Editors from East Africa to mark the World Press Freedom, calls to bridge the gender gap dominated the discussion.

When you have more women in top-level positions, it becomes easy to habe a wider view of issues,” said Carol Beyanga, a Managing Editor at Daily Monitor of Uganda.

Tessa Henderson of the Seychelles Media Commission called for the need to attract more young men and women to the journalism profession.

“But how do we attract more young men and women? We are having few people joining the industry,” she said.

Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General Erick Oduor said “Media sustainability debate can only be viable if we fix working conditions of journalists to attract and retain talent and necessary skills as a priority.”

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi who spoke Monday at an event to mark the World Press Freedom Day organised by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) called on Media owners to ensure that journalists are well paid so as to protect their integrity.

Muturi said journalists ought to be paid well to protect them from being captives of government and news sources

“Today is my day to ask media owners to pay our children, reporters and correspondents very well. They deserve it. These people go extra mile to get us the stories. Pay them well first and then demand integrity,” Muturi said amid rising cases of integrity issues among journalists in what is mainly attributed to poor pay that has been made worse by the COVID-19 economic meltdown.

Muturi said by paying journalists well, they will be able to exercise their mandate with no influence from external forces who compromise their integrity and their work as professionals.

The Press Freedom Day celebration whose theme in 2021 was ‘Information as a Public Good’ coincides with the 30th year-anniversary of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press, which led the United Nations to proclaim World Press Freedom Day in 1993.

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