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There is a need for more female-headed alternative media - Carolyn M. Byerly in an interview with Cimacnoticias, Mexico, D.F.

June 13, 2015

Interview by: Angélica Jocelyn Soto Espinosa
English Translation by: Aitza M. Haddad
Cimacnoticias | Mexico, DF.- 06/10/2015

In order to overcome gender inequalities in the communication industries around the world, there is a need for the building of more alternative media, for the rescuing of the contributions of social movements for freedom of expression and for the recognition of the rights of women.

These were the reflections of Carolyn M. Byerly, who in 2011 authored the "Global Report on the status of women in the news media,” the most important and comprehensive worldwide investigation, made so far on the working conditions of female journalists.

She was a contract researcher at the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF, for its acronym in English), and is a professor at Howard University, an institution to educate African Americans and other under-served groups.

From the Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies at this university, Byerly teaches theories and research methodologies of communication, develops research on media activism and on the gender dimension in the concentration of the communication industries.


The expert spoke with Cimacnoticias during the International Forum on Gender, Media, Information Technology, and Communication and Journalism (Foro Internacional sobre Género, Medios, Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación, y Periodismo), held on May 27 and 28 in the Spanish Cultural Center (Centro Cultural España) in the capital of Mexico, under the auspices of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico [UNAM]) and Women’s Communication and Information (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer [CIMAC]).

- Angélica Jocelyn Soto Espinosa (AJSE): What political and economic characteristics do the countries where the media provide better working conditions for women have?

- Carolyn M. Byerly (CMB): The countries with democratic political systems favor the advancement of women in the media. However, economic models that permit monopolies in these countries create an obstacle to women becoming owners in the industry.

[The Global Report showed that] “In Eastern Europe, women have more advantageous positions in newsrooms than in other regions of the world. They also occupy more decision-making positions, and hold more positions on boards of media companies.

“Under the USSR, the media faced strong control and influence from the government. Hence, [men were less attracted to journalism and] the women’s role in journalism [expanded].

“The situation of female communicators in the Scandinavian countries in northern Europe – which enjoy a longstanding and stable democratic socialist system – is also very good because women have more chances to move up in the media industry, and there is greater freedom of expression. In these Nordic countries, even the salary is equal for men and women.

“This condition is the opposite of what happens to women in the United States, another country with a long democratic tradition, but one in which in all fields of work females earn less than men.

“The case of this country [the USA] – a first world economic power – shows that democratic systems are not automatically related to equality, because there is huge concentration of power in the industry, which results in low quality jobs and the exclusion of women from media [professions and ownership].

“In Canada, women have a very important voice in media, where they have more equal access. The current problem is that most of the [Canadian] media are private and are concentrated in the hands very few people (men) with great political influence.

“Corruption, violence by police and drug cartels inhibit the participation of women in the media, as it happens in Latin America.

“However, the worst continent for women to gain access to journalism jobs is in Asia, with countries such as Japan (governed by a constitutional monarchy), where women face many difficulties [being hired and advancing].”


- AJSE: What kind of policies should the countries with the highest gender gaps in the media implement in order to match the prevailing conditions in Europe?

- CMB: It depends on the context and history of each region, but generally, mechanisms at the government level should be established in order to strengthen the feminist movement, because as it happens in any country, men are not willing to share their power privileges with women. Women must be organized to fight against this.

“Current economic policies promote mainly private investment, which has generated fewer opportunities women to be employed in journalism. [Women in all] countries need to encourage more laws protecting independent media companies, and for women owned media to have more and direct access to public resources.

“Action should be generated inside companies as well. In most nations, unions are formed mainly by men; therefore, more mechanisms need to be developed to ensure that women are represented in these unions, and that these unions promote women’s needs as well.

“In addition, the owners of these media conglomerates are the ones that oppose r women’s advancement in the media; [addressing conglomeration] would help more women to reach higher positions. Males are opposed to job growth for women because they do not want to share the wealth and power produced by the communication industries.

“Growth differs in each country. However, it is necessary for women to talk with their female colleagues in order to get organized and build a global mechanism for the flowing of communication about what is happening to female journalists around the world.”

- AJSE: What choices do women have to fight against the political and economic factors that prevent their rise?

- CMB: One of the biggest challenges women face today is the establishment of independent media that could fight against the major media exercising power.

“Independent media have the advantage of providing a space to write more freely and to build new content. However, they also face the struggle of economic uncertainty, and the possibility for editorial positions to be controversial.

“Despite all this, it is up to the feminist movement and female communicators to present concrete content strategies with a real gender perspective, and not to leave this task to the governments. A more active role of women's citizenship is required.

“There is also a need for more women to lead the media in order for them to be the ones producing the content on the lives of women and not men.

“There is also a need for more space [for scholars] to publish research papers with a gender perspective; for example, female economists are very interested in writing about this, but they need for the media to allow them to do so, the media needs to give them a voice.

“This makes it necessary to rescue the trajectory of past social movements and feminist struggles. Success stories of citizen action on freedom of expression and democracy need to be tracked, organized in patterns, and be theorized.

“There is a need for a stronger public action that demands the fulfillment of their rights, as well as more information from the part of governments.”

To access the Spanish version of the interview, please visit