Women must warm up to the media

Women in various spheres of life complain about receiving unfair media coverage or about being completely ignored by news organisations. They also complain about the fact that in most cases comments or analytical views on politics or the economy are often sourced from men.

It is true that women in positions of power are under-reported and sometimes only receive media attention in connection with negative developments.

But it is not entirely true that journalists avoid interviewing women or seeking comments from them. As a journalist I tried many times to talk to women in politics or business but not many were forthcoming.

With that past experience at the back of my mind, last year I made a commitment to interview as many female politicians as possible. I gritted my teeth and told myself that no matter how hard it proved I would at least try and get the voices female council and parliamentary candidates before the elections.

By May 2017 it was certain Mrs Joice Mujuru would be running for president so I decided I would start with her. Women at the top, like their male counterparts employ human buffers who either open doors for you or slam them in your face. I called some of the men who were on her team and by December I had almost given up but I didn’t.

In January I shelved the idea of interviewing Zimbabwe’s former vice president and focused on the young women who had started to seriously campaign for public office. I interviewed them and wrote about their campaigns. There was inspiring energy out of the interviews.

I eventually struck luck with Mrs Mujuru exactly one year later and finally met and interviewed her.

Journalism is governed by deadlines and also immediate interest. The reason why some journalists end up giving up on some female politicians is because there are other politicians who understand the importance of publicity and are willing to be interviewed. They also work for publications that expect immediate responses.

I called one young woman and she said she would call me back but did not. I tried again and her phone went unanswered but I accepted the fact that it was possible she had to seek clearance from her party leadership. I also had the experience of being called after an interview by a fellow female journalist offering to guide me through writing the story of the candidate I had personally sought out and interviewed. Not only was this the height of professional disrespect but I took it as an insult. I also felt the candidate could have simply told me that she preferred her team to do a public relations piece on her.

I understand the apprehension some women feel towards journalists but I also believe that the vast gap of suspicion that exists will not will not be healed unless both parties give each other the benefit of the doubt and work towards establishing a sustainable relationship.

There seems to be a belief among some female politicians that all some journalists are interested in, is digging up dirt on them. While that can be true in some cases, it is not always the case.

I also came across a penchant for dehumanising each other which I found unnerving. For years we have complained of patriarchy drowning us, and it does, but sometimes we are our worst enemies. Some women feel threatened by other women and find it quite easy to denigrate other women.

I interviewed some politically mature and inspiring, aspiring council and legislative candidates who easily spoke of their support for fellow female candidates in and outside their constituencies and that was encouraging. Here were women, working their hearts out to win elections but also warmly rooting for fellow women.

Most male politicians are very publicity savvy. They do not always say the right things but they are proactive and they do make the effort to talk to various journalists. They understand the value of establishing a working relationship with the media and constantly networking with journalists. This is not to say they trust journalists, most of the time they don’t but they believe talking to journalists is a risk worth taking especially in an election year.

Some years ago, I was tasked with interviewing some female councillors and Members of Parliament from MDC-N, MDC-T and Zanu PF for the Five-Year Mile Magazine and it was hard to get some of them to agree to be interviewed. This was a Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU) and Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) initiative and the targeted women had worked with WIPSU but they were apprehensive about being interviewed and written about.

It is a few days before the 2018 elections and I have covered a number of women and hope they benefit from the publicity. It still feels very little for me but I believe it is a start and it can only get better if the women seeking public office do not shut out engagement with the media.

Women in all sectors need to be able to build each other up. Taking each other apart block by block only serves to strengthen men’s hold on power. Women who hold each other’s hands and help each other up the ladder will always have someone to lean on in hard times. The political terrain is not easy for women and every little help should be welcomed and encouraged.

About the author:

Grace Mutandwa

Grace Mutandwa is a journalist, blogger and published author. She can be contacted at: grace@wesaygrace.net.The opinion or views expressed on this platform are those of the contributing Authors or organisation . They do not necessarily reflect the views and policies or the position of Gender and Media Connect.