Sexist behavior at media conference prompts open letter against industry misogyny

Jokes about breasts and kissing, and lack of gender diversity at a women in media conference, belied widespread acknowledgement of gender inequality, says an open letter published by worldwide news industry figures.

They refer to a conference held in early June during the World Association of News Publishers’ (WAN-IFRA) World News Congress. Senior news professionals who attended the Women in News Summit write in the letter that despite a widespread drive for greater gender equality in media organizations (Nieman Lab), women at the event still received sexist treatment.

WAN-IFRA is a non-profit organization made up of newspaper associations and agencies in 100 countries that has represented more than 18,000 publications globally. It says more than 800 people attended the summit.

Although 46 percent of the summit’s speakers were women, the composition of panels was largely male and there were “rampant displays of sexism and sexual harassment” at one of the conference’s dinner events, the letter says. (WikiTribune has published the full letter in conjunction with Nieman Lab, The Quint, NewsMavens and three other media outlets.)

The head of the Portuguese press association, João Palmeiro, “persuaded” a group of women organisers onto the stage before calling them “angels” and trying to kiss one of them, shown in a video posted by journalist Yusuf Omar who attended the event.

In another controversial moment, the letter says, the ceremony host compared fake news with artificial breasts.

Attendees and social media users reacted negatively, causing what the open letter describes as a “#MeToo moment for journalism events.”

Palmeiro and WAN-IFRA have since apologized. In the aftermath South African editor Lisa MacLeod was appointed new vice president of its board, the first woman to hold the position.

The open letter asks industry professionals to reassess their behavior and to prompt action towards ending misogyny in the sector.

In the past year, the #MeToo campaign brought about a global movement against workplace sexual harassment, notably by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein was one of the first high-profile men to be accused of harassment, and then held accountable.

#Times Up, the movement that followed, moved to bring an end to workplace sexual harassment and worked towards raising money for legal funds for victims.

But critics of the summit and writers of the letter say more needs to be done to end sexist behavior.

“When it comes to gender diversity, the events of last week in Portugal convince me that while we have made progress, we have a long way to go,” said Melanie Walker, the director of media development and WAN-IFRA’s Women in News program.

The letter reflects this: “The 2018 World News Congress was a study in contrasts, one indicative of the news industry’s treatment of women: symbolic (and at times substantial) gestures of respect interspersed with real, sometimes shocking sexual discrimination and harassment … It’s time to stop talking about the need for equality and start actively reforming the industry.”

The group has also launched a petition calling for the set of “principles” outlined in the open letter to be enacted to end gender inequality in the media.

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  • A news feature on the letter asking how it either fits into, or pushes forward, recent movements towards ending workplace sexual harassment and sexism. Could it be the next movement since #MeToo to take action in targeting sexual harassment in the news industry?
  • An interview-led piece with the founders of the letter, including NewsMavens co-founder Zuzanna Ziomecka (a WikiTribune partner)
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