Ladies Night Discussion – Gender Barriers in Investigative Journalism

Madam moderator; ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends- thank you for the chance to share a special evening, the Ladies Night. It is so called because it is an event for female journalists to occupy and rule over a space that is often dominated by their male counterparts.

And it is special because we get a chance to discuss a subject that affects both Zimbabwean and American female media workers. As we explore gender barriers to investigative journalism, we are mindful of the broader barriers that have journalists across the gender divide.

This discussion comes at a time when we are also delighted to have been able to host Ms. Lucinda Fleeson, who is visiting from the United States. She needs no introduction to the subject having won several awards and has extensive international training experience in investigative reporting, narrative storytelling, and reporting on social issues. As a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer for 15 years, Fleeson produced hundreds of stories, including investigative reports and magazine stories in labor, cultural affairs, science, and feature beats. She has trained professional journalists in Africa, Eastern and Central Europe, Latin America and South Asia.  She also taught non-fiction narrative writing, international reporting and other topics.

Her training manual “The 10 Steps to Investigative Journalism,” has been used for teaching investigative reporting in many parts of the world and has been translated into 18 languages and circulated to more than 20,000 journalists.  This manual has been used to form the basis of what we believe will be an enriching training experience for local journalists and it was pleasing to hear college lecturers at the Harare Polytechnic testify about how they have used it.

Our partnership with the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Center started these special evenings in March 2012 as part of activities of the Women Journalists Mentoring Program. This was after we realized that there were some spaces that journalists could take advantage of to share information and knowledge that had very limited representation of female journalists.

This is the first Ladies’ Night in 2016 and we are certain it’s not the last this year.

Perhaps, this is an opportunity for me to recall the history of the Quill Press Club as it has been narrated to us by previous Quill committees so we can give context to why these special evenings are necessary.

I understand the Quill press club was founded in the 1960s as an all-male, all-white bastion of journalists supportive of the colonial government and later Ian Smith’s rogue Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) government. Originally run by the Rhodesian Guild of Journalists, it met at the same location as today — in the Ambassador Hotel’s wood-paneled bar, under a low ceiling with mismatched chairs crowded around small tables and a busy snooker area. As I look at this place, nothing of that arrangement has changed.

The location is conveniently located across the street from the Parliament and near executive offices. Government officials and state-promoting newspaper reporters easily shared drinks and collaborated on stories aimed at shoring up confidence and official racist policies among the white minority that controlled the country until 1980.

In the 1970s, the Club began admitting black journalists, one of the first colonial institutions to do so prior to independence. But those were very dangerous times — in 1975, lawyer and liberation activist Edson Sithole and his secretary Miriam Mhlanga were abducted when leaving the Quill Club after an interview and were never seen again to this day.

In 1985, the Rhodesian Guild of Journalists became the modern-day Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ).

Today, the Quill Press Club is a place where members meet up daily for drinks, gossip, and a chance to share breaking news. They come from all media outlets, hold panel discussions regularly with political and business representatives.

Unfortunately there still is limited representation of women although we have seen significant changes over the years. Three weeks back, a discussion session facilitated by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe had a five member panel, four of whom were women.  This is the desired goal that we have when we started these Ladies Night events under the direction of the Women Journalists Mentoring (WJM) program we jointly implemented with the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre.

We wanted to see more women journalists and experts participate in the day to discussions held here. Over the years, we have facilitated discussions involving women politicians, women business persons, women in health, and women journalists. Women make up half of society— and their struggles and achievements need to be examined across our news media. We believe that having a significant number of women in the ranks of investigative journalists will help ensure that. Indeed, women should be investigative journalists because they have the ability to be.

In 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists produced a report that said that many women who have been sexually assaulted while reporting never tell their editors. In 2013, we partnered various local media organizations including Media Monitoring Africa in South Africa to conduct a similar baseline survey here in Zimbabwe. The results were worrying. Women journalists worry both about the stigma attached to being assaulted and about the possibility that their editors would keep them away from future prestigious assignments.

In our engagements with female journalists we know the impact of having a well well-equipped and prepared journalist who follows an ethical code of conduct- accuracy, balance, fairness, truth-telling, completeness- in protecting journalists from abuse by both sources and their male counterparts.

However, during the course of this week, we learnt that in providing the public with true stories, journalists and especially investigative journalists help people to affirm their basic human rights: the rights to information and participation in their respective communities and countries. But all that devotion and motivation would be worth nothing if one sex is prevented from undertaking such assignments.

So we are happy to support this event and are so happy to listen to the experiences of experienced female journalists as well as all attending this session. We hope this encourages journalists- both male and female- as well as media owners and editors to walk that extra mile.

Thank You.