Khin Thandar Htay, WIN Director, Southeast Asia: Newsrooms are male-dominated… we aim to change that

1. The Women in News program has launched in Southeast Asia, after several years in Africa and the Arab Region. How do you see the importance of the program in your region?
We launched WIN’s Accelerator programme in Myanmar and Vietnam last year and are expanding to Indonesia and Philippines while growing our activities in Myanmar and Vietnam in 2021. The WIN programme is growing rapidly and innovatively, based on continuous surveying and research, and using our decade of experience from Africa and Arab region. With the mission of increasing women’s leadership and voices in the news industry, we are focused on WIN’s six areas of expertise, such as promoting gender balance in content, managing and combatting sexual harassment in the workplace, leadership development, career coaching, social impact reporting and digital transformation and building for stability due to COVID-19 impact.

So, I believe bringing WIN’s extensive programmes and methodology to Southeast Asia will definitely offer significant support to our media partners of WIN and WAN-IFRA and the women in the media. These programmes are designed to build skills, strategies and support networks for individuals and partnering organisations.

2. What are the plans for the Women in News programme in the coming month in the region?
We are now conducting outreach to media leaders to join our global steering committee and Country Coordinators to roll out our programmes and activities effectively. We are conducting ground research with our media partners to better understand core challenges which builds upon our research on industry issues particularly sexual harassment, over the past 12 months. We will customise and adapt our programme and activities accordingly and hope to start rolling out our activities by June.

3. What is the status of women in newsrooms in Southeast Asia, and is there a good percentage of women leaders in newsrooms? Can you give us some examples of successful women in news?
To be frank, newsrooms in Southeast Asia are still male-dominated. There are two ways to look at it, from an inclusivity point of view it’s  50% – 50% but when it comes to leadership and decision making, women are still a minority. But that isn’t to say that there are not outstanding women leaders in the newsroom. For instance, Maria Ressa who co-founded the independent news organisation, Rappler in the Philippines; Gwen Robinson, the Chief Editor of Nikkei Asian Review; May Wong, Myanmar Correspondent for Channel News Asia; or our very own Esther Htusan, the first person from Myanmar to win the Pulitzer Prize. All these women are breaking ground and paving the way for women journalists in Southeast Asia.

4. What are the main problems faced by media women in Southeast Asia?
The main problem is the gender equality issue, rooted in a system of patriarchy. For instance, women are meant to cover social and lifestyle news while men are assigned to cover the hard-core news like the peace process, political news, conflict areas coverage etc. for the given reason of security, safety and commitments. That directly impacts on promoting women to leadership positions.

5. What are the most important skills women need in newsrooms in the region to push their careers?
I would say leadership skills, technology skills and most importantly, being empowered to break the glass ceiling.

6. The programme seeks to reduce the gender gap in newsrooms. What are the best methods to achieve this goal?
The best method is to ensure that we understand the real situation on ground, identify the challenges and deliver the most effective support. We have conducted research and surveys that we are now analysing  and will incorporate the results into our planning.

We want to empower women, create opportunities and construct an environment that embraces quality. We are asking media partners to collaborate with us as we believe their engagement and interest is critical to our success.

7. How has COVID-19 affected the newsrooms in the region?
The fundamental nature of journalists and reporters is remote work – always out and about to get the news. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire newsroom has shifted to remote work with editorial meetings, and briefings done via zoom; or broadcast production being done online, and there is a birth of online talk shows.

Revenue streams have completely moved from print to digital. The most wonderful thing is most of the commercial and editorial teams have come together to generate a completely new strategy and implementation to maintain the stability of the media organisations.

8. How do recent events in Myanmar affect the work of women journalists?
Journalism has always been a dangerous line of work in Myanmar. With recent events, both women and men journalists are risking their lives to get the truth out in the world, I would say it affects press freedom and the safety of journalists. From 1st February to date, 1st May, almost 70 journalists have been detained, around 30 are released and 35 remaining in prison and facing trials. Out of the 70 journalists, eight of them are women. So, I couldn’t say there are specific effects on women journalists in this case. But for those women journalists who are detained, we are particularly worried  about potential sexual harassment in prison. So far, there are no confirmed sexual harassment cases yet.  

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