Regina “Ging” Reyes is the 2022 WIN Editorial Leadership Awards Laureate for Southeast Asia. Reyes, who retired on 31 December 2022, was the Senior Vice President and Head of the Integrated News and Current Affairs Division of ABS-CBN Corporation in the Philippines.
My first encounter with live television broadcast was the famous moon landing in 1969. I was six years old. It was a fascinating experience! I remember those black and white images from our neighbour’s TV, and my father answering questions on what was happening, explaining why it was a milestone.
As a child, I got used to seeing male faces and hearing male voices deliver important news and compelling stories about the world. In the Philippines, it would take baby steps for broadcast news to achieve gender balance, and more to embrace diversity.
When I entered the media industry in 1986, I felt the winds of change that came with the political upheaval in our country. We had just elected our first woman president. Many female journalists were making a name for themselves under a new era of press freedom that had been curtailed during the Martial Law years. The faces on TV now included more women, and they were not just dishing out lifestyle and feature stories.
Tina Monzon Palma of GMA News, and later ABS-CBN’s “The World Tonight”, and Cheche Lazaro of the award-winning “Probe” were among the notable broadcast journalists who would become news icons. I would have the privilege of working with them at ABS-CBN for many years.
These days, the common observation is that it is mostly women who run newsrooms in the Philippines, from legacy to digital platforms. But it’s still the men who dominate media boardrooms as owners and shareholders.
It’s not a perfect world, so we take what we can get.
Ours was a typical newsroom in the late eighties – the news director was a man, and we would have a succession of male leaders for the next 18 years. That glass ceiling was broken in 2004 when former CNN Bureau Chief and now Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa became our News Chief.
In 2010, I succeeded Ressa. I was a homegrown talent who rose up the ranks. For the next 12 years, I led the news team through integration, disruption, innovation, a pandemic, a broadcast shutdown and other existential challenges. I will be the first News Chief to step down upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60 this year.
The good news is another woman will succeed me. And it’s someone I’ve mentored and who has been a part of our news management committee.
How did we get here?
As I look at our history and newsroom ethos, there was never a conscious effort toward diversity. The eighties and nineties were pioneering years and it naturally made sense to give everyone a shot at decision-making or leadership posts.
Then and now, women didn’t and don’t want to be treated differently. We want to be treated equally. We want to compete on a playing field that’s equal – that demands the same high standards of both men, women and LGBTQ+ members.
Our management’s criteria for selecting candidates for important roles has always been, in my assessment, about four qualities: Integrity, Competence, Commitment and Courage.
Take reporters, for example. In the past, major beats and field assignments were dominated by men. Women were relegated to the soft news beats – showbiz, weather, lifestyle and culture. Today, men and women can be assigned to cover major events equally – war, disasters, politics, elections and so on. We hold no gender distinctions when assigning reporters to cover show business and sports, or lifestyle and related events.
As a former news leader, let me share some best practices.
First, work toward professionalising your organisation. To achieve this, adopt high standards. Craft a Code of Ethics that is aligned to your company’s Code of Conduct, as well as its mission and vision. Is there a provision for diversity in your hiring process? In your Code of Conduct? If not, revisit and make corrections.
Second, we need our human resources departments to help everyone understand the value of diversity, ensure it is reflected in the workplace and that employees are free from any form of discrimination. The company should share its policies on these matters with all employees.
Third, succession planning. In the past, news managers would poach talent from other networks for on-camera positions. Now we choose our next anchors from among our best reporters. We’ve created a line of succession for on-camera posts and for certain programmes for ALL our journalists. We’ve also identified high-potential employees for leadership roles in the organisation and have put in place coaching and mentoring programmes for them.
You’d be amazed at how easy these decisions are to make when you base them on established guidelines and policies. Journalists are independent-minded and natural risk-takers. We should empower them and give them room to grow.
In the end, it is this awareness that gets employees to embrace the concepts of gender equality, diversity and inclusive leadership. It takes a great deal of work to achieve this, but newsroom leaders must drive this mindset so that it becomes part of the newsroom culture.