"The press will change when they cease to report exclusively from a masculine point of view," Peru's deputy Minister for Women, Norma Añaños, told participants at an international seminar for journalists on "Women at Work, Women as Leaders", held in the Peruvian capital.
Añaños' reproach referred especially to the way the media reported the 116 femicides (gender-based murders of women) perpetrated by the victims' partners in Peru between January and October, mostly within the home setting.
"Nearly all the murders were reported in the crime sections, which is in itself a form of discrimination," said Añaños. "It gives the impression that, for the press, women are only important and make the front page when they are killed. This must change," she insisted.
The Nov. 26-28 seminar was organised by the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women's Rights (CLADEM) and the Calandria Association of Social Communicators, and was sponsored by the Dutch government's Third Millennium Development Goal Fund (MDG3 Fund).
The third MDG - to promote gender equality and empower women - is one of eight development goals adopted by the international community in 2000, that also include reducing poverty and hunger, improving health and education, and protecting the environment, with specific targets to be met by 2015.
The gathering was convened by non-governmental organisations like the Centre for the Defence and Rights of Women (DEMUS), the Asociación de Desarrollo Comunal (ADC) and the National Association of Journalists (ANP), with participation by the Andean Community trade bloc, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International Labour Organisations (ILO).
Representatives of civil society and of state institutions mixed with journalists concerned with gender equity, equality at work, and women's participation in politics.
On the agenda for discussion was a concrete problem: what can be done to make these issues more attractive to the media?
During the seminar IPS launched its handbook titled "Las relaciones de género en el trabajo productivo y reproductivo" (Gender Relations in Productive and Reproductive Work), by Uruguayan experts Lilián Celiberti and Serrana Mesa.
Mesa, an anthropologist, who attended the Nov. 24 launch ceremony, said the manual was intended to help bring about "those small changes" in the way journalists and the media portray these issues, which over time contribute to cultural change.
The closing words at the event were spoken by Peruvian lawmaker Hilaria Supa, who greeted the audience in her native language, Quechua, and then described her life experiences of exploitation, struggle and demands on behalf of indigenous women.
Media and gender
"It is unthinkable that women, who represent half the human race, should be violently abused and yet the press does not reflect on this, except through crime reporting," said Lola Valladares, UNIFEM's representative on Governance and Violence against Women for the Andean region.
Representatives of NGOs added their voices to the shower of criticism levelled at the media because, instead of promoting equitable news coverage of men and women, they reproduce sexist stereotypes about women.
A campesina (small farmer) raised her hand to contribute her own remarkable experience. Rosa Palomino, from Puno on Lake Titicaca in the southeastern Peruvian highlands, identified herself as a communicator for the Aymara people.
Palomino told the group about the weekly one-hour radio programme "Wiñay Pankara" (Aymara for "Always Flowering") that she has conducted for 21 years, and intends to continue to produce to her dying day.
Unlike most of the speakers, Palomino did not complain about the media's shortcomings. "Since none of the radio stations gave information about women, and certainly not in Aymara, I took on the job of producing the programme myself," she said.
"I do not translate what the newspapers and the other radio stations say, or what is on the television. I visit the communities so that the women can tell me their problems, their disappointments and their hopes. And then I go on the air and broadcast what they say. Sometimes they don't want to talk, so I ask them to sing to me instead. They do this, and they feel better for it," she said.
The head of the Calandria Association of Social Communicators, Mirtha Correa, said the Aymara journalist was right to point out that the media ignored many newsworthy items, such as the decreasing participation of women in politics.
"We live in a country where the statistics show considerable GDP growth and poverty reduction, in spite of the global economic crisis, but it is still economic factors that are limiting women's political participation," she said.
For example, she said more than five percent of mayors "were women between 1999 and 2002, but now they are barely two percent. Between 2003 and 2006 there were three women regional governors, but now there are none. This ought to be in the news, but it isn't."
At the Lima seminar, Mariela Jara of DEMUS introduced the Regional Observatory on Women in the Media, a project shared between organisations in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, for the purpose of monitoring and analysing newspaper coverage of gender violence.
"The goal is to promote journalism that supports equality, rather than gender violence," she said.
"The observatory will provide indicators to alert the media about the level of messages getting through to the public that sanction gender violence, and we will encourage the press to ask themselves whether there is equity in their own newsrooms," she said.
Tracking down the news
Diana Cariboni, IPS regional editor for Latin America, showed that in the experience of this news agency it is, indeed, possible to cover the news from a gender perspective. But she stressed that this depends on journalists themselves far more than on the media they work for.
Quoting from the 2005 report by the Global Media Monitoring Project, she emphasised that women only represented 21 percent of the sources relied on by the press. When covering economic topics, only 20 percent of the sources were women, and for politics and government only 14 percent of those consulted were women.
Among spokespersons cited by the press, 86 percent were men, and when experts were consulted, 83 percent were men. In the case of personal experiences, 31 percent of those quoted were women.
"The monitoring report clearly shows discrimination against women in news coverage, which means a lack of balance, and without balance good journalism is not possible," Cariboni said.
"But how can balance be achieved? Firstly, by dropping the use of stereotyped sources. And we can start doing that now, using role inversion. For instance, in a story about the economic crisis, interview a woman expert, and instead of talking to a grumbling homemaker, find a man on the street to interview."
Showing examples of IPS' global news coverage, Cariboni also challenged journalists to go out and investigate. "The news will not fall into our laps from the sky, we have to go and look for it because that is our job, and that is what people expect from us," she said.
"We have to talk to people, visit the communities where they live, and report from the places where events are happening. No one is going to do it for us," she said.
She also spoke of the need to develop a network of non-traditional sources, and to portray women not only as victims or passive subjects, but as star players or central characters. "If we want to stop treating them in discriminatory ways in our news stories, let's record their full names, and stop referring to poor women by their given names alone."
Cariboni presented several articles by IPS journalists that were characterised by in-depth analysis, use of a variety of sources, on-the-spot investigation of events, and especially reporting the voices of those who rarely appear in the news.
"Our job is not to reproduce official communiqués and declarations, but to go out and discover and publish the news that people need," the IPS regional editor concluded.