AFP commits to portray women better in its production
On the basis of a report drawn up by two journalists on the staff, AFP's Global News Director has taken a series of steps deigned to improve the portrayal of women in all AFP production.
Do women have their rightful place in AFP content? Do we unconsciously perpetuate stereotypes from a bygone era in our production? These are the questions asked by the journalists Aurélia End and Pauline Talagrand -- at the time in the Paris General News Department -- for five months during a special mission assigned to them by Michèle Léridon, Global News Director. This was a "journalistic, not militant" piece of work, they insist.
Even if AFP "has nothing to be ashamed of", it should be "exemplary on the matter", they write in their report, drawn up after interviewing several people inside and outside the Agency and analysing our production and way of doing things. In agreement with the chief editor's department, the news management has decided to act on many of the proposals in the report, starting with adding a specific point into our ethics charter aimed at ensuring AFP's content reflects the diversity of society.
Clear rules for feminising titles in French
Moreover, we will add several items to the new Stylebook, notably the introduction of clear rules for feminising titles and job titles in French. "In the 21st Century, the word 'prefete' for example should not be used for the wife of a 'prefet' (French local official) when there are also women doing this job," says Aurélia End. Journalists are invited to follow the "Guide to feminising job titles" drawn up in France by the government's High Council for Equality between Men and Women, which feminises 2,000 nouns.
New rules have also been drawn up for covering domestic violence. "We should ban the phrases 'drame de la separation' ('divorce dispute') or 'crime d'honneur' ('honour crime') because they have no legal value and have certain connotations," says Pauline Talagrand. Furthermore, we should publish stories on statistics relating to domestic violence, like we do for road safety statistics, making sure we put violence suffered by women in context.
An updated Stylebook will contain a chapter on broadening our sources and using more female experts. "Journalists should not always keep going back to the same sources and should always make an effort to find female experts who are more difficult to get hold of," say the authors of the report. To this end, production services and bureaus should have a contacts list that ensures a 'genuine mix.'
Get rid of the decorative woman
The report also instructs journalists to treat men and women equally in all our production. We should make sure that physical descriptions of people -- in particular their clothing -- are not limited to women. Journalists are also asked to ensure that any mention of a person's family status should not be limited to women and should have "genuine news value." Photographers and video journalists should add more images to our archives that can illustrate articles about women. "Why don't we have more full-length photographs of men leaving the weekly Cabinet meeting, like we do for their female colleagues," suggest Pauline Talagrand.
In this era of social media, the Global News Director urges heightened vigilance for our postings, especially on Twitter. The same goes for AFP videos that appear on YouTube or Dailymotion, some of which offer a debatable news interest and generate sexist comments.
Quantitative and qualitative visibility
As Michèle Léridon said when presenting the new measures, they should increase women's visibility, both quantitatively and qualitatively." Improvements along these lines also respond to the expectations of our clients, specifically radio and television stations who are under an obligation to diversify their sources and strive for better balance in terms of guests.
To facilitate the implementation of these measures, a training session will be offered to journalists on general news coverage. In addition, AFP will organise a half-day awareness session on how women are represented in the media and a round-table discussion with prominent women. Finally, AFP has asked Marlène Coulomb-Gully, a professor of communication and information at the University of Toulouse II, to study our production in order to analyse progress made in this area.
NB: The two authors of the report – commissioned before the Harvey Weinstein affair hit the headlines – also touched on the issue of sexual harassment and the problems that women can encounter both within the company and externally – with their sources for example. This issue is taken very seriously by management and will be addressed separately.