The 5th meeting of Women Executives in Media (WEM) was held in Helsinki on February 7-8, 2018. The meeting was hosted by the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle and held the title Women and sport. Yle participated in the 100 Acts for Gender Equality Programme with increasing the visibility of women’s sport in their sports journalism. The meeting was a continuation of this work and aimed at sharing information and good practices internationally.
Women are underrepresented in sports management and coaching, especially in decision-making and leadership roles. Female athletes have fewer possibilities of going professional and they earn only a fraction of what their male colleagues earn. Also sports coverage is very male-dominated. The WEM meeting aimed at giving the participants information on the current status of women’s position in sports and insights into why and how public service media could increase the coverage of women’s sport. The two-day seminar gathered media executives and top experts on the topic. Among the participants, there were 25 female public service media leaders from nine European countries.
Seminar on Women and Sport
The programme was two-fold. First day of the programme was held at Allas Sea Pool, where welcoming words were given by Gunilla Ohls, Director of HR, Communications and Strategy at Yle. An informative introduction to the theme of women and health was given by keynote speaker Tuija Brax, Secretary General of the Finnish Heart Association and former minister and member of parliament. Brax told about health in Finland and the gender differences within it. Brax concentrated on women’s health and ways to improve it. Physical activity is an important part of staying healthy and able.
The second day included a seminar on the topic of Women and sport. Cilla Benkö, Director General of the Swedish Radio and member of the EBU executive board brought a greeting from European Broadcasting Union, EBU. Keynote speech was held by the first female president of Finland Tarja Halonen, who is a highly esteemed speaker for gender equality and sustainable development both nationally and globally. President Halonen described the challenges of women’s position in sport and reminded of the international commitments made by the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee, European Union, and the Council of Europe to promote gender equality in sports. “I have a feeling that time is suitable for reforms”, the president said referring to the #metoo movement and expressed a wish for the media to be active. In sports journalism, improvement is possible both in the quantity and the quality of women’s sport coverage. President Halonen’s whole speech is available here (in English despite the headline and ingress).
No one is better at commentating the sports coverage of women’s sport than the female athletes themselves. To discuss the topic, three former top athletes were joined by the director of the Sports department at the Ministry of Education, Tiina Kivisaari, and Culture and a gender equality specialist at the Finnish Olympic Committee, Sari Kuosmanen. The panellists discussed the challenges female athletes face compared to their male colleagues and what could be and has been done to improve the situation. Laura Lepistö, bronze medalist in World championships in competitive figure skating in 2010, described the pressure on women to be picture perfect both in appearance and in behavior. Anne Mäkinen, the first Finnish woman to become professional footballer, started her career playing with boys and men as there were no similar possibilities for women. Mäkinen still remembers how astonished she was when the European Championships in women’s football were played in Helsinki in 2009 and the event gained no visibility. In UEFA and FIFA, the number of women in leadership positions is very low. Tanja Poutiainen-Rinne, former professional alpine ski racer and Olympics medalist, was happy to say she believes to have been treated equally to men. She admitted though that her sports union had a very strong male leader who promoted the female alpine skiers and got them sponsors. Allies are important.
After the panel, Panu Pokkinen and Åsa Edlund Jönsson, Sports Department heads from the national broadcasting companies in Finland and Sweden, shared their experiences and practices in increasing the visibility of women’s sport.
Pokkinen told that before starting the work they needed to know the current status and for that purpose Yle Sport conducted research on their sports coverage of three months. Unsurprisingly, the numbers showed that the coverage was male-dominated, especially within team sports journalism. To better the situation, Yle Sports increased the broadcast of Finnish women’s ball sports on TV, started to follow their web sport coverage real-time, and decided to create content on women and sport aimed especially at youth. Pokkinen pointed out that as sport involves strong emotions, it’s necessary to proceed with caution.
Jönsson began by stating that the ambition of the Swedish Television is to be relevant to as many audiences as possible. To become a news leader one has to cover different areas. Correspondingly, the sports coverage cannot be men’s sport only. Also, the young generations are very aware and react negatively to absence of women in journalism. Jönsson reminded of the importance of having women also as reporters and employees within sports departments.
After the seminar programme the participants got a tour at the Yle Olympic Games studios built exclusively to broadcast the Winter Olympic games which started the same day. Producers of Yle Sport gave the participants a tour and an insight into the unique studios that have everything and everyone needed to the broadcast present in one place.
The meeting concluded in a common understanding that increasing the visibility of women’s sport in public service media is not just a question about gender equality, but of relevance, perspective and reaching different audiences. The meeting contributed to continuing WEM as an even stronger network dedicated to bringing women executives together for best practices and support, increasing gender equality and thus contributing to excellence within public service media.
For full programme, please visit the website of the European Broadcasting Union.
Photo credits: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle