Saturday, August 1, 2009

sisters in the media do it for themselves

Standing up for the local media has become a personal crusade and my belief that we are a credible group who need to be respected and not shunted aside for international media was vindicated at the Vodacom Women in the Media Awards held at Summer Place this week. Not only was I part of a group of extremely powerful and respected women but one of my personal favourites walked off with the award (amid very tough competition, I might add). Debora Patta,group editor in chief of was responsible for introducing the channel's 24 hournews service. Despite being told when she was starting out that she had a "voice for print media" Debora has risen to great heights as her channel has acquired a reputation for toughness and fairness. There is no excuse for anyone in power not to be accountable she told us.
"When a Zuma-led administration is afraid to step out of line, we know we are doing our job. They know they have to respond otherwise, Helen Zille will be on air all the time." Which would be the ANC's worst nightmare - or maybe that would be the fact that their own voters are coming back to bite them in the bum!!

But I digress. In an interview with the finalists, which was very difficult to edit we were told by Sandra Gordon who MC'd the event, the points which were raised were the "juniorisation" of newsrooms and the fact that reporters coming out of technikons and various institutions were ill equipped to deal with the realities of being in the media. This was discussed by Jane Duncan, executive director of the Freedom of Expression Institute, whose contributions and daily little victories have ensured that the freedom of expression of South Africa's media has not been eroded and eclipsed. There are many attempts to do so, we were told. This "accidental activist" discussed these issues with Terry Volkwyn CEO of Primedia, who my neighbour Daniel Munslow of Newsclip said gave him his first job. Terry was another outspoken, articulate and strong woman who spoke out about the power of the media and how it should be used for the public good. Esmare Weideman was a face that I remember from my early days in a nwsroom and she has also risen to great heights. WE both have a lot more wrinkles than we had back then but wrinkles are something that a woman should wear with pride. "It's not often that I am in a group of women talking, and I think, hey I wish I had said that," chuckled Debora after winning the award. She had brought along her young daughter who I had met at several Durban July functions (extraordinary how we all meet up in various unexpected locations). I had one of the judges Ferial Hafajee at my table who always shows a keen fashion sense, she loved the red and black gloves which I got at Woolies last year.

There were even a few men in the audience, supportive characters who believe in the South African media and fight for their own freedom of expression. Like Denis Becket with whom I had an interesting chat before the awards. Neither of us are very fond of Independent Newspapers, who gave me a raw deal certainly. Don't know what they did to Denis! The group has been in the news a great deal recently, with rumours that they are filing for bankruptcy. The group had sold off a few assets in South Africa but as their newspapers here are the only ones making them any money it might not happen. There would be a bit of a queue to snap the titles up if it should happen. Speculation is that Luthuli House is eyeing out The Star, and make it the whole thing official! Anyway back to Denis ... we chatted about Tony O'Reilly who I still remember addressing the staff when he bought the newspaper. Beware of Irishmen speaking with forked tongue, all he could do was give us a lot of flannel (yes, I come of Irish stock and know exactly what "flannel" is) about how much he loved South Africa and how he loved coming here to play rugby and what a fine time he had. Little did we know he would go on to strip the entire place bare of any assets it might have. "He raped that company," said Denis, who mentioned O'Reilly helping himself to the pension fund surplus as well. This did not go down well with Pippa Green and Luzeka Mda, who despite working for City Press still holds some weird attachment to her former colleagues. But while I thoroughly despise the likes of O Reilly and his lackeys, and sincerely hope that Nazeem Howa finds himself holding cardboard placards in the street I feel terribly sorry for few staff who still work there.

Times are tough for the media and talk was of the Sunday Times dropping their social column. I told The Citizen's publisher Greg Stewart that his paper needs to snap up that readership immediately. What a stupid decision to dump something that people rush to read every week. Try checking out the Cheek to Chic column instead!!

Anyway, back to the event.. Prof Guy Berger from Rhodes University was twittering as the awards took place, proof that the online phenomenon is happening in South Africa. While people still like to hold a paper in their hands online reporting is gaining momentum daily as people want their news now. "SMS me the winner," said Daniel, who had to rush off to an appointment.

Editor of Bona Sbu Mpungose earned herself the title of Rising Star, and Sandra warned those present not to poach her immediately. The Media magazine had an interview with the 27 year old in which she described her first year as a journalism student as "hell". Which is probably true for most of us.

Lovely food for a change as the chicken dish with chickpeas served at the Serendipitea function was fairly ghastly. A lot of faces who had been at the tea were there again the next day for the awards but this time with a completely different sartorial flavour and vibe. No hats, lots of suits and Annie Malan was distracting everyone with her stripey Christian Laboutin wedgies and a sable coat which she told Sandra she bought in LA. Looking good and looking after yourself is important for women in business these days, who like to celebrate their femininity. Which is why La Mer was part of the goody bags, courtesy of Clodagh Knott of Estee Lauder and brand manager Kerry Evans. We all got a pot of the miracle cream and an eyecream. Which should take care of those wrinkles. Maybe.

Sad to say goodbye to Dot Field from Vodacom who is moving on to other things. No one knows what that is yet but she had already had silver and cream business cards made with her name in magnificent calligraphy. So watch this space if you want to know what Dot is up to!

The great thing about the event was that all the women present were jubilant for their sisters'success. Some of them had helped others up the ladder. The glass ceiling is a figment of women's imagination, was the message. Don't be afraid to be ambitions, don't be afraid to ask for what you deserve, like a raise, and don't be afraid to leep on doing an unbelievably great job.
Viva sisters in media, viva

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