Instead of profiling women at the helm in this industry, as we would normally do for Women in The Media Awards, we have asked top women in the different sectors their opinions and we are giving it to you straight.CEO of M-Net Patricia van Rooyen talks television.
Why are there so few women at the helm in the television industry specifically and in broadcasting in general?
On the contrary, there are a number of women at the helm of broadcasters in South Africa and Africa. In South Africa, Lulama Makhobo is the group CEO of the SABC. Bronwyn Keene-Young is the COO of e.tv, which effectively means she runs the day-to-day operations at e.tv. Karen Thorne is the station director of community TV station Cape Town TV. Here at M-Net we have Karen Meiring heading up the kykNET channels and Yolisa Phahle is the head of all the Mzansi Magic channels. In Africa, Biola Alabi is head of M-Net Africa and Isabel dos Santos owns and runs pay TV operator Zap in Angola.
In the world of television production, many women feature prominently. I can think of [multi award-winning producer] Roberta Durrant, [Penguin and Paw Paw Films creative director/producer] Desiree Markgraaff and [Tswelopele Productions’] Patience Stevens and Basetsana Kumalo, to name but a few. Women make a significant contribution to television on this continent. Of course, there is always room to do more, but there are some formidable women shining through.
Do you believe it is important for more women to be at the helm in this industry? Why?
I think women should be in senior positions in all industries, not just television. Not only are women half the population of the planet, they are also the consumers of many products (including television) and their voices should be heard.
Is gender equality still relevant or have we moved on from that? Why?
Gender equality discussions still need to be had, unfortunately. The reason for this is that gender equality does not yet exist. I think Sheryl Sandberg said it well in her book ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’. She said, “Give us a world where half the homes are run by men, and half our institutions are run by women. I’m pretty sure that would be a better world.”
Gender equality will only be true equality when roles and responsibilities in the work place and in the home are equally shared. Hence I like the concept of “where half the homes are run by men”.
Broadcasting is particularly tough for women who have the full responsibility of their children. What has been and can be done to keep these women?
M-Net has always tried to accommodate working mothers. We run a nursery school for working mothers and have done so from the early days. We provide a service called M Life. This service helps with all those mundane chores that one doesn’t always find the time to do – like collecting the dry-cleaning, paying bills and so forth. Every organisation should ask themselves (and ask women) what more can we do for working mothers?
What are you/M-Net doing to change perceptions of women, in terms of sexual abuse, stereotyping etc.?
We are in the entertainment business, and we should accept that works of fiction are exactly that – fiction. These stories very often portray life as it really is in fictionalised format and settings – not necessarily as we want it to be. We ourselves, however, strive for life as it should be. This means treating people with respect and dignity, at all times, irrespective of gender. In this way we counter much of the stereotyping that may be evident in fictional content. Our own actions speak louder than storytelling. We are also involved in many corporate social investment programs that uplift women, such as our programmes that test rural women for breast cancer.
As a role model in the media, what would you want younger women to learn from you?
Take responsibility for yourself, including your career. Always keep learning. Never be scared to admit your mistakes or that you don’t understand something. Be true to your own values – do not compromise. And lastly, be yourself and enjoy your work. In fact love what you do or find something else to do.
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