Women Must Take Charge of the Remote.
Mira Emmerling | On 10, Sep 2013
A Q&A session with Marie-Christine Saragosse, an iconic woman who runs media outlets distributed across two hundred countries on five continents
Marie-Christine Saragosse is a well-known personality in the audio-visual world, in particular in French-speaking countries. She was previously the head of TV5MONDE, and in October 2012 became General Manager of AEF (French External Audiovisual.) The theme of women, and their image in television programs, has always been at the heart of her mission. MCS responds to our questions with frankness, determination and enthusiasm.
Interview : Françoise Lazard.
Q : When you were the head of TV5MONDE, you placed particular emphasis on the status of women and male-female equality. Most notably, with the creation of «Terriennes», an internet portal completely dedicated to illustrating the condition of women worldwide. In what way do your new responsibilities put you in a better position to defend this subject? How do you think you can be influential today ?
A : I have found in my new role the global scope of action ! The media outlets that I run today -France 24, Radio France International and Monte Carlo Doualiya- are distributed across two hundred countries on five continents. Their strength all together allows for ambitious projects to be put into place that are in line with our core mission, most notably, the advancement of the condition of women worldwide. At France 24, RFI et Monte Carlo Doualiya, there are very talented teams. I believe that my arrival has accelerated the number of reportages on this theme (for example “The Autumn of Arab Women” on France 24). It has also permitted the set up of partnerships, such as with the first global French Speaking Women’s Forum to be held in Paris March 20th, which will be widely covered by the international media.
Q : Should audio-visual media be an example to the whole of civil society regarding its portrayal of male-female equality ? Why ?
A : Audio-visual media is not always up to today, even if it is more often due to a lack of awareness than a delibarate “macho” attitude. On the screen there are a number of women journalists or entertainers, but the women invited or interviewed are often victims or witnesses, rarely are they women in a position of responsibility…With experts, the expected question is always “and as women, what do you think? ”, rather than just, “what do you think”? Their perspective is considered as feminine and therefore cannot be universal. It is a matter of mental conditioning: a women’s opinion naturally becomes a sexualized opinion and not an opinion in and of itself. Given the massive audience of audio-visual media in all regions of the world, it must always be exemplary. The media plays a decisive role in the evolution of mentalities and behaviors. For this reason, beyond my personal convictions and commitments, I remain one hundred percent active to fight for this cause.
Q : Do you think that this mission will really be taken into account, either through the editorial process, or through programming, by major African francophone distributors and those of the Maghreb ?
A : I cannot give a detailed analysis of the content offered by African francophone and Maghreb channels, but it is true that the consideration to male-female equality, and to the role of women, is not apparent. Western countries are not necessarily perfect examples; because they are without the weight of certain traditions, which are often still very heavy in a many emerging countries. Last November, I went to a conference organized in Dakar by REFRAM (Réseau Francophone des Régulateurs des Médias), which brings together the regulatory authorities of 28 French-speaking countries, including some from sub-Saharan African and the Maghreb. There was a real and unanimous commitment of all participants to safeguard this cause on their television channels and radio. The numerous initiatives presented here make me think that the growing awareness is at work everywhere. For instance, in sub- Saharan Africa, more and more programs aim to educate the population on the violence that is committed against women. On this subject, two vital women come to mind. Annette Mbaye of Erneville, who is called, “Mère-bi”, was the first female Senegalese journalist. Also Denise Epoté, who is the current Africa director of TV5MONDE, and was the first woman to present televised news in Cameroon. Both are role models for the whole African continent.
Q : How can audio-visual media, for example, combat violence against women?
A : As I said, audio-visual media widely disseminates information to the general mass. Along with education, it undoubtedly plays the most important role in raising peoples’ awareness and in the evolution of mentalities and
behaviors. It can promote information campaigns carried out by associations and national and international organizations that act against all forms of violence. It can also choose to offer a choice of programs that are strong and engaging, like what I did at TV5MONDE, and that I will continue to pursue. The Internet portal “Terriennes”, that I launched with TV5MONDE, has been designed to be like a tool to access information on the condition of women across the world …I am convinced that action like this helps to get things done.
Q: In terms of programming in African francophone countries and the Maghreb, how would you evaluate the expectation of citizens in terms of male-female equality?
A: Keeping in mind the media outlets that I manage, I can tell that the expectation is very high. In 2009, we challenged TV5MONDE to broadcast a special program on female circumcision, to denounce the horror of this practice. We had great response, particularly from African women’s associations. In addition, at TV5MONDE, the program “Maghreb-Orient Express”, which was launched during the events of the Arab world in 2011, reveals all that the women of these societies want and dare to say today. More recently at France 24, a series of reports entitled, “Arab Spring, Autumn of women”, shows the reality “after the revolution” for women, with a certain number of them recounting their disillusionment.
Q: What is your level of vigilance on the subject? Is it a “personal” vigilance or “professional”?
A: My vigilance follows me in both my personal and professional life! I always consider with wariness the role given to a woman in an advertisement or series. But I make sure as well that in the company that I run I have a joint steering committee, with women AND men among the journalists on the air and those who hold managerial positions. I also pay particular attention to the content. This question of the status of women is not, contrary to what we are made to believe, just another question of diversity. Regardless of skin colour, religious affiliation, disability or sexual orientation, we are always man or woman. Women are neither wiser, nor more courageous, nor more this or that but they still consist of 50% of humanity.
Q: If you had to make a recommendation to broadcasters present at Discop West Asia 2013, what would it be: to encourage male-female equality through programs devoted to the topic? To promote the access of women to airtime and testimonials? Or through the recruitment of women to key positions that are traditionally occupied by men?
A: We must avoid “ghettoising” the question. The broadcasters must generally watch over the image of women in their programs. In terms of recruitment, it is essential to have women in key essential positions. However, it should not be misogynistic by ousting men. The goal, basically, is mixed teams.