The project was spearheaded by Esther Ng, Chief Content Officer for the Star Malaysia, spurred on by her role as chair of the World Editors Forum Asia Chapter. Ng led the initiative to record the bias that exists in different countries in the region, noting their different socio-economic and cultural contexts.
Project partners included The Straits Times in Singapore; Bernama, the government news agency in Malaysia; and Antara, the government news agency in Indonesia.
At the project launch, Ng noted that: “If we are to effectively ‘break the bias’, we must first show that a bias exists within the different socio-economic and cultural context of the different countries (across Asia)… And it is crucial that we record this. Our stories are meant to provide a regional view on women issues amid an unprecedented global crisis, and more importantly, the ways we can move the empowerment agenda forward.”
Under the slogan #BreakTheBias, the project ran some 58 stories from March to January 2023, focused on four main topics: education, gender equality, women’s rights and unpaid work. The majority of the stories were published by The Star.
Ng shares the project’s challenges, findings and future focus
What challenges did you encounter?
Regional project collaborations are something we have to keep striving for, although it is a challenge to get all media organisations to commit. Perhaps the lack of resources is the main hindrance for a project of this scale. It should, however, be noted that the last two years have been especially challenging as media organisations focused on the pandemic reporting in their own countries.
What learnings, if any?
Perhaps a more formal and structured approach could be taken for future World Editors Forum (WEF) projects. For example, member organisations could undertake to produce content for the project, and appoint a Person In Charge to liaise with the project coordinator.
Will your focus continue – and if so, how?
Gender equality, specifically women empowerment, has always been a priority for Star Media Group across all content platforms. The Lifestyle Section of our print and online products has a designated team of specialist writers who produce weekly content on family and women issues.
We are now looking to have the Lifestyle team work more closely with the other sections – namely, our community news, education and breaking news journalists – to produce deep dive content on specific areas of gender equality (ie economy, education, health, human rights, violence against women, etc) – particularly in light of the region’s recovery post Covid-19.
What do you take forward from this project?
We will build on the momentum of the WEF Women Empowerment project to look into the detailed areas of marginalisation among specific groups of women, including working mothers, housewives, and indigenous communities. The fact that Malaysia is a culturally diverse population means that women from different races and religions often face different challenges and their individual stories have to be told if we are to truly empower and break the gender bias.
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