Ijeoma Onyeator

News anchor, Channels Media Group, Nigeria

Guest blogger for FCDO Editorial

Part of Media Freedom

5th July 2019

Improving visibility of female journalists

Ijeoma Onyeator has been a journalist for 17 years. She’s currently a senior anchor for the Channels Media Group in Nigeria, presenting live news and current affairs programmes. In this guest blog for the Foreign Office, she talks about female leadership in newsrooms and how she broke the glass ceiling.

Doors of opportunity

Being a female journalist has had its challenges. I had to take a break from full-time work when my babies came. I was lucky to have employers who valued my contribution to the company enough to let me work flexi-time. That did not make it any easier watching my male contemporaries climb more rungs on the corporate ladder while I was sitting at home with a set of twins on my hands. While I was feeling despondent, a mentor said to me: “My dear, as career women we can have it all but perhaps not all at the same time.”  I dried my eyes instantly. Today, it is my professional hat that still speaks for me. It opens doors of opportunity that some of my male counterparts who went ahead of me can only dream about.

Newsroom leadership

I want more female voices articulated and heard. At the same time I never forget that as Nigerians and by extension Africans, our ways are often deeply rooted in culture and religion. Traditionally these have not favoured female equality. Women are to go only when sent, speak only when asked to, take initiative only when permitted and work only if it is approved by the men in their lives. I think many of our gender problems are still on the level of visibility rather than parity. That said, many leading newsrooms here have strong female leadership. Yet it is women in such positions who often criticise younger female reporters hungry for an opportunity to prove themselves.

‘Know what you are talking about’

I had always known that I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. I grew up in a home full of books, papers, articles, journals, almanacs, Bibliographies and text books. I had a professor of law at The Hague for a father and a librarian for a mother. For this reason, ‘the news’ was constantly on television in the background of my home. One day I looked up and saw this man on CNN. I must have been about 18. His face was bright, his voice measured and composed. Boy was he intelligent! It was Wolf Blitzer. He said one sentence that has stayed with me from the age of 18 to 42: “To be a great broadcast journalist, you have to look into that camera, speak to that audience and know what you are talking about”. That is how it all began.

With 17 years of experience under my belt, I have no regrets. I am now a professional who can speak, influence, affect, goad, urge, change and most of all impact my world. My first job was on the media relations team of The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria in 2001. I joined Channels TV as a junior presenter in 2004.

Breaking the glass ceiling

One of the things Channels TV does is extend maternity leave with pay to four months. No women ever loses her job at the end of maternity leave. Channels TV also has a women’s forum that has zero tolerance for office place harassment. It is led by one of our founders. I am an active member of Thrive Women (a social enterprise helping women to empower themselves financially). I support all they do. There is also the Institute of Directors with a women’s affairs department that organizes quarterly workshops for women. And who can forget WIMBIZ, Women In Management, Business and Enterprise? They’re all doing their best to break the class ceiling. I support all these organisations.

The younger me would never give up. I had an overdose of passion for this profession. If you are planning to become a journalist, that is what will sustain you on the job.

The UK and Canadian governments are working together to defend media freedom and improve the safety of journalists who report across the world.  Jeremy Hunt, the UK Foreign Secretary and Chrystia Freeland, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, will co-host the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London on 10 and 11 July 2019. Government and civil society leaders from around the world, including African nations, have been invited to attend.

9 comments on “Improving visibility of female journalists

  1. Awesome and a very good digest. Very profound for the upwardly mobile woman of today even though this cut across gender. Quite inspiring masterpiece from a high bred journalist.

    1. Well done. You are indeed an inspiration to our generation. I always admire you. Even right from the first time I met you I Hotr. Well done again aunty I.j.
      Onyeka (Rock Media)

  2. This is a very brilliant initiative that will help not only female broadcast journalists to grow confidentiality in the profession, but also create better understanding for male leaders to be more receptive to the aspirations of their female colleagues.

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