Female journalists have accused Scotland’s newspapers of sexist and discriminatory attitudes towards sports reporters after controversy arose over misogynist jokes at an awards dinner.
Women in Journalism Scotland (WiJS) has launched a campaign calling for far greater diversity among sports reporters after it discovered that only three of Scotland’s 95 full-time sports writers were women.
A study by two master’s students from the University of Strathclyde found evidence that male recruits were being paid more than women, despite having less experience, while a sports journalism course at a Scottish college had been attended by just eight women in its 13-year history ; in many years its students were all male.
The campaign, which is backed by the sports presenter Gabby Logan, was launched after a number of female journalists walked out of a football awards ceremony on Sunday night due to an after-dinner speaker peppering his speech with sexist, homophobic and racist remarks.
The Scottish Football Writers’ Association (SFWA), which hosted the awards in Glasgow, apologised on Monday after Bill Copeland, a retired lawyer who is well known on the football after-dinner circuit, was accused of repeatedly using discriminatory language in his speech.
Eilidh Barbour, a sports presenter for the BBC, Sky Sports and Amazon Prime, was among those who walked out in protest, tweeting after the event that she had “never felt so unwelcome in the industry I work in”.
Gabriella Bennett, a co-chair of WiJS, said that while she and all those at her table also stood up to leave in protest, most audience members were laughing at Copeland’s remarks.
Logan said: “I can’t believe I am reading all this in 2022. In 2022 there should be no barriers or discrimination to anyone who wants to enter our profession. And once there they should be made to feel welcome and encouraged to excel whoever they are.”
WiJS said its members and research had identified “sexist abuse, pay disparity, macho culture, male-dominated meetings and management structures, lack of opportunity, tokenism, lack of flexibility [and] barriers to a career path” as deterrents for women entering sports journalism, and as reasons why some left the industry.
Catriona MacPhee, a co-chair of WiJS, said: “This is a watershed moment for the media in Scotland. We need more women’s voices and perspectives in sports coverage and as an industry we need to work together to make sure women have access to this sector and are not pushed out,.”
WiJS initiatives have included: mentoring female sports reporters – it paired five women with mentors in December; training and support resources for women at different levels in sports journalism; and improved training for women in broadcast journalism.
John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, which represents publishers and editors, said the University of Strathclyde research had accurately identified problems for women trying to become sports journalists. He said it was in the industry’s interests to change.
“While recruitment is a matter for individual companies, all publishers take their commitment to diversity, inclusion and a safe working environment very seriously and it is not in their interests to perpetuate a negative culture,” he said.
“The Strathclyde university study does expose an issue with the number of women seeking to enter sports journalism, which anyone working in journalism education knows to be true. But with the higher profile of both women’s sports and female sports journalists, I’m sure this will change.”
But one experienced female sports reporter, who asked not to be named, said she “did not recognize” the idea that there is a sexist, macho environment among football reporters. She agreed that work was needed to increase the number of women sports reporters, but said she had always found a supportive culture among male colleagues.
“I feel very comfortable in my environment and I feel respected in my environment,” she said, adding that it was “disingenuous” to see a correlation between Copeland’s speech and the everyday experience of female football reporters. There was no “rampant misogyny” in her experience, she said.
In a statement issued on Monday, the SFWA said it “apologises to anyone offended or upset by material from one of our after-dinner speakers at last night’s annual awards dinner.”
Copeland’s online speaker’s biography was removed by one of the agencies that represent him, which said it supported the SFWA apology. Copeland has not yet spoken publicly about the incident.