"Girls are supposed to make rotis": Fighting bias in women's sports broadcasting
UNESCO is pleased to make the audio and text of this interview available copyright-free for the celebration of World Radio Day 2018. Radio stations are especially encouraged to broadcast the interview, either in its totality or by extracting the answers and announcing the questions themselves.
UNESCO spoke to a special guest from Pakistan, sports broadcaster Fazeela Saba, on her experiences as a woman in a field dominated by men. Ms Saba is a well-known voice on radio and a recognised face on TV, working with the public broadcaster PTV Sports and radio station Suno FM:
Q. How much is the consumption of sports through radio in Pakistan, Fazeela?
Unfortunately, it is very little compared to other countries – what I have heard in England or in India, for that matter. Comparatively, Pakistan has very few radio channels working for sports or dedicated to sports and we have small segments based on sports. We do not have programmes or we do not encourage sports anchors to do their own programmes for sports or we do not have specific hours for it.
I am extremely, extremely lucky that I have got this opportunity by Suno FM, that I can run a small programme that is also a weekly programme for sports. We have very little radio sports activities in Pakistan, which I think should be encouraged more. People do want to learn about it, people do want to listen about it so I am very disappointed with that.
Q. As you are saying that there is not much coverage for sports in general, how much is the coverage for women's sports then?
We have covered in my past seven years, in Pakistan, only one sport being broadcasted, and that is women's cricket, and that too for a very short time. There is one championship that we cover and that is a ten-day championship. We do not have hockey broadcasting, we do not have tennis, we do not have football, we do not have basketball or other championships.
Women are there in different sports – they do play – but as far as broadcasting is concerned, it is very disappointing.
Even women cricketers in Pakistan do complain that, “People do not know us, they do not recognize us”. And if you have a male celebrity or male cricketer, they do say, “Hi, hello”, and, “He is a superstar”. I mean there is a player who has played a hundred One Day Internationals (ODI) but people do not recognise her, because we do not have broadcasting of female sports. So this is very disappointing, very discouraging.
And let me tell you one thing – our women cricketers do not have as many medals and as many awards as women in other sports in Pakistan. We have a South Asian Games gold medalist, we have a girl who has been to Mt. Everest, we have tennis champions, we have a swimmer called Kiran Khan, so we have a lot of girls who are in other sports but they are not being broadcasted, and this is why nobody recognizes them and it is very surprising and it is very disappointing for girls, trust me.
Q. Why there is such – or should I say there is just no coverage for women sports?
Since I am part of the national state broadcaster channel, and I have discussed once with my CEO about this issue – why we do not encourage women sports athletes, why we do not broadcast their matches. If you compare it to women's matches – either international or domestic – it is a huge difference in terms of revenues.
We are here to make money, so we cannot spend on something which won't earn us anything in return. So see there are many issues for broadcasters.
Q. Coming back to you as a sports broadcaster, how was your experience?
Initially, when I started off, my male anchors used to discourage me initially and say, “She is a female, what does she have to do with sports?” I used to not take them seriously. But when I started off, when I did more research and then I studied sport and then I presented it in the mainstream field with a lot of men. So a few of them have appreciated me honestly. Some said, “You are an inspiration for women to be in sports and you are an ideal for other girls”.
But some criticism does come my way and they say, “Girls are supposed to take care of their houses or girls are supposed to make 'rotis' in Pakistan. What are girls doing in sports on screen?” This is one thing.
And secondly, there is one criticism that “she is there just because she has a good face or she is pretty which is why she is there. What does she know about sports?”
So no matter how much you speak, no matter how much you analyse, no matter how much you have the ground realities or the facts in your programmes, even then you get criticised because you are female. What I get appreciated the most on tweets and everything, “you were looking so good on your show”, nobody says “you spoke so well”, nobody says that you have come up with a good question or with the right facts, appreciate your research, everybody says, “you are so beautiful, you are so gorgeous” and that's it.
Have you heard that incident with Chris Gayle during Big Bash League and then Chris Gayle had to stay out of that league in Big Bash because he said "don't blush, baby" during that interview? So, it was a kind of a harassment which all of us take very seriously and very personally ourselves. We see these kind of incidents do occur when we go and cover these mainstream matches. So a lot of sports athletes do come and the male athletes do ask for your phone numbers and they try to get a bit friendly, a bit flirtatious. I think it is happening worldwide.
The first time – this is my experience – the first time I visited the journalist room, the media box, and they were all males and I was the only female, so I for no reason started getting those negative vibes. And acceptability is a problem. For me, it took me a lot of time to get myself accepted or to be recognized as a mainstream sports broadcaster being “the female”.
Q. What do you think of traditional sports coverage in Pakistan and how
can it be improved?
Our media is pretty much “cricket-freak”, because if you cover cricket, you get recognized as a sports journalist. But if you do cover any other sports, there is a very little column in a newspaper for you to fill. Or if you talk about on-air segments, we do not have other sports.
Q. Before I let you go, what is your message for World Radio Day 2018?
I am very happy that you have highlighted this issue and I have been dying to talk about this issue in Pakistan also that you should give women respect. In sports, if they do want to come and cover sports, you should encourage them all around the world. So I think women need to be encouraged in sports and I think women should be given room to prove themselves in sports as a player and a broadcaster.