Rachel Smalley: I feel a very lonely voice at the moment in the mainstream media
Opinion
Opinion

Rachel Smalley: I feel a very lonely voice at the moment in the mainstream media

Opinion: It’s a lonely old place in the media right now.

I believe in the freedom of speech and the need to have an open debate and consider everybody’s rights, and encourage good, strong, discourse.

I have also spent the best part of my life working in communication. Long enough to recognise that the route of all evil is when people feel they are not heard, or they are denied a voice.

If no one will listen to you, it fuels frustration and fear. If you’re talked at or drowned out, the effect is much the same. You become disenfranchised and disengaged.

I am pro-trans rights but I am also pro-women’s rights. I believe one shouldn’t come at the expense of the other, but I can’t say that easily. If I do, the abuse rolls in and I’m called a bigot and a transphobic and a Nazi. But I do believe Posie Parker should have been given space to speak because I don't think society should ever silence people it disagrees with. 

Today and for much of this week, the Posie Parker protest and the fallout from it should be leading every media channel. The nature of that protest. The silencing of women. Intimidation tactics. Abuse. Who victimised who? And both sides of this debate should be given an equal voice and be challenged thoroughly too.

Last week, we saw some remarkable bias in mainstream media reporting. And when people like Kim Hill - the doyen of interviewing - spoke robustly to both sides of the debate, pro-Trans supporters immediately reported her to the Broadcasting Standards Authority for giving a voice to Posie Parker. 

I don't think we will see balanced reporting again this week. The mainstream media is, by default, quite young – too young to really understand how hard-fought women’s rights have been. They have been born and raised in a world that many of us fought hard to change in the years that have gone by. They've benefited from those changes, but they haven't understood the struggle. 

I first worked in a sports newsroom back in the 1990s. I was young and inexperienced. I was told by the ageing sub-editor, and you’ll have to forgive the language, but he told me there were only two reasons I wanted to work as a sports journalist – one, because I either wished I’d been born with a cock or two, because I wanted to be around them all day. I remember quietly disappearing into the loos to cry that day, but I never raised it with my boss. It was par for the course. 

I was also one of the more senior sports journalists when the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games rolled around. Four journalists were sent. I was the second or third most senior sports journalist. And the boss called me into the office and said I couldn’t go to Manchester. The four boys they were sending could share two rooms and it would be more expensive to send me. Besides, the editor would later joke, what would I do when they went to the lap-dancing clubs at night?

No female sports journalists will endure that today. Women have a voice. And unlike me, back in the 1990s, they know how to use it. It's a different world. Thankfully. 

But that's also why events like what unfolded at the weekend really upset me. I feel like society is going backwards. Men yelling at women. Men intimidating women. But worst of all, women yelling abuse at other women – or sanctioning intimidating behaviour against them.

It is my hope that across the mainstream media, you will find some very strong and brave analyses today that position this story right down the middle. It is my hope that you get journalists calling this intimidating behaviour out, and reiterating that to enable the rights of the trans community, you also need to enable the voices of women because we are all different and we all have stories, and backstories, and some of us will be impacted by the elevation of the trans community, and we have a right to speak up about our concerns if women are losing our rights to feel safe and occupy women-only spaces. 

I don’t know whether you will read, see and hear that today but in a well-functioning democracy, it’s what you should see from our media. 

I feel a very lonely voice at the moment in the mainstream media. 

New Zealand feels like it’s digressed decades in enabling women, and after what I witnessed at the weekend, and the crushing of women, I feel like I’m back in a sports newsroom in the 1990s.