‘Sexist’ Headline: Swiss Newspaper Tenders Apology To Okonjo-Iweala, WTO DG

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From Segun Amure, (The New Diplomat’s Abuja Bureau)

Swiss-based newspaper, Aargauer Zeitung, and two other media outlets — Luzerner Zeitung, and St. Galler Tagblatt have apologised for describing Director-General, World Trade Organisation, (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as a “grandmother” in their reports.

In an apology letter released by  Aargauer Zeitung, the foreign Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, Mr. Samuel Schumacher, said Mr. Jan Dirk Herbermann, the author of the article, did not use the “inappropriate and unsuitable” headline in the initial copy he filed in for publication. According to him, the Editor working on the story later changed the headline to reflect the ‘sexist and racist’ title.

‘This grandmother will be the new chief of the World Trade Organization’, the headline of a February 9 report by Aargauer Zeitung read, prior to Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment as WTO DG.

Schumacher noted that, “the author of the article, Jan Dirk Herbermann, did not write this headline. We did not inform Mr Herbermann about this headline. Therefore Mr Herbermann is not in any way responsible for this headline.

“Mr Herbermann is our correspondent in Geneva and had filed the article for publication. The original headline that Mr Herbermann drafted was: ‘For the first time an African woman moves to the top of the WTO’. However, we, the editors, did not use this headline,” the foreign Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper said, expressing regrets.

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Earlier before now, a total of 124 ambassadors and heads of international organisations based in Geneva have criticised some Swiss newspapers for describing Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a “66-year-old Nigerian grandmother”.

In a tweet on Friday, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, permanent representative of Austria to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, said ambassadors and heads of international organizations had sent a letter to the editors of the newspapers over the article.

Tichy-Fisslberger’s tweet reads, “the title you found appropriate to choose for your report on the new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation; ‘This grandmother will head the WTO’ landed you with a wave of outrage in various social media,” the letter reads.

“The latter had the merit of spreading a set of information not contained in your article about Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the first woman and first African at the head of the WTO, and the stellar career which had led her from universities like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology to the executive floor of the World Bank. She served twice as the Minister of Finance of her country Nigeria and once as the Foreign Minister.

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“None of this could be found in your article whose title sounded implicitly demeaning both for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and — in the process -the WTO itself.

“As readers of your article we were wondering what kind of information policy might have inspired this kind of presentation: Is a title qualifying a lady in a somewhat derogatory way as “grandmother” really a better eye-catcher than advertising an exceptional female career? How many domestic male politicians might feel that an article qualifying them — even though truthfully — as “grandfathers” without, however, mentioning any further qualifications, does justice to their “profile”?

“One might add some more questions, e.g.: do you consider it a useful support to Switzerland’s very committed international headquarters policy to present international personalities in rather pejorative or belittling terms?”

The ambassadors advised the newspapers to adopt a balanced and objective style of reporting in the future.

Reacting to the outrage sparked by disparaging headline, DG WTO, Okonjo-Iweala stated that it was necessary to call out inappropriate behaviour whenever it occurs.

In her reaction, she appreciated 124 ambassadors and heads of international organisations who earlier sent a letter to the editors of the newspapers over the “sexist and racist remarks” in the article.

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Her tweet reads, “I’m thankful to all my sisters, UN Women Leaders and the 124 Ambassadors in Geneva who signed the petition calling out the racist & sexist remarks in this newspaper. It is important & timely that they’ve apologized, ” the tweet read.

“We need to call out this behaviour when it happens. This is precisely what my book Women & Leadership co-authored with @JuliaGillard talks about – the stereotypes women face when they take on leadership positions.”

Earlier, The New Diplomat had reported that Okonjo-Iweala officially resumed her position as the first African and female Director-General of WTO in Geneva, Monday.

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