Third Week in the Valley of the Sun: Successful women, intriguing laws and the City of Phoenix

I want to dedicate my blog post to three issues: first, to all the amazing and successful women I have met during our third week in Phoenix; the insights into media law and the work of US media we gained from the Chief Deputy Attorney General for the State of Arizona Daniel Barr; and last, but not least, the city of Phoenix.

Part 1: Women in politics and the media

On Friday morning, June 23, as we were heading towards Phoenix City Hall, I was thinking about all the possible topics for my blog: open data, proactive transparency, media and politics, the Freedom of Information Act. 

The mayor of Phoenix, Kate Gallego, who was very welcoming and sincere, changed my mind. In 2019, a year that was very difficult for her and as a single parent with a small child, she managed to win the seat of Phoenix mayor. A turning point, as Daniel Barr informed us, was the Phoenix Mayoral Debate at channel 12 News, during which Gallego confronted her male opponents with her very well-informed answers to the questions discussed. With degrees in environmental studies and business, she focuses her work on climate change, countering urban heat, and providing more safety to the citizens of Phoenix. 

Mayor Kate Gallego in her Phoenix office
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego chatted with the scholars about her political career, and balancing work and family

“We are the largest city in the US with a female mayor and majority female city council, and Arizona has been also very successful in electing women. We have held multiple women and have the record for the most female governors following another female and another female. We are the first state in the US, where all of the constitutional offices–governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer–were held by women at the same time,” Gallego told us. 

Throughout the week, we had the opportunity to meet various successful women in Phoenix. The governor of Arizona, Katie Hobbs, who rejected more than 100 bills, including those to criminalize homelessness and to ban drag shows. Federal judge Susan Bolton, who in 2017 blocked controversial elements in new Arizona immigration law. And Diane Humetewa, the first Native American woman to serve as federal judge. I also had the opportunity to talk to, hang out and learn more from eleven amazing, smart and successful SUSI female scholars from different countries. 

Despite the fact that more women work as journalists, educators and communications experts – as can be exemplified by the number of this year’s female SUSI scholars – most managerial positions in the media and education are held by men, and sexism is still present in the media. In the US, many media outlets focus on attire rather than policy when reporting on top-ranking female politicians, and in my country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the media use gender stereotypes to discredit female political candidates. 

The scholars sit around a conference table in Mayor Kate Gallego's office
The scholars posed questions to the mayor during an informal chat

On our way back from Phoenix City Hall, I talked with some of my SUSI colleagues about the position of female journalists and media reporting on women in their countries.

Angela Van Der Kooye, a communication strategist and tutor, said that managerial positions in communication departments in Suriname are mostly held by men even though most of the work is done by women. More women in her country are getting leadership positions, but the percentage is still not enough.

Eman M. Soliman Amin, assistant professor at Galala University, said that in Egypt the media do not give enough attention to women, who often have to use social media to reach people. There are many good and courageous female journalists in Egypt and many played an important role in reporting on the Egyptian Revolution. 

Firly Annisa, senior lecturer from the Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, said that in Indonesia gender and ethnic discrimination is present in the media. For female journalists it is very hard to advance in their careers if they are over 35 or do not fit into ideal Western standards of feminine beauty.

Despite all the courage, work and success of female leaders, journalists and educators, we still have a long way to go.  As journalists and educators we can teach journalists and students about gender-sensitive reporting, explain why sexism and gender stereotypes can discourage women from taking on leadership roles, and encourage female journalists and communication experts to progress in their careers and demand equal rights. 

Part 2: Intriguing media laws and journalism in the US

Lawyers who defend journalists and who have expertise in media law are important for our work. As journalists and researchers, we need them to defend us or to explain all the nuances and loopholes in legal systems. As Alejandro Vargas Johansson, professor at the Universidad de Costa Rica, wrote in yesterday’s blog, we are on the same side: the side of truth and justice.

Upon our return from Phoenix City Hall, we had our final lecture with Chief Deputy Attorney General for the State of Arizona Daniel Barr. The entire week with him was exceptional. He spoke about the legal system in the US pertinent to the work of the media and freedom of expression – some of my favorite topics – and we exchanged information about similarities and differences in various parts of the globe. 

What came as a surprise to many of us is the difference between the media system and legal frameworks in the US and our countries. The popularity of prison interviews, the fact that trials are open to the media even in sensitive cases such as sex crimes, lack of content regulation, and lack of appropriate regulation of political advertisement and hate speech were some of the main differences. 

I believe that the media cannot be regulated solely by the market and that governments need to find socially responsible models for media regulation. The EU has advanced in trying to find a balance between the rights of others and freedom of expression. I still can see the benefits of many US laws especially regarding freedom of speech and transparency: open public records, Freedom of Information Act, anti-SLAPP legislation, copyright legislation. Both systems strive for the same objective, the media as watchdogs and the fourth estate of government.

There is, however, another regulator in the US media that was implicitly mentioned during the lectures: reputation, a powerful self-regulator for the journalistic and judicial professions in the US. Building reputation based on high ethical standards is something that all journalists, lawyers, judges and educators should strive for in any part of the globe.  

The scholars and Dan Barr sit around an outdoor restaurant table, steam from the misters visible overhead
Dan Barr and the scholars ENJOYING a group dinner

Part 3: The city of Phoenix

I cannot end this blog and not mention Phoenix. Its heat sometimes has been unbearable, but in many ways, it is a remarkable city. A city of the Sun, a desert city, a city of cactuses, of sustainability and innovation, of autonomous cars, a city of reinvention. 

One of the largest cities in the US, its name comes from the mythical bird that rose from ashes, the phoenix. As Mayor Gallego explained today, it is a city where people can reinvent themselves, find their path, become what they always wanted to be. That is what happened to her and many other people who came to live in Phoenix. Perhaps it will also happen to some of us. 

Because of the sun, it is a popular tourist destination as it has more than 300 sunny days throughout the year; it is the largest training city for pilots and it is the leading city in autonomous vehicles (driverless cars) due to its good driving conditions, wide and flat streets. 

As our third week of lectures and visits ends, we leave the Cronkite building. The sun and the heat are still there, but so is Phoenix. This weekend we will further explore its streets, restaurants, bars, gardens and museums. And we will reinvent. Reinvent our knowledge, experience, and friendship.