×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Discop Africa: Former NBC Exec Paula Madison and Others Talk Opportunities for African Women in Media

JOHANNESBURG — The success stories, the challenges and the opportunities for women working in media were the focus of a lively panel discussion which opened the Discop Africa TV content market in Johannesburg on Nov. 2.

Moderating the session, former CNN anchor and CEO of Akoma Media, Zain Verjee, introduced her colleagues as women “who have broken glass ceilings.”

“With a few cuts and bruises—but they’ve all done it,” she said.

The panel included Khanyi Magubane, managing director of Zinokwanda Media & Communications; Sara Blecher, co-founder of Cinga Productions and founding member of the South African Women in Film and Television (SWIFT); Paula Madison, co-owner and consultant for The Africa Channel (pictured, left); and Bongiwe Selane, vice-chairperson of South Africa’s Independent Producers Organization, and creative producer of Blingola Media (pictured, right).

Over the course of the 90-minute talk, the panelists shared stories of the struggles they’ve faced throughout their careers in an industry largely dominated by male decision-makers, offering candid anecdotes about workplace harassment while also sharing career advice with an audience largely made up of young women.

“[Getting started] had everything to do with recognizing that what I could not do was go into the room feeling afraid,” said Madison. “What I could not do was go into the room…thinking that I needed to hold my tongue.”

During her time working at NBC, Madison rose to become the highest-ranking African-American in broadcast news. In Johannesburg, she told the audience she was encouraged by the prospects for many of those embarking on media careers across the continent.

“There are probably more women in decision-making positions in Africa” than in the U.S., she said, while drawing a comparison to the start of her own career, when “there weren’t many opportunities for the women who had preceded me to pull me along.”

Progressive legislation has begun to open doors in South Africa, where women today hold more than 40% of the senior posts in government. Selane pointed to “progress in women taking decision-making places in the film and television space,” including at the helm of the country’s National Film & Video Foundation.

Blecher also described the efforts of SWIFT to work as a lobbying group, pushing lawmakers to adopt measures that will aid women struggling to gain equal footing in the industry.

The hope shared by the panelists was that the effect would be felt by producers, enabling them to create more content that reflects women’s voices. “We’re 52 percent of the population,” said Blecher. “Surely we want to hear our own stories. And we want to tell our own stories.”

As head of The Africa Channel, Madison stressed how women in ownership can drive the narratives that take shape on TV screens.

“Much of the content that I see in primetime…is the perpetuation of women as competitors,” she said. “When an owner has an expectation or a fantasy about how women interact with each other, those are the scripts that get selected, those are the productions that get funded, those are the people who get hired, those are the programs that get [broadcast].”

“That’s the narrative that’s being forced upon us by a particular group of people who have a mindset that this is what women do,” she added.

Still, as a TV exec, Madison was just as quick to point to the practical need to reach out to women viewers. “I don’t take that in any way as pandering to a female audience,” she said, noting how women in African households frequently control the family finances. “That’s just good business.”

Selane echoed the concerns of many in the audience when she talked about the added pressures facing women in the workplace. “There’s a lot more that we have to deal with, being mothers, being sisters, being wives,” she said. “And we can’t move away from those things. They’re part of who we are.”

Those common challenges underscore the need within the industry to have more women “supporting and helping other women,” according to Blecher.

“The mountain that we have to climb in this industry is big,” she said. “And we’re not going to do it alone.”

More TV

  • The Netflix logo is displayed at

    Netflix Orders 'Queen Sono,' Its First African Original Series

    Netflix has ordered its first African original series, “Queen Sono,” a drama about a secret agent who fights crime while dealing with crises in her personal life. The series will launch globally in 2019. “Queen Sono” stars veteran South African actress Pearl Thusi, who tweeted in an emotional video Monday that she “cannot wait for…every woman on [...]

  • Outlander 406

    'Outlander' Recap: Jamie Encounters William Again in 'Blood of My Blood'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Blood Of My Blood,” the sixth episode of “Outlander” Season 4. The action in “Blood of My Blood” picked up almost immediately after the previous week’s episode, as evidenced by the fact that Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) was still staying with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and [...]

  • The Flash -- "Elseworlds, Part 1"

    'Elseworlds, Part 1' Recap: Barry Allen and Oliver Queen Swap Skills, Visit Superman

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Elseworlds, Part 1,” the first part of the 2018 “Arrowverse” crossover, which aired Dec. 9. After past crossovers that introduced beloved characters’ doppelgangers, a wedding and death, “Elseworlds,” the fifth annual “Arrowverse” event, had a lot to which to live up. Unlike previous years, [...]

  • Stranger Things

    'Stranger Things' Season 3 Teaser Reveals Episode Titles, 2019 Release

    Netflix dropped a new teaser for the upcoming third season of “Stranger Things” Sunday, confirming that it will land on the streamer in 2019. The teaser also revealed the episode titles for the third season, which are as follows: “Suzie, Do You Copy?,” “The Mall Rats,” “The Case of the Missing Lifeguard,” “The Sauna Test,” [...]

  • Kyzza Terrazas Joins Garcia Bernal, Diego

    Kyzza Terrazas Joins Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna’s La Corriente del Golfo (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Launching their new production house, La Corriente de Golfo, last April, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna have tapped Mexican writer-director Kyzza Terrazas as the company’s head of development. The appointment will certainly help build the company appointing an old-rounder capable of overseeing and implementing development, writing and directing, and a longtime [...]

  • Michael Che Defends Kevin Hart on

    Michael Che Ribs Academy Over Kevin Hart Controversy on 'SNL'

    Kevin Hart may have alienated some in Hollywood over his recently resurfaced homophobic tweets, but that didn’t stop “Weekend Update” co-host Michael Che from cracking some jokes in support of Hart on Dec. 8’s “Saturday Night Live.” After briefly recapping that Hart stepped down from hosting the Oscars after the 2011 tweets came to light, [...]

  • THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY

    'The Umbrella Academy' Superheroes Series Premiere Date Set on Netflix

    The dysfunctional-family superheroes of “The Umbrella Academy” are landing on Netflix worldwide on Feb. 15, 2019. The live-action series is based on the “Umbrella Academy” comic books created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, published by Dark Horse Comics. The Netflix original series comprises 10 one-hour episodes. “The Umbrella Academy” stars [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content