3rd March 2005
Sangita Shah inaugurated as third female President, and first Asian, in 120-year history of Chartered Institute of Journalists
BBC veteran Wheeler praises Shah as “new face of British journalism”
Sangita Shah, the new President of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, pledged that the Institute would fight harder than ever before to protect its members’ rights in an “increasingly ruthless” media industry.
Speaking at her Presidential inauguration last Friday (25 Feb) at the Guildhall, London, Shah said that the Institute must continue to perform “its joint role as a professional association, upholding and enhancing standards and ethics, and as a certificated trade union, fully independent and beholden to no political or other master.”
The Institute must redouble its efforts, she said, “to protect our skilled professional journalists from the mercy of employers who opportunistically capitalise on an ever-growing capacity of freelance journalists prepared to work at sub-market rates.”
In some cases this opportunism can even lead to physical danger for journalists, Shah said, with media organisations sending inexperienced freelances into war zones without adequate protection or training.
The Institute was well placed, Shah added, to play a pivotal role in changing public perceptions of the journalistic profession. “All too often we are perceived as lowly creatures dressed in dirty raincoats rummaging through dustbins in search of dirt and gossip. We’re just up from the estate agents… if we are lucky!”
“We as an Institute, who pride ourselves in upholding the highest standards of journalism, have an obligation to influence and inform the debate.”
Acknowledging the reforms that have taken place in the Chartered Institute of Journalists in recent years, including the introduction of direct elections to the governing Council in place of regional representation, and changes to the organisation’s management and internal structures, she emphasised the need to marry modernisation with “ensuring that we preserve the Institute’s history and values.”
She also paid tribute to past Presidents, “colourful personalities who have enhanced and enriched the Institute.”
Guest of honour at the Presidential Handover, veteran BBC journalist Charles Wheeler said how pleased he was to see Sangita Shah taking up the reins in the Institute. In his 60 years in journalism, he said, “women have gradually displaced men and have shown themselves willing to do all the things men used to do.”
The BBC had always had more female journalists than other media organisations, he said, but it was only in recent years that women had been able to “break through the glass ceiling” and take on the top jobs in the Corporation.