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Swiss paper faulted for sexixt headline about WTO chief

Published on August 17, 2021

A media regulator faulted a Swiss newspaper on Tuesday for sexism over a headline earlier this year describing the World Trade Organization’s highly qualified new chief merely as a “grandmother”.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in March became the first woman and first African to lead the WTO, following a long, high-powered career serving both as finance and foreign affairs minister in her native Nigeria and 25 years at the World Bank.

But when the Aargauer Zeitung regional daily announced the 67-year-old Harvard-educated development economist’s appointment in February, it opted to focus its headline on her role as a matriarch.

“This grandmother will become the boss of the WTO,” read the headline of the article published by the Aargauer Zeitung and picked up by several other papers on February 9.

Amid a barrage of outrage, the paper apologised, acknowledging that the headline had been “inappropriate and unsuitable”.

The Swiss Press Council, a self-regulatory media ethics organisation, examined charges that the paper’s choice of words had been motivated by gender discrimination and/or racial discrimination.

In its ruling issued Tuesday, it said it had not been able to determine whether discrimination on the basis of skin colour had played a role.

“However,” it said, “it is obvious that if this had been about a male former finance and foreign minister in a country of 200 million people, the headline ‘a grandfather becomes the WTO director-general’ would be inconceivable.”

“Therefore, the council deems the headline discriminatory on the basis of gender.”