Summit calls for greater media diversity

Held under the theme “Media Diversity: Good for Democracy, Good for Business”, the summit highlighted a number of ways in which the media is failing in one of its core functions ‘ giving a voice to the voiceless.

The summit ‘ convened by Gender Links (GL), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network ‘ brought together 224 media practitioners, editors, media marketing executives as well as gender activists.

The two-day programme featured 81 examples of good practice in diversifying sources, markets and ownership of the media.

These case studies included submissions to the Gender and Media Awards that attracted 187 entries in 12 categories. Winning pieces ranged from an article on challenges women face in accessing credit to a beauty queen who finds out she is HIV positive.

A keynote presentation by Indian media expert Ammu Joseph underscored the extent to which globalisation has concentrated media ownership and the dissemination of news in a few hands, and exacerbated the tendency to portray women as sex objects rather than holistic beings.

Several new pieces of research came under the spotlight at the summit. The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), launched in March this year, found that across the globe women constitute 21 percent of news sources (19 percent in Southern Africa).

The HIV and AIDS and Gender Baseline Study launched on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May showed that HIV and AIDS constitutes less than 4 percent of media coverage and that people with HIV constitute less than 3 percent of sources on the topic.

The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, Kaya FM, the Times of Zambia, Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation and Defi Plus from Mauritius gave case studies of how they have developed HIV and AIDS and gender policies as part of the Media Action Plan on HIV/AIDS and Gender co-ordinated by the Southern African Editors’ Forum (SAEF).

The Times of Zambia reported that the death rate among staff as a result of AIDS-related illness dropped from 7 (out of 270 employees) in 2004 to two in 2005 after the policy (that includes providing ARV treatment) had been adopted.

With a strong emphasis on media marketing, the summit showcased the 13-country Gender and Media Audience Study (GMAS) that shows that women and men across the region would like to see women portrayed in a more diverse range of roles; that the kind of topics that interest women most (like education, HIV and AIDS and social issues) get short shrift in the news; and that women and men would like more local, human interest and positive news stories.

Media houses in Mauritius, Namibia and Malawi that have run the audience survey for themselves urged that more media marketing departments should start to actively seek feedback from their audiences. They emphasised that media audiences in the region need to be better educated about their rights as media consumers. Gender Links has piloted a gender and media literacy course for the public that is now being rolled out in the region through networks like GEMSA, MISA and the Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre Network.

A key recommendation of the summit is the establishment of a Gender and Media Diversity Centre that will co-ordinate knowledge sharing and information, based on a feasibility study commissioned by GL.

Other action points identified include:

Research and monitoring

l Do research on why women are not forthcoming as sources; build the capacity of women to be more confident in their dealings with the media.

l Development of resource directories for journalists.

l Extend gender and media monitoring to areas such as soap operas and advertising.

Policies

l Launch HIV and AIDS and Gender policies being developed by about 80 media houses across the region as part of the Media Action Plan on HIV and AIDS on 1 December, World AIDS Day.

l In collaboration with UNAIDS, accredit media houses that have developed policies and journalists who undergo training on HIV and AIDS.

l Ensure that media NGOs also develop HIV and AIDS and Gender policies before the next summit in two years’ time.

l Develop editorial codes of good practice on images.

l Do a baseline survey on the current status of information and communication technology (ICT) policies and their gender responsiveness in all 13 countries in the SADC region; use this to ensure that gender considerations are mainstreamed in ICT policies.

Media ownership and management

l Provide training in management and financial negotiation for women in media.

l Investigate the reason for ‘drop-out’ of women journalists at middle-management level.

l Conduct a study of emerging media enterprise models, and particular barriers faced by women in becoming media owners.

Audiences

l Devise simple tools for the media to interact more with its audiences, including simple audience questionnaires that can be administered by E Mai, SMS, poll questions on web-sites and questions on radio talk shows; encourage women to participate in these.

l Increase gender and media literacy in the SADC region; particularly among people in the rural areas with a special focus on audio/radio literacy. ‘ PR.

September 2006
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