Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Sum Is Only As Good As Its Parts

The media industry, as a whole, is representative of the white patriarchal society that created it. The re-circulated images, messages and stereotypes it presents are a reflection of the culture’s impirealistic perspective. The historical attitude of white male as all-knowing and all-powerful continues to be emphasized not only by attitudes reflected in the media but also by its exclusionary hiring and promotional practices. The Women In Media Fact Sheet on the National Organization For Women’s website cites gender and racial discrepancies throughout the industry. Lack of diversity in media organization ownership, hiring, salary, management, coverage and on-air representation allows for this structure to perpetuate itself by manufacturing and sustaining white male dominance as the norm. Representations of all “other” groups including woman, people of color and immigrants continues to marginalize them through its propagation of longstanding stereotypes.

Alternative media is essential in order to represent women and people of color who, although labeled minorities, make up nearly half of the United States population. One program that seeks to level the playing field for women in the media is: To The Contrary a news analyses program which has been airing on PBS for almost twenty years. This program has been a pioneer for women in the media. Talking with and about some of the most important woman of our time, To The Contrary focuses on politics, policies and international issues, bringing women’s knowledge and input to the topics which influence women’s lives but have too often been portrayed as the domain of men. Reaching over one million viewers each week the program’s mission is “…to make women’s voices heard as we cover all issues affecting women, families and communities of color”.

A perfect example of what intelligent women have to offer in the media is the journalist Amy Goodman, co-founder of Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report,, an independent radio and internet news report that is in depth, critical and democratic in its coverage.

Democracy Now! presents the news and analyses that mainstream media won’t cover because of its allegiance with sponsors and corporations. The program's refusal to accept advertising money and subsist exclusively on contributions from listeners and grants enables Goodman and her co-host Juan Gonzalez to show what true investigative journalism is, going far beyond the narrow parameters of commercial news.

There are also many organizations around the world that offer marginalized groups an opportunity to represent themselves by making their own media.

Talking Out Walking On is a project in South Africa that combines video archiving and psychotherapeutic treatment for survivors of rape. The program’s goal is help survivors heal through mastering new skills and telling their stories as well as to heal their communities through a shared oral history.

Voices Beyond Walls is a digital media initiative teaching Palestinian youth how to tell their stories from within refugee camps in the West Bank screening them in Israel and abroad.

The organization is planning to expand to inner cities around the world with its model for promoting human rights through media self-represenation.

Youth For Truth is an organization that supplies video cameras to social justice activists, particularly youth, around the world working to document the dangers and abuses of the fossil fuel and mining industries on indigenous cultures and the global environment.

Documenting the destruction of the rainforest and its inhabitants, violence against protestors and the effects of environmental damage, Youth For Truth disseminates these important films through media networks like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Today’s low cost video technology and worldwide internet access have truly begun to democratize representation of people marginalized by the mainstream media.

The bias in hiring practices and lack of promotion for female employees in the news media industry is symbolic of the long held patriarchal attitude towards women in our culture. This attitude is easily observed when watching the disparate representations of women it continues to produce. Resistance to seeing and treating women as equal, valid and valued members of society has served to rob not only women of their rightful standing but also serves to hurt society as a whole. Fortunately, shows like To The Contrary, Democracy Now! and organizations that promote self representation have begun to bridge the gap and show the world what it’s missing.

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