United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

Online Discussion

"Participation and access of women to the media
and their impact on and use as an instrument
for the advancement and empowerment of women"

26 August to 27 September 2002

Week Four Summary

"Impact of the new technologies on media professions and media content"

We have just finished a week of discussion on the very exciting topic "Impact of the new technologies on media professions and media content." As in the past week, contributions came in from different regions including Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Europe. Following is the summary of the discussions with the inputs classified according to the particular issues they are responding to.

  1. Positive and negative aspects of the new information and communication and technologies; key issues that women need to address.

    The discussants identified the following positive aspects of the new ICTs:
    • provides easier access to studies for, by and about women
    • allows for radio program exchange with women from around the world at an affordable price
    • cheaper television production technologies has enabled women to produce broadcast-quality programs without having to go through the male-dominated hierarchy in most media organizations/media enterprises
    • allows for the proliferation of special-interest channels, where women producers have a greater chance of selling her programs as opposed to the old days where just a few channels existed and where the majority audience was always taken into consideration
    • allows for the publication of globally accessible information cheaply and quickly
    • enables women to quickly find information on people, projects, including funding
    • enables women to share information and promote their organization and its work
    • allows individual women and organizations to save money and time by doing banking and account payments online
    • enables women's groups to co-ordinate international campaigns effectively
    • allows for the exchange of news, views and experiences in a wide public forum
    • allows for the use of videos and other media productions in promoting the peace agenda
    • there are no entry barriers and male domination has not [yet] become an established fact

    Lene Øverland from South Africa shared the following examples of success in the use of the new ICTS:
    • The Zimbabwe Media Monitoring project which updates the general public and the international media regularly
    • Women's Media Watch, South Africa which has posted training tools and media analysis on the Internet that has been accessed by wide audiences globally
    • The Canadian Women's Media Watch hosts a web page which provides examples of analysis and complaints about advertisements
    • Information sharing for the 16 Days Campaign to end Violence Against Women
    • On-line tutoring of how to develop a web page

    Corine Van Hellemont from Belgium cited the experience of the gender media watchdog at the Center of Women's Studies of the University of Antwerp where people can lodge a complaint and/or compliment concerning an ad, a newspaper or magazine article, a radio or television program. These are discussed in an online discussion board, where media audiences and professionals participate. The gender media watchdog also maintains an online database of gender stereotypes in the media that is accessed by educational institutions as a resource and a tool for sensitization and change. The group also gives awards to non-sexist advertisements.

    Juliet Were Oguttu from Uganda informed us that Isis-WICCE runs a small Internet café for women and young girls. A number of young writers whose works had never been published before have been able to submit their works to electronic magazines for publishing and guidance. This has encouraged other writers to use the technology.

    Following are the negative aspects of ICTs identified by the participants:
    • information overload and the considerable amount of time to sift useful information
    • most of the information is from a patriarchal perspective
    • difficult to check the accuracy of the information and the source
    • high cost of the technology especially for small media producers in the South
    • ICTs can take up more time and frustrate our work (like when viruses attack)
    • use of the new ICTs in pornography
    • perpetuate negative representation of women
    • there is a danger that the information loses some if its context, and becomes impersonal in the sense that it does not associate with the original source of the material such as the individual writer, artist, thinker
    • [Some] journalists tend to download ready made first-world material and use it instead of writing or broadcasting original, culturally appropriate material.

    The key issues women need to address are:
    • commercial interests are the ones who are now busy helping governments to formulate policies to control [the new media]; in India, one of the leading business houses was actively involved in the formulation of The Information Technology Act, and continues to lobby for rules and regulations favorable to its interests;
    • censorship is likely to be even more ineffective online than it is in print or on videos
    • Internet users have gotten so used to getting everything free on the Internet that it is not possible to generate even the small amounts required to keep the operation running; - once the global giants start occupying cyberspace, women will be crowded out in this medium as well;
    • the digital divide at the global level is seen also within our own NGOs; members with internet access are becoming much better informed, but grassroots members without access are left further behind;
    • there is a danger to rely too much on the Internet, instead of seeking out the original source of information or opinion; and
    • women are often socialized into techno phobia.

    Given the positive and negative issues as well as the key issues that need to be addressed, this week's participants made the following recommendations:
    • start lobbying with our governments if we want to have our interests incorporated into ICT policies;
    • inspire more women to make use of new technologies by demystifying [or reaching out to those who have had limited exposure to the technology and explain these to them in simple terms that are applicable to their own context];
    • be proactive and use whatever we can to bring out the positive side of the new media;
    • [conduct continuing] skills development;
    • consider the digital divide including the lack or absence of necessary infrastructures, when deciding what type of ICT to make use for various purposes;
    • conduct market research to identify audience needs;
    • tailor messages to reach the target audience;
    • explore the establishment of rural telecentres that are useful to women;
    • address other basic needs of women in the rural areas such as clean water, sanitation, roads;
    • assist women's groups and other NGOs in the less developed countries to set up community radio;
    • campaign for the formulation and enforcement of appropriate regulatory laws in every country to prevent the use of new ICTs against women;
    • produce more content that is relevant to women;
    • create sites that serve as guides--meta-sites that sort content into categories, and with each entry under a category considered to be most useful and reliable on that particular topic;
    • serve as information brokers for other women's organizations. As a broker, an organization becomes a hub, gathering the information and redistributing it to organizations that subscribe to them;
    • content producers or information brokers must ensure that the original sources are credited; and
    • media watchdogs should keep each other informed about problematic ad campaigns running in their countries, and constantly update each other about the [protests] against such ads.

  2. Steps to encourage media professionals to refer to online materials that will ensure greater diversity and fair gender balance in media output

    The discussants identified the following steps to encourage media to use online materials that will promote gender balance were identified:
    • promote and advertise websites of women's organizations as widely as possible- especially in the newsrooms;
    • regularly register women's websites with search engines;
    • ensure the user-friendliness of women's websites including having quality links;
    • train media professionals, especially women, in the use of new media technologies;
    • media organizations/media enterprises should be encouraged to acquire new technologies for their staff
    • [lobby hardware and software] companies so that they will support [media associations] and donate equipment;
    • make databases available online and package them into smaller modular pieces, that can be assembled for specific purposes such as media kits and topical directories;
    • generate content constantly, information has to be new, fresh, relevant, and interactive;
    • create content that can be easily reformatted for other media: short news bites can be used for radio, for example
    • try out the emerging delivery technologies such as digital video, instant messaging, wireless applications;
    • Content producers should exploit current controversial issues, not by following what the mainstream media is saying, but by being vocal in expressing alternative perspectives;
    • promote ideas [online] by mentioning them constantly, unique ideas supported by facts (or methods) are remembered longer than facts alone;

    With regard media practitioners' use of ICTs, Ammu Joseph from India shared that the rise of "infotainment" as the preferred mode in the mainstream, commercial media militates against the improvement of media content through ICT access.

  3. Opportunities that the new ICTs offer to 'alternative' media producers, including women's organizations and other media advocacy groups

    Following are examples of the opportunities that the new ICTs offer to alternative media producers:
    • allows for greater exchange of information including broadcast materials and sharing of strategies that are useful for campaigns;
    • facilitates networking and sharing of training materials;
    • in radio, ICTs allow women to participate in programs without the boundaries set by time and space; the onsite programming by FIRE radio and Planeta Radio of AMARC are two examples;
    • enables alternative media producers and women's information organizations to tailor the information to individual needs;
    • enables NGOs to promote community-based radio and video and, Internet-based communication services that benefit rural communities and encourage women's participation;

    In India, the introduction of the Simputer, an indigenous, relatively low-cost, hand-held computing device specifically designed to the 'unreached'; one of its features is multi-language voice recognition for people who are not literate (nearly 50% of Indian women are still illiterate).
    The Uganda Media Women Association (UMWA) has set up a radio station called "Mama F.M" to provide an interactive, accessible medium for the underprivileged women in rural and semi urban communities.

  4. The new ICTs' role in facilitating networking, information exchange and media education among women's media associations and media advocacy groups
The discussants cited the following experiences that illustrate how the new ICTs has facilitated networking, information exchange and media education among women's media associations and media advocacy groups:
  • The new ICTs, particularly e-mail, has helped the Network of Women in Media in India in organizing three regional workshops and one national workshop that brought together participants from different parts of the country. E-mail has allowed the members to keep in touch and organize occasional joint ventures. E-groups and listserves facilitate the sharing of information and resources, including information about scholarships, fellowships, jobs and opportunities such as this online discussion. These have also generated debate on current topics, especially controversies relating to gender and/or the media. The soon-to-be-launched NWMI website is expected to further improve networking and learning (perhaps even training) across India as well as the world.
  • The Womennotes (e-mail group) in the Caribbean has started "Preventing Sexual Injustice," an NGO campaign in Jamaica and the email network has allowed them to quickly develop a Manifesto.

I am also happy to note the networking that is taking place between the discussants as in the case of Catherine Edwards, Bayo Omolola, Aileen Familara, Rita Henley Jensen, and David Kaminski within and outside of this online discussion.

Other inputs

Aileen Familara from the Philippines drew attention to the issue of Intellectual Property Rights. "Since this is a discussion on content, perhaps we should also be discussing intellectual property, whether we agree with IP laws that international organizations are starting to impose on the rest of the world."

Additional inputs to week 3

We also received additional inputs to the week 3 discussion on "Representation and content issues." Anjali Mathur from India highlighted the role that big global business plays in distorting content. "Advertisers don't want their ads to appear next to articles about women living in poverty or being exploited; they prefer to project rich, famous women with extravagant lifestyles". Since it is advertising that runs the print and TV media, not the small amounts readers and viewers pay, managements discourage serious articles or programmes on women's issues. This commercialization of the media has also meant that small, serious, independent publications cannot survive. We have to tackle this problem on a macro level by:

  1. opposing the increasing hold of big business on the media;
  2. creating awareness about these issues among the public; and
  3. pressuring governments to deal with the issue.

Ammu Joseph, also from India, said:"It may be useful to reiterate the need for media professionals to recognize that there is a gender dimension to virtually every event, process, institution and/or individual experience covered by the media". Ammu also stressed the importance of paying more attention to the representation/portrayal of men in the media because the construction of masculinities impacts men, women and their relationships with each other. She also underscored the importance of examining media content, access and employment through not only a gender lens, but one that also helps us view the intersections between gender, race, caste, class, creed and ethnicity. She encouraged clarity in the purpose, strategy and outcome of media education/advocacy on gender if one is to avoid (a) censorship, (b) generalization, (c) over-expectation, and (d) demonisation - which are not only questionable in themselves (especially from a professional viewpoint) but may also be counter-productive in terms of the ultimate goal of encouraging more gender sensitivity in the media.

Also from India, Tanushree Gangopadhyay spoke about of the repercussions from the shift to more privately owned, commercial outlets. "The 24 hour private satellite news channel has added to the sensationalization of women. To site a few recent examples the abhorrent crime of Sati ( where widow of the deceased in certain communities, plunges on the funeral pyre or immolates herself ) flashed on TV, merely gave credence to the medieval practice and has been misused by fundamentalist to revive this medieval practice. Fortunately, some channels gave token representation of women's groups' protests."

Tanushree also shared the experience of a viewers' forum in India that invite directors of popular serials to discussions and dialogues with the viewers. However the directors often have expressed their inability to change the stereotype image of women on the pretext that they have to cater to their sponsors, who are guided by commercial considerations. Television has changed its profile from being an educative medium to a pure commercial one.

Dafne Plou from Argentina spoke about media monitoring efforts in Latin America and that while the findings did not differ from the results of other monitoring initiatives, the greater importance is in the contribution to the global effort to generate information on women's representation that is not dominated by commercial interests.

Dafne also informed us of a study in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay that monitored women´s representation in the media during the presidential campaigns that took place in each of these countries at the end of 1999. It was found out that women´s participation in the political campaign was more linked to their role as voters than as political actors. The study also examined how media views the role that the presidential candidates´ wives play in such a campaign. Analyzing the results of these campaigns, women found out that the media have great difficulties in understanding women´s true interests and that they very seldom consider women´s concerns as political concerns.

Additional inputs to week 2

Moira Richards from South Africa sent an additional contribution to the week 2 topic "Access, employment, and decision-making." She discussed the race and gender bias in programming at the radio station SAfm that is evident in the grossly disproportionate number of white men that the station invites as guests and commentators. This, despite the constitutional provision that the Independent Broadcasting Authority must ensure fairness and a diversity of views broadly representing South African society. Moira wrote to the South African Broadcasting Corporation and to the radio station to complain about such bias. She informed us: "Most of the radio staff ignored my letter or replied discourteously. The SABC replied "no interest/pressure group or individual has the right to compel a broadcaster to broadcast anything. This would amount to interference in the editorial integrity and independence of the media, which is protected by the Constitution." It also said "there is no conscious attempt by SAfm to choose male participants in programmes." However, SABC did not say whether there is any effort to include black women participants in greater numbers representative of their demographic".

Additional inputs to week 1

Hilary Nicholson from Jamaica sent additional inputs to the week 1 topic "Policy approaches in media as enabling frameworks." As part of Women's Media Watch-Jamaica's effort to sensitize media, they provide practitioners with good story ideas, data on women's issues, and names of women who can be contacted as sources. Women's Media Watch also lobbied for a new Broadcasting Code for Children's Programming (sensitive to sex, violence, stereotyping) but broadcasters see it as 'onerous'.

Many thanks to everyone who participated in this week's discussion and to those who contributed to the previous topics. I would like to invite those who were not able to take part in the last four weeks to join us in the wrap up week. Looking forward to everyone's active participation.

Warm regards,

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

Go to summaries for week: One ,Two , Three , Four , Five
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Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations