Access to Media: Best practices, obstacles and challenges
Media Caucus Info Pack
WomenAction 2000 - WomenAction at CSW


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  • Internet
  • Netcasting/Broadcasting-a vital link
  • Access to Non-Commercial Broadcasting.
  • Broadcasting Regulation and Women's Access (National and Local Levels)
  • Women and Inter-Governmental Decisionmaking about Media
  • Revisions in the Platform for Action related to broadcasting

    In the five years since Section J was written into the Beijing Platform for Action, women have made some major progress in gaining access to media, and have some examples of Best Practices to share. The experiences of media women also point to some important obstacles to overcome at each level. And there are new and emerging issues that need to be addressed.

    A. Internet

    The most obvious form of actual progress in access to media, from the perspective of women's organizations, is increasing use of e-mail and the internet among women.

    A very recent example of best practices is the creation of the WomenAction web site, which has mutual links to the web sites of other women's NGOS planning for Beijing+5. These very informative web sites provide a reference for issues and activities. They have also been promoted far and wide by e-mails, such as those of the International Women's Tribune Centre to their own list, which have also been forwarded by the recipients to others.

    The networking capability of internet-plus-e-mail can really strengthen NGOs by broadening their leadership base. Many organizations, e.g. the Women's International Network of AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters), and InterKonnexiones (an organization linking women radio producers in Europe and Latin America) have internal listserves for discussion and the mutual creation of policies, plans, and documents. Being able to discuss via e-mail in a timely fashion means that many people can contribute to policy instead of only a few deciding for everyone.

    The drawback of such heavy reliance on internet and e-mail is that those on the other side of the "digital divide" without access to these technologies are likely to be more marginalized than ever before unless steps are continually taken to bring them into the fold by other means.

    Lack of access to internet has several components. One is technophobia on the part of women, or simple lack of knowing who to ask for help. There are now sizeable organizations, notably international Webgrrls, devoted to sharing computer knowledge among women. However, another problem is lack of access to the actual equipment. An example on a local level of women addressing this problem is Austin Freenet, based in Austin, Texas, which secured government and private grant funding and also worked with volunteers to place computers with internet access into the public libraries of the city. Anyone can use these computers free of charge, and free training is being made available. Another example of good practice was the Foundation for a Compassionate Society sending multilingual women from the U.S. to teach women's NGOs in other countries about e-mail and internet, and even give the group a computer. The corporate sector sometimes plays a role (and should be encouraged to do so much more) in working with NGOs to take computers from areas of relative abundance and low prices to areas where these products are hard to come by.

    It should be noted that usually gifts of valuable technology require more than just an item of equipment for maximization. They should be optimized by also providing help with the resources for training, supplies, upkeep, ongoing costs such as telephone time (which can be very expensive in some areas), and security. We have seen examples of equipment given to organizations in South Africa, for example, that were stolen because they had to be housed in an insecure structure.

    Last but not least, an additional hidden cost is the actual time of women to learn and practice the new technologies. All over the world, women tend to have greater demands on their time and energies than their male counterparts and therefore less time and energies available for media work. As we value the input of precisely these women who are so invaluable to their families and communities, we need collectively to come up with some financial support that can relieve them from other income-producing duties long enough to participate.

    Language is another barrier that needs to be addressed. Much technical support and interaction is available to those who can speak and write a major language of the developed world such as English, Spanish or French. But support and outreach need to be addressed very specifically to women from other language groups so that their information will not be lost to the rest of the world, or to each other.

    Aside from the actual languages of people being different from each other, there is also the issue of perspective. As an example of best practice, consider the work of the International Women Communication Centre in Ilorin, Nigeria. Director Limota Goroso-Giwa came to a radio conference in the US with huge bags of clothing and crafts that she worked very hard to sell to all the people there. What she said was, "if you want to work with the rural women on communication issues, you have to speak their language. And their language is the language of survival. When I go anywhere to a conference I tell the women to bring me their crafts and I will sell them for them. And when I come back we call a meeting and I say 'I have your money.' Then they sit through the meeting and at the end they get the money. Their husbands like them to come to the meetings because it is connected to income for the family."


    B. Netcasting/Broadcasting-a vital link

    While there is much excitement about the new media internationally, it must be understood that the new media support but in no way replace women's access to the older media, and especially to radio broadcasting.

    As the late Dr. Donna Allen (founder of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press) put it: power is how many people you can reach with your message. <BR>
    Broadcasting, as the word implies, can be heard very broadly. Even "radio" or "television" on the internet is not in this sense broadcasting. A typical internet real audio broadcast can only be received by about ten to twenty-five computer users at the same time before the signal becomes distorted (although serially, archived material can be heard by more people of course). Instead of broadcasting, this "netcasting" should be described as "narrowcasting plus networking."

    Where a large audience is desired, for example in a live broacast from a conference or hearing, only very large or wealthy institutions can afford the "bandwidth" or "pipeline" for large groups to hear at once - and even they are often shut down by "net congestion" if they are popular.

    There are several examples of best practices in linking up netcasting to broadcasting. One of these is the emerging project of AMARC (the world association of community radio broadcasters) known as Moebius. Moebius is designed so that radio stations can share scripts and audio clips with each other over the internet. A women's project that is actually using netcasting in this way today is the web site of FIRE (feminist international radio endeavour) in Costa Rica. This web site sometimes functions like a satellite, feeding live conference audio to radio stations that amplify the signals live to their radio audiences. Another aspect of the web site is the combination of text with audio clips, so that radio stations can read the text as a script for broadcasting and then play the archived audio. The FIRE site is also bilingual, utilizing both Spanish and English audio and text, with much of the material available in translated form.

    One of the early best practices examples of combining internet with broadcasting took place in 1995 at the NGO conference in Huairou, China. Unable to get access to satellites for sending out their stories, women who were covering the conference for the Pacifica network edited their stories on computers and e-mailed the sound files to a woman in California, who then converted these sound files into audio that could be uplinked on a satellite to the Pacifica news agency in Washington. They then used their satellite to send the stories to radio stations across the U.S. This was an impressive collaboration among women in several media and several organizations. It also resulted in very distinctive coverage of the women's conference that transcended the limited issues being transmitted by the commercial news agencies.


    C. Access to Non-Commercial Broadcasting.

    We turn now to the dominant media of the world, for a look at the deepest issues of women's access to a broad general audience. A notable example of best practices that originated with women professional broadcasters in Zimbabwe has spread all across Southern Africa. Sometimes called "radio listening clubs," these are programs that provide audio recording and listening equipment to women in rural villages. The women record their own discussions, the tapes are collected and broadcasted on government radio, responses are sought from officials if these are needed, and those are also broadcast. The biggest problem, according to one of the founders of this movement, is that more airtime is needed. As verified by women's media watch projects all over the world, the proportion of airtime in all media that is devoted to women discussing women's issues is very small - definitely far too small to make much headway with public opinion on policies affecting women. (One resolution passed at a conference in the Philippines in 1991 called for women's issues to receive an equal amount of airtime to men's sports!)

    In less than the last twenty years, access to broadcasting has been transformed radically in almost every country. In some countries, where government used to be the only legal broadcaster, it is now possible for commercial and even non-commercial, non-governmental stations to be established. In some countries, however, only commercial and not ngo stations are allowed, or else the cost for these two types of station licenses is the same. As examples of difficulties, several media women's groups in the UK have received licenses to set up temporary all-women's radio stations around International Women's Day in March, but were unable to secure the funding or licenses to establish permanent station.

    An example of an organization trying to adddress radio licensing opportunities for the NGO sector is AMARC. AMARC and its division AMARC-WIN (Women's International Network) help groups around the world with technical and licensing issues to establish community radio stations. While opportunities for women can and must be expanded in community radio stations themselves, community radio generally provides more opportunities for voices from the grassroots to be heard than commercial radio, which of necessity aims at programming that will sell commercial products. (In commercial media men, who control most of the discretionary spending of the world, are the most likely audience to be courted, mostly with broadcasting of sports, and secondly, unfortunately, with pornography. Try sometime the test to compare the proportion of men's sports to women's issues broadcast in an average evening on any commercial channel.)


    D. Broadcasting Regulation and Women's Access (National and Local Levels)

    One of the things that needs to be understood about broadcasting is that it makes use of a finite natural resource, which is known as broadcast spectrum. In the United States, as an example of best practices, a substantial portion of the FM band has for decades been set aside by law for the use of noncommercial broadcasters. Community radio stations, mostly on this part of the dial, are frequently the main providers of community women's programs and of training in radio broadcasting for both women and men at the grassroots.

    Another best-practices proposal that may soon be implemented in the US is to license neighborhood radio stations - mostly around 100 watts - as a resource for solely noncommercial broadcasters. This new FCC regulation will allow low-power radio stations to operate in some of the gaps between more powerful radio stations on the dial. Many women's and community organizations are hoping this rule will provide thousands of additional broadcasting outlets for noncommercial purposes across the US. At the moment, established broadcasters are trying to prevent this from happening with a bill in the Congress. We should know in the next few months what will happen next.

    A key issue is whether broadcasting spectrum can be sold and given away by governments, or whether it is a public resource that must be used in the public interest and that upon expiration of licenses returns to the public for reassignment.


    E. Women and Inter-Governmental Decisionmaking about Media

    The spectrum that national governments allocate (not only for broadcasting but for telephony, etc.) is actually allocated to them by a UN-based intergovernmental body, the International Telecommunications Union. Formerly, the ITU only coordinated spectrum-use requests among national governments. Recently, commercial entities have been added to the negotiating table because of their international needs. This is a similar configuration to the WTO (World Trade Organization), in that decisions with deep economic implications are being set by Governments and Private Industry, without participation of the Non-Governmental sector.

    The ITU has recognized that there is a gender dimension to communications issues, by its creation of a Gender Task Force that has met in Geneva annually for the last two years. However, there is no direct connection between the discussions of women's interests in the task force and the powerful part of the ITU which actually determines how spectrum resources will be allocated, and for what uses. An example of an allocation that might be of interest for women is the decision to make spectrum available for a corporation to offer direct broadcasting of radio via satellite to the whole of Africa. While the WorldSpace Foundation, a spinoff charitable entity of this corporation, is offering to broadcast some women's programming on this regional satellite service, women from the region should have been present to actually negotiate terms of inclusion for women, at the time the decision to allocate this major resource was made.


    F. Revisions in the Platform for Action related to broadcasting:

    1. We support the language on media in the consolidated draft NGO parallel document now circulating at the Beijing+5 Prepcom.

    2. We urge addition of "Intergovernmental bodies" to the section on National Mechanisms.

    3. Suggested draft resolution on women and broadcasting spectrum:

    Whereas, use of the airwaves, also known as broadcasting spectrum, is in effect a limited natural resource that can only be subdivided a finite number of times; and whereas broadcasting remains a more powerful asset for reaching a substantial general audience than non-broadcasting methods of communication such as internet; and whereas broadcast spectrum is currently allocated by the United Nations in conjunction with governments and the private sector, and exclusivity of use of broadcasting spectrum is defended by law; and whereas women have very limited access to use of the broadcast spectrum in virtually every country or region, especially for non-commercial broadcasts that can represent the ideas of women's NGOs to the general public; Therefore, be it resolved that women's NGOs shall have representation and a role in the actual decision-making on allocation of broadcasting spectrum, at the governmental and the inter-governmental level,< in every country and in the United Nations.


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