Monitoring the media is a new and important tool for citizens' participation. Globalization and concentration of media have made it difficult for diverse and minority views to be reflected in such media. Thus, media monitoring is not only important for content analysis, but also for creating awareness that citizens have the power to interact with media, to have opinions on media products, and to have the right to question media messages and propose alternatives.
Womens groups have proved that monitoring provides inescapable evidence of continued imbalances in media representation of women and men in terms of status and authority. By using this evidence in a positive way, women can open up dialogue with the media so as to promote positive changes.
Monitors are mirrors held up to the media. They expose warts and flaws, but can similarly show areas for improvement and where they exist, as well as successes that are worth lauding and emulating. Media monitors/watches are not just an essential part of furthering women's rights but of ensuring the full flowering of democracy. Journalism is a public service and monitors ensure that the public is served well with a plurality of views and opinions that will empower them to make informed choices and decisions.
In the years 1995 and 2000, one day was selected for a world-wide media monitoring. It was co-ordinated by the Global Media Monitoring Project of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). In 1995, MediaWatch Canada also took part in the co-ordination of this project.
On January 18, 1995, this monitoring took place in 71 countries. On February 1, 2000, 70 countries participated. The main results did not vary: in 1995, women represented 17% of the news subjects on radio, television and newspapers on that day, whereas, in 2000, they were 18% against 83 and 82% of men respectively.
Hundreds of volunteers in all the participating countries carried out the monitoring, following specific guidelines. The broad aims of the project, apart from obtaining concrete results, were to strengthen solidarity, media literacy, and advocacy on media and gender issues.
According to the organizers, the first global monitoring project helped to demystify research, providing women's networks, media activists, students, and development communication groups with the opportunity and tools to monitor gender representation in the media. The second project took it a step further and researched new issues and extended the usefulness of the research by giving the monitoring groups a more contextual analysis, including country results, for their own education and advocacy work.
Conclusions regarding these monitoring experiences show the need to use the results and go beyond them, to develop interpretations and insights that can help media professionals and media audiences recognize the subtle ways in which gender representation is constructed. These would help have a constructive dialogue with media professionals, media literacy initiatives, and continued monitoring to keep track of progress. The conclusions have been published and can be also found on the Internet.
Womens Media Watch started its work in Cape Town, South Africa in 1995. Its activities include media monitoring, advocacy, activism, media and gender awareness workshops, as well as the production of newsletters, documentaries, and radio programmes on equal opportunities for women in the media.
Womens Media Watch believes that the media has the potential to play a meaningful role in this process of nation-building by shifting their paradigm around who and what is newsworthy, and reporting and entertaining in ways that recognize the diversity of the people of their country. Its members act as a media watchdog. Their activism and voice consistently put pressure on the media to commit to change.
Asia and the Pacific
In China, in March 1996, a group of women journalists affiliated with the Capital Women Journalists Association (CWJA) began a Media Monitoring Project. The group conducted several surveys about the news coverage of women in the mainstream media, published essays and research on women's alternative and mainstream media, and started a telephone hotline in 1997 to encourage public participation in media watching. It also joined debates on television and radio programmes, and in newspapers like the China Women's News, a national daily. It has conducted gender-training workshops with minority women journalists, government officials, and the general public.
CWJA has organized seminars on gender sensitivity and media reporting for national and foreign press representatives and government officials. Leaders of the All China Womens Federation also held a round-table discussion with editors-in-chief of major national news media and raised the problems of gender insensitivity and discrimination in the coverage of women's issues. Although some of those who attended were not as receptive, there were others who echoed the results of the meeting with their respective department heads.
Some important results of the monitoring activities included the establishment of a sub-society of women journalists from ethnic minorities, and, on March 8, 2000, CWJA called on all major media in Beijing to allow women to become editors for the day. Several newspapers heeded the call.
Europe and North America
The Gender Studies Centre, an information centre and library in Prague, Czech Republic, started the first women's Web site in Czech and Slovak languages, Femininismus.cz, in 1998. It plans to publish information on the status of women in the country and to inform the public and the media about women's activities and issues.
This Centre uses the Web site as an alternative medium, publishing news, and information, which would be censored in the mainstream media. It monitors media production and publishes a column called "Chauvinist Bomb of the Week" where papers, TV and radio shows and commercials portraying women in a negative and stereotypical manner are listed and commented on. The authors are notified about being part of the column. Organizers hope that this type of activity helps to correct media.
The MediaCritic Network "Everything is Possible" was started in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1992 as a reaction to the diminishing and stereotypical portrait of women in Swedish media. With 70 members, its aim is to create awareness in media consumers, so they act responsibly by reacting to gender portrayals with which they disagree. The group has various strategies: forming an enlightened group to learn how to analyze the media; reporting discriminatory materials to the Swedish Council against Gender Discrimination; sending reaction postcards to media producers, and lecturing far and wide about gender portrayal to media practitioners, teachers, gender equality workers, etc.
In Canada, the National Watch on Images of Women in the Media (MediaWatch) Inc is a bilingual (French and English) media-monitoring organization. It became an autonomous organization in 1983, originating as a sub-committee of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. National Committee members are women who are experts in their fields. MediaWatch relies on their expertise and contacts to ensure that it can successfully reach its goals.
Its main objective is to have a media environment in which women are realistically portrayed and fairly represented in all their physical, economic, racial and cultural diversity. It does this by educating media industries, government, and the public. It conducts research and encourages community action.
In a recent research project in partnership with the University of Toronto it investigated the response of "tweens" (11 - 14 year old girls) regarding the effect of media on body image and self-esteem. The results were distributed to appropriate groups/individuals/agencies to be used to educate the general public, media organizations, and industry regulators.
Over the years, MediaWatch has influenced public policy, educated and mobilized consumers to advocate for change and contributed substantive research to the field. Through research analysis and public education, MediaWatch works with and trains health professionals, educators, researchers, students, community members, and media and industry personnel on how certain media portrayals of women and girls affect individuals' body image and self-esteem of individuals.
Latin America and the Caribbean
In South America, four women's organizations from Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay came together to work in a media-monitoring project that would include press, radio and TV in each of their countries. After producing common guidelines and questionnaires, in June 1999 they put their monitoring project into action. Their findings have not differed from results of other monitoring experiences. But, for the women's organizations, it was very interesting to compare the results between countries and to plan together future lobby actions. They consider their contribution to be to generate independent information that is not dominated by market interests. Since most studies about media are related to commercial interests, they found it necessary to produce alternative information about the media that responds to social interests. They also considered it important to have quantitative data on women's presence in the media, to analyze under what circumstance women appear in the media, and how they are represented.
Womens Media Watch, Jamaica (WMW) was founded in 1987 as a non-government, non-partisan, voluntary organization, to increase public awareness of the causes of sexual violence against women and girls, of violence in general, and to draw links between violence in media images and sexual violence.
The general work of the organization includes an outreach programme based on popular education comprising discussions, workshops and seminars in schools, third-party institutions, with community groups, and with media practitioners locally and regionally; media monitoring and research studies on the representation of gender in mainstream media; lobbying and dialogue with members of the advertising and media communities; the production of resource materials (print and audio-visual) on gender issues and the media and participation in national, regional, international conferences and for a on gender and media.
Over the past twelve years WMW has conducted over 400 workshops and training sessions, locally and regionally, where some 10,000 persons have participated in these face-to-face exercises. An undetermined number of persons have been reached via the local mainstream media. Through such activities, WMWs focus has been deliberately on developing media critiquing skills, gender-sensitivity, and media awareness in its target audience. Over the years WMW has received calls from citizens, asking for its help in lobbying against negative and stereotypical images of women in media programmes. The majority of these persons have participated in one or more of WMWs outreach programmes.