Media seminar: What freedom, whose freedom?

Date: May 28, 2015
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Johannesburg, 28 May: As part of the CIVICUS sponsored Global Day of Citizen Action commemorations, on Friday 29 May, Gender Links and the Gender and Media Diversity Centre (GMDC) will be hosting a press freedom seminar. The seminar aims to explore the nexus between press freedom, gender equality and the post 2015 development agenda. The seminar will also feed into the ongoing Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG) Women and Media campaign.

It is saddening that twenty-four years since the passing of the Windhoek Declaration (1991) promoting an independent and pluralistic press, the media is still struggling to achieve this goal. Journalists are still being attacked and violated for expressing their views; laws that infringe on press freedom are being hailed and women are still grossly underrepresented, despite years of activism, education and advocacy aiming at ensuring their voices are heard.

As the world’s attention turns to the SDGs, there are concerns over the absence of a clear goal, targets and indicators on gender, media and information, communication technologies (ICTs) in the draft post 2015 (SDGs). This is particularly worrying in light of widespread censorship and clampdown on media freedom and freedom of expression across the globe. While it may be too late to rekindle the call for a stand-alone goal on media and ICTs civil society needs to lobby for specific target and indicators for gender media and ICTs.

In South Africa, press freedom remains a contentious subject. Conversations have often focused on freedom of the press from government interference or the absence of laws that hinder the press from carrying out its duties and not so much on citizens’ freedom to communicate and express themselves in the media.

Media access and the right to communicate is a basic human right, espoused in article 19 on freedom of expression and access to information. Media and freedom of expression are therefore enablers to the achievement of development goals. The media has the potential for awareness creation and education which promotes equality and diversity, and advances an ethic of freedom of expression and social justice. The media also has and does have the potential of doing quite the opposite, by perpetuating an ethic of discrimination and prejudice, fuelling a culture of silence and exclusion, and serving only the voices of some and not others.

Current activism within the gender equality and women’s empowerment sector must strengthen its focus to look at freedoms in the media sector that are often trampled on especially those of women working in the industry and whose voices are rarely heard.

Media and information literacy should be a priority on the activists’ agenda. Citizens especially women must be equipped with skills to critically analyse and engage with the media and use their voices to raise their concerns; share their lived experiences; demand accountability from those in power and demand media professionalism and high ethical standards. This deliberate attempt to involve media consumers will assist in realising freedom of expression.

UNESCO and WSIS stipulate that ‘Access to information and the capacity to be able to enjoy the “right to communication” are essential to the realization of greater equity in a global society. Information and communication are both “resources” whose ethical usage and distribution create the conditions for democracy and greater well-being.”

In 2011, gender and media activists demanded that the Windhoek Plus Twenty Declaration state explicitly that freedom of expression must be understood as equal voice for women and men – not just for “people.” This plea is strengthened by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development that calls for equality in and through the media; gender mainstreaming in policies and training.

With these instruments and many others backing press freedom and freedom of expression journalists need to access women’s sources, increase their voices and represent their views in the media. Access to information laws are also needed to create an enabling environment for especially female journalists, because access to information affects women and men differently, it needs to be problematised in laws that are put in place to increase access.

Gender equality is implicit in the ideal of freedom of expression; allowing the possibility of all voices to speak about issues concerning them. However, the failure to realise this is explicitly leading to gross violations of women’s right to free expression leading to gaps in the media reportage.

The media can only play a critical role in the lives of Africans a majority of whom are women if they are free to operate and if they access to diverse voices and disseminate information freely without fear or favour to empower people and help them make informed decisions.

The findings of the 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) shows that women are underrepresented in news content and in media structures. The GMMP shows that women constitute a mere 24% of news sources globally, up from 17% in 1995. In Southern Africa, the Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) conducted by GL in 2010 shows that women consist of 19% of news sources in the region. From this, we can argue that a blatant form of ”gender based censorship” exists. Gender equality inextricably intertwines with freedom of expression. Nothing is more essential to this ideal than giving voice to all segments of the population.

Confirmed Panellists
– Emilar Vushe, Association of Progressive Communicators
– Faiza Abrahams Smith, Executive Director, Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ)
– Jim Powell: Direct Democracy South Africa

Seminar Date: 29 May 2015
Time: 10h00 – 13h00
Venue: Gender Links Office, 9 Derrick Avenue, Cyrildene, Johannesburg, South Africa

For more information contact Katherine V Robinson or Tarisai Nyamweda or call 01162228770116222877





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