Africa: Time for new voices in the media

Date: May 3, 2012
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Johannesburg, 3 May – This year World Press Freedom Day on 3 May marks 21 years of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the Windhoek Declaration in 1991. This year’s celebrations take place under the banner “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies.”

Who are these new voices?

African and global media have not actively given women and youth the space to participate equally in shaping democratic discourse. This is a form of censorship. For this reason, it is important that the media engages with the nexus between gender equality and media freedom.

According to the Windhoek Declaration media freedom includes freedom of information and expression, free flow of ideas by word and image, independent and pluralistic press, repression of media professionals, and establishment of associations that safeguard the fundamental freedoms in the Declaration and training of journalists. The declaration is however, silent on gender.

Gender equality and equality of all voices is implicit in the notion of a “pluralistic press” which is meant to reflect the “widest possible range of opinion within the community” as espoused in the Windhoek Declaration.

Media freedom extends beyond the absence of political censorship, to ensuring that all constituent voices in society have equal access to the media. As noted by the 2006 Gender Review of Media Development Organisations, women’s voices are often excluded from the media. It is thus important to look at media freedom in a way that takes into consideration “gender-based censorship” which ultimately disempowers, silences and makes invisible more than half of those in our society.

Gender equality and freedom of expression are inextricably linked. Giving voice to all segments of the population is central to freedom of expression. According to the 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project, women constitute just 24% of news sources, yet they make up 52% of the population.

The 2010 Gender Links Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) showed that women make up 19% of news sources in the Southern African region. This is a two-percentage point increase from 17% recorded in the 2003 Gender and Media Baseline Study (GMBS). The GMPS looked at 33 431 news items.

The GMPS found that youth – women and men under age 20 – make up just 0.04% of those accessed by media. This is a gross under-representation of voices that could make a meaningful contribution to society and democratic discourse.

The power of young people was evident at the recent Gender Justice and Local Government Summit in Johannesburg, at which Sharonice Busch, a student at the Polytechnic of Namibia, won a leadership award. In her acceptance speech, Busch noted that youth in Namibia are pushing the agenda to transform society and working to ensure their voices are heard.

Julio Albino Langa, the runner up winner from Mozambique, also presented on a project called ‘Men for change’. This young leader uses various opportunities to create awareness on the role of men in addressing gender-based violence. Langa highlighted how he and his colleagues make use of multi-media platforms to sensitise the public.

Two issues affecting the Southern African region the most are gender based violence (GBV) and HIV and AIDS. The GMPS showed that these are not topical in the news media. GBV stories and stories that mention GBV constitute 4% of all coverage in SADC media. HIV and AIDS stories constitute 2% of stories covered in the media.

The voices of people affected by and living with HIV and AIDS are equally absent in the news. People living with HIV and AIDS constitute 7% of news and those affected 36%. Victims or survivors of GBV constitute 19% of sources. Most of the stories are told from the point of view of official sources and experts at the expense of people affected.

The gaps in the media are also evident in institutional composition as shown in the 2009 Gender Links Glass Ceilings study. Women make up 41% of media employees. They are also under-represented in decision-making, constituting 28% of those in senior management and 23% in top management. This gaps in institutional makeup inevitably impact on media freedom.

Gender Links supports the inclusion of a diversity of voices in the media. These new voices are women, young people, people affected by HIV and AIDS, people living with HIV and AIDS, people affected by gender based violence and other marginalised groups.

One of UNESCO’s 2012 World Press Freedom Day themes is “Media Freedom has the Power to Transform Societies.” However, such transformation can only occur if the media creates an enabling environment where it reflects a diversity of voices and views.

As the Windhoek Declaration, reached the age of majority, 21 years, it is time for new voices. Women’s voices are a major component of any democracy. Their full inclusion in media must become a priority.

Sikhonzile Ndlovu is the Media Programme Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.


0 thoughts on “Africa: Time for new voices in the media”

Alemu Mammo says:

The greatest gap that persistently exists is low representation of women in the media profession at the decision making position. Women in Africa account for about a 52% of the total population, but their representation at the decision-making position is embarrassingly low. As a result, the quality of information that reflects women’s endemic situation is traditionally under reported. The outcome of this is not only hurting the women’s cause but it continues to limit the independence and objectivity of the media profession in Africa, slowing the democratization process across the spectrum.

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