Who keeps watch on the media?

Date: January 1, 1970
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Just like other institutions in society, the media must be held accountable for its actions.

Media monitoring is increasingly becoming a powerful advocacy tool for gender-sensitive coverage in Southern Africa. More media monitoring projects are emerging in the region, which is encouraging. But these projects will only make an impact on the way the media coversevents and issues, and the way it portrays women and men, if they embrace gender as an integral part of the monitoring.

Zambia, through the Panos Institute of Southern Africa, has been the latest country in the region, following South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, to begin monitoring the media.  While the project is a most welcome innovation, Panos should ensure that gender is mainstreamed into every step of the monitoring work from the start, and not as an afterthought.

A lot is happening in the countries that belong to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as the clock chimes away towards Beijing +10 to review the advancements towards women’s equality and development. Member states are frantically reflecting on what they have done or not done and the media, which is a Critical Area of Concern in the Beijing Platform for Action, should do the same.

Media monitoring can bring into the glare of the public and of media editors and managers how gender biases and prejudices are reflected in editorial content. As Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Mutale Nalumango observed at the launch of the Zambian project, monitoring encourages media houses to expose journalists to skills in issue-based reporting which provides depth and analysis.

The media cannot effectively monitor the commitment of governments to gender equality if there own houses are unequal. Thirty percent women in senior newsroom positions also would be a concerted leap towards change.

Good journalism strives to bring out the issues that lie beneath the news. Accurate reporting coupled with gender-disaggregated
data and a diversity of voices bring balance and objectivity into coverage.

In the same way that the media watches others, it too must be monitored to ensure it observes these sacred journalistic values. It is only through consistent monitoring that the media can be held accountable for the way it covers different groups of people, and the extent to which it quotes them as news sources in all topics.

Monitoring helps the media to see for itself whether it is doing the right thing. The February 2004 preliminary report of the Zambian project was not encouraging. Eighty percent of the news sources were men. Not much has changed since the findings of the Gender and Media Baseline Study (GMBS) coordinated by Gender Links and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). The Zambia GMBS study, based on findings of the monitoring of the media in September 2002, showed that women constituted only 13 percent of the sources.

Media monitoring can reflect back to the media that right now it has a limited understanding of the public by sourcing only men. But the public is not men alone; it is composed of men, women, children,people living with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS and the aged.

It is gratifying that the Zambian project included gender in itspreliminary monitoring, but it should be a mainstream criterion. The media monitoring projects in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and now Zambia, have a great potential to make a great contribution to the creation of a just society which respects the human rights of both women and men.

Charles Chisala is a Zambian journalist and chair of Zambia Media Watch.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events.

janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information.

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