Civil Society, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

MEDIA: Midwife for an Inclusive Society

Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, May 30 2008 (IPS) - Changing society to bring about greater respect for diversity requires the participation of the mainstream press, despite the combination of alternative media and the various forums, blogs and networks on the Internet that promote a more democratic flow of information.

“The challenge is to see how we can achieve that and combine all the possible ways of communicating,” Mexican journalist Sara Lovera, founder of the Mexican women’s news agency CIMAC and now a correspondent in Mexico for the Women’s Feature Service for Latin America and the Caribbean (SEMlac), told IPS.

SEMlac emerged 30 years ago as a project of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Its story was presented at the Eighth Iberoamerican Meeting on Gender and Communication, held in Havana this week.

While the agency has achieved a strong presence in networks, blogs and Internet portals, CIMAC’s experience shows that it is possible to get the press to republish material from agencies like these, which promote a different angle on the news, including a gender perspective.

Incorporating a gender perspective in the media means more than addressing women’s issues. Its intention is to give both women and men their rightful place, and broaden participation to include the entire spectrum of social groups and experiences that coexist in today’s world.

Thus, indigenous, black and mixed-race populations, poor communities, sexual minorities and the immense diversity of human groups and characteristics should be reflected in the media, not only as the subjects of their stories but, increasingly, as influential voices in a world which must become ever more inclusive.


“We need to foment the construction of narratives and images that are plural, in which the voices tell their own stories from the perspective of their different realities, and which allow active participation in social debates, which some people claim are cultural debates,” Cuban journalist Isabel Moya told IPS.

Moya, the head of the department of Gender and Communication at the “José Martí” International Institute of Journalism, in Havana, stated that such active participation in social debates “would encourage the implementation of inclusive public policies.”

“It’s not just about isolated messages supporting this measure or that, but about reorganising the way we manage text, in order to potentiate cultural heterogeneity and encourage changes at the inner, subjective level, which are much harder to achieve than the approval of a law in parliament,” she said.

She said this project would have “ever-changing boundaries, but essentially would mean moving on from ‘politically correct’ discourse to truly inclusive cultural practices.”

Among existing experiences the project can build on, Moya mentioned the alternative press, community networks and media, communication observatories, self-regulation on the basis of professional ethics, and reshaping journalistic ideologies and concepts of news value.

Another need is to restructure curricula at university communications departments, which do not usually include the gender dimension and tend to encourage ideas about journalism that have either been overtaken by events, or are a repetition of the concepts promoted by the centres of power.

The meeting, which was held Tuesday to Thursday, 16 years after the first of its kind, was organised by the Cuban Union of Journalists, the Federation of Cuban Women and the Cuban Association of Social Communicators. This year it was also supported by the non-governmental Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Centre (CMLK), a Cuban ecumenical organisation.

The debates focused on the contradiction between objectivity and subjectivity in journalism, social responsibility in the media, the reproduction of sexist and discriminatory stereotypes, and the need to promote change, not only in journalistic products but also in copy for entertainment and advertising.

Representations of black and lesbian women in the Cuban media, as well as images of men and their influence on the construction of masculine hegemony, gender violence and the culture of peace were also on the agenda.

“In Cuba, racism is talked about more now, but in the media the situation has hardly changed. They have not managed to rise above its historical determinants, and black people continue to be portrayed as slaves but not as professionals,” Sandra Álvarez, creator of the blog “Negra cubana tenía que ser” (roughly: Bound to be a black Cuban woman), told IPS.

“There are hardly any black radio or television presenters, and when there are, a kind of whitening process occurs, the colour tones on the screen change so that the image projected becomes increasingly less black and appears lighter,” said Álvarez, adding that this also happens on educational television channels.

The situation for lesbian women is similar, according to a presentation by Norma Guillard, who coordinates a lesbian group at the state National Centre for Sex Education. Relationships between women are not usually covered by the media, and when they are the presentation is biased, or may even be censored.

In Moya’s view, “androcentric ideology resists being replaced completely by equitable relationships, and in hidden, disguised and unconscious ways it remains in the subjective selves of communicators, in professional ideology, production routines, interpretations of news policies and decision-making in the media.”

“When people underestimate the importance of gender and communication debates, I always tell them that gender is a political issue because it’s about human rights. The aim is to achieve a fair representation of all voices in the media, women’s as well as men’s,” she said.

 
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