Opening Eyes in Jamaica

Interestingly, just as we approached the Global Media Monitoring Day, Women’s Media Watch (WMW) and other NGOs in Jamaica have been gathering at roundtables with the local media. What were we discussing? How to balance profitability and social responsibility in news coverage. Therefore, we were curious to see how the news would be presented on February 16th - would we see the usual sensationalism, with crime and violence being the focus of the news? Or would there be a fresh approach, a shift towards some positive changes?


The twelve volunteers who immersed themselves in GMMP in Jamaica came from different backgrounds, with widely varying levels of gender-awareness training; but by the end of the coding day, we all felt a little more enlightened about how women are portrayed in the media. Some newer volunteers were disturbed, while the more experienced WMW members’ views were (sadly) confirmed.


We were up early the morning of February 16th as we scrambled to tape the radio and TV news starting at 6:30am. We collected newspapers and the broadcasts in anticipation of the coding that was to take place over the next two days. Allison; a student of early childhood education, Lecia; a producer at an inner-city radio station, Joleen; a student at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication, and Erynn; a Canadian CUSO cooperant with WMW, came armed with pencil, newspapers and coding sheets bright and early the next day to start the coding. All were doing the Global Media Monitoring Project for the first time.


To say the least, the GMMP was an eye-opener for us all. There were smiles and sighs of recognition from the more experienced Womens’ Media Watch members, as the newer volunteers became more and more perturbed by what they were analyzing. “I don’t think I’ll be able to view the news, supposedly portrayed by an unbiased media, the same way again” said one of coders. “This Global Media Monitoring Project has enlightened me so greatly that it is hard for me to see any media without being gender-sensitive. It never occurred to me to challenge the ‘unbiased’ media or question women’s and men’s roles in everyday news.” Allison added: “It was interesting to see how the media really view women. I also enjoyed doing the coding, as I had never done any thing like that before.”


As we moved from coding newspapers to TV, we found the experience even more interesting. TV is dynamic and we had to pay attention to many more details, such as voice-overs, what is deemed important to film and how to film it (i.e.: camera angles) and the appearance of the newscasters.
We digested the news with a new eye that day. In between the laughter there was shock at how minimally women are represented in the news and, in the stories they do make, how they are portrayed. “It was quite unsettling” admitted a new volunteer, “to realize some of us have been ingesting news without much of a critical eye, every day of our lives.”


We agreed that the most difficult coding section was the analytical segment. It was not always easy to determine if a story reinforced stereotypes or inequality. It was also hard to determine if a person in the news was a victim because, in our society today, the definition of “victim” is so varied. One could be the victim of violence, but the perpetrator of that violence could also be seen as a victim of society’s neglect if he/she was raised in an impoverished community with little education or opportunities. Patricia commented: “I found the analysis challenging – especially when deciding whether the news needed further analysis. It was striking to note the absence of women’s voices, especially in regards to authoritative opinions.”


The response to the experience of participating in GMMP was overwhelmingly positive. Lecia remarked: “Certainly it has been exciting since it’s my first time – to think that we’re part of a project that’s happening simultaneously all around the world!” And for those who had done the coding before, it was interesting to see whether women’s portrayal has really changed that much since GMMP 1995 and 2000.


There were a few stories that were repeated in each media and we found it interesting to compare how the same story varies when told in different media. For example, one TV station headlined the news that two women were brutally murdered (although it turns out that two women and a man were murdered) and focused on these women as the victims of violence. Another TV station focused on the fact that the murdered man was a ‘Don’ – a community leader involved in gang violence - and very little reference was given to the women involved.


Now that the GMMP day is over, it is exciting to think of the thousands and thousands of bites of information that are now flying in to WACC from all around the globe. We look forward to hearing the results of the final analysis. Thank you WACC for this opportunity to be part of GMMP-2005.


Hilary Nicholson

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