The importance of media monitoring as a tool for change was officially recognized by the United Nations for the first time in Section J of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA).
‘Print and electronic media in most countries do not provide a balanced picture of women’s diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. In addition, violent and degrading or pornographic media products are also negatively affecting women and their participation in society. Programming that reinforces women’s traditional rols can be equally limiting’. (BPFA, Section J. paragraph 236)
To address this, non-governmental organisations and media professional associations were urged to ‘establish[ ] media watch groups that can monitor the media and consult with the media to ensure that women’s needs and concerns are properly reflected’ (BPFA, Section J. paragraph 242 (a))
The observations in the BPFA still ring true today, almost a decade and a half since the historic declaration was adopted. The need for continuous media monitoring remains. Media monitoring allows a systematic surveillance of media performance in order to describe and critically evaluate it. Continuous monitoring helps in detecting changes in media content over time.
Media monitoring bridges the gap between activists and media professionals. It creates a link between the media and their audience which has the potential to lead to democratic, professional, more equitable and diverse media systems. The results of monitoring provide a picture of media content that allows discussion about representation in media at a level of specificity, based on ‘hard’ evidence.
One of the biggest challenges for media advocates is to make clear what lies behind the concept of fair and diverse media portrayal. Media professionals have to grasp the complex problems and limitations in typical media representations, to understand that these are deeply embedded social practices and interpretations, and the part they play in constructing those representations. Development of this awareness requires dialogue and debate with media and to enter that dialogue, advocates themselves need to understand the language and priorities of the media. In discussions about what is wrong with, or missing from, the pictures of the world we get from media content, hard data, together with concrete examples, will reach media professionals with an immediacy never achieved by theory or abstract argument. This is what media monitoring provides.
Media monitoring is also important in developing a critical mass of aware media consumers who lobby media for more diverse coverage. As one of the participants in the WACC organised Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) in 2005 stated after monitoring their news media, “We believe we will never watch, listen, or read the news with same eyes again”. Media monitoring develops new social capacities and awareness which is vital if change is to occur. As the GMMP 2000 French monitoring group put it, GMMP “changed the way we ‘read’ the media… and it will help us to show other journalists how and why things need to change”.
Whilst WACC recognises the importance of fair and balanced representations of all marginalised groups in and by the media, its particular concern over the past 15 years has been with media representations of gender. WACC is involved in media monitoring as part of our commitment to promoting gender justice in and through communication.
The first ever Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) in 1995 occurred as a result of the WACC global conference on ‘Women Empowering Communication’ and in 2000 and 2005 WACC organised the second and third GMMPs, a project which has been described as ‘one of the most extraordinary collective enterprises yet organised within the global women’s movement’. The results of GMMP 1995 and 2000 have been applied in a myriad of ways by gender and communication groups around the world and in many ways GMMP has developed a momentum all of its own. From use in academic articles, to providing the methodology for new monitoring projects on advertising or ethnicity, from the grassroots to policy-making circles, the GMMP has become a tool for change.