Media are crucial for reducing inequalities. The following excerpt from our brief “The role of media: Driving change towards the SDGs”, looks at the relationship between media and the SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.
“A free press is one of the most effective tools that we have for advancing human rights. Whether it’s documenting unjust working conditions, corrupt or failing public services, discrimination against women and marginalised groups, abuse of security forces, accurate reporting shines a bright light on the parts of our societies that need fixing, that need to be illuminated”
– Antony J. Blinken, US Secretary of State[i]
Journalism improves monitoring, enforcement and protection of a wide range of human rights[ii], with lower media freedom associated with higher inequality.[iii] Media give voice to the voiceless[iv] and empower unprivileged and marginalised members of society – from rural poor[v] to LGBTQ+ communities[vi] – to gain recognition and speak out actively on the matters affecting their lives, arming them with the information needed to make conscious choices and providing role models and inspiration.
Acting as a shaper of opinions, media play an important role in how people form their identities, countering biases and stereotypes and driving change in social norms, in particular when it comes to gender[vii]. There is a positive relationship between press freedom and women’s empowerment[viii] and exposure to mass media and women’s empowerment[ix]. As a source of fact-based information, media can promote awareness of gender equality and contribute to the prevention of violence against women[x]. Although media and reporting are still a gendered practice and women remain under-represented[xi], a high level of female news subjects is associated with low levels of corruption and a high level of democracy[xii].
Below we present case studies of impactful journalism and information sharing done by MDIF clients done in the area of SDG 5 and 10 as real-world examples that illustrate the transformative power of media.
Examples of impact
In South Africa, an investigation by print and online outlet Mail & Guardian showed systemic discrimination faced by female staff at the African Union Commission (AUC), an intergovernmental body designed to spearhead Africa’s development and integration. Following Mail & Guardian’s exclusive exposé, the AUC invited all staff members who had cases of complaint to come forward for a confidential interview. This internal investigation confirmed the staggering prevalence of sexual harassment and systemic gender discrimination within the organisation. To ensure a workplace environment free of discrimination, the AUC undertook steps to rewrite and reinforce its anti-harassment policies and procedures.
Meanwhile, investigative outlet Viewfinder has been reporting on the brutality and non-accountability of the South African police, demanding racial justice and law enforcement reform. It published a searchable Police Accountability Tracker listing 47,000 complaints made by the public against police officers, with poor, black and marginalised peoples disproportionately experiencing brutality and unfair treatment. Parliamentarians used findings from Viewfinder to question the South African Police Service, with the national police Commissioner General admitting that discipline management needed to be overhauled. Soon after, the Civilian Secretariat for Police launched a review of discipline regulations.
Read the full brief “The role of media: Driving change towards the SDGs” here.
[i] US Department of State (2022). “World Press Freedom Day 2022: State of World Press Freedom”
[ii]Whitten-Woodring, J (2009). “Watchdog or Lapdog? Media Freedom, Regime Type, and Government Respect for Human Rights”. International Studies Quarterly; C. Apodaca (2007). “The whole world could be watching: human rights and the media”. Journal of Human Rights.
[iii] Petrova, M (2007). “Inequality and Media Capture”. Journal of public Economics; Guseva, M et al. (2008). “Press freedom and development: an analysis of correlations between freedom of the press and the different dimensions of development, poverty, governance and peace”. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.
[iv] Haider, H. et al. (2011). “Topic Guide on communication and governance”; Kovach, B. Rosenstiel, T (2001) “The elements of journalism: what newspeople should know and the public should expect”. Crown Publishing Group.
[v] Wabwire, J (2013). “The role of community radio in development of the rural poor”. New Media and Mass Communication.
[vi] Gomillion, S. C., & Giuliano, T. A (2011). “The influence of media role models on gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity”. Journal of homosexuality; Craig, S. L., McInroy, L., McCready, L. T., & Alaggia, R (2014). “Media: A Catalyst for Resilience in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth”. Journal of LGBT Youth.
[vii] Nirmala, Y (2015). “The role of community radio in empowering women in India”. Media Asia; Goulds, S., Ashlee, A., Fergus, I., Gallinetti, J., & Tanner, S (2019). “Rewrite her story: How film and media stereotypes affect the lives and leadership ambitions of girls and young women”. Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Plan International, Noudettu; BBC Media Action (2014). “Making waves; Media’s potential for girls in the Global South”; ODI (2015). “How do gender norms change?” Dahal, S (2013). “Power, empowerment and community radio: Media by and for women in Nepal”. Women’s Studies International Forum.
[viii] Majeed, M. Malik, A (2020). “Panel data analysis of press freedom and women empowerment”. Journal of Quantitative Methods; Cooray, A. Dutta, N. Mallick, S (2017). “The right to be free: Is media freedom good news for women’s rights?”. Journal of Institutional Economics.
[ix] Dasgupta, S. (2019). “Impact of exposure to mass media on female empowerment: Evidence from India”. International Journal of Development Issues.
[x] UNESCO (2019). “Reporting on Violence against Women and Girls – A Handbook for Journalists”
[xi] WACC (2015). “2015 Global Media Monitoring Project:’ IWMF (2018). “Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media”; Andi, S., Selva, M., & Nielsen, R. K (2020) “Women and Leadership in the News Media 2020: Evidence from Ten Markets”; Byerly, C (2011). “Global Report on the status of Women in the News Media”. International Women’s Media Foundation; North, L (2014). “The Gender of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ news” Journalism Studies; Steiner, L (2017). “Gender and Journalism”. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication
[xii] Djerf-Pierre, M (2011). “The difference engine: Gender equality, journalism and the good society”. Feminist Media Studies