Women, Media, Revolution: Panels with Journalists and Social Media Activists

Does gender-inclusive reporting exist, and if so, should we look at it in those terms? Can journalism be a catalyst for social change? Does exposing the activism and human rights work of women put them in danger?

The opening panel of Day Two addressed “Pride and Prejudice in Gender-Inclusive Reporting,” though the term “gender-inclusive reporting” was challenged by the panelists. “I’m looking for stories. Maybe I look for different stories because I am a woman, but I don’t set out with that agenda. That language is not helpful in my job.”

Across the panel, the speakers stressed that objectivity in journalism does not equate to telling all sides of a story equally, but it does mean verifiable, fact-based reporting and adhering to basic journalistic standards. “It doesn’t exclude passion,” affirmed Sharon Moshavi of the International Center for Journalists.

Sharon Moshavi (left) with fellow panelists Farah Abushwesha (center) and Prue Clarke (right)

Speakers on the second panel of the day examined “Integrity and Responsibility in New Global Networks,” and focused primarily on the challenges to new media platforms, namely, the need for structural change in the contemporary media landscape and the potential end of net neutrality, or the equal accessing of all websites on the Internet. Additionally, award-winning reporter and the founder of New Narratives, a project training women journalists in Liberia, Prue Clarke discussed at length the obstacles of working with media in the post-conflict West African country: Media outlets often require bribes to get stories placed, and there is no space or incentive for telling truthful stories.

In Day Three’s opening panel on “Digital Bridges and Crucial Social Media,” Sapna Shahani of WAVE India (Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment) showed how her organization is facilitating social change by training women – even illiterate women – from every region in India to use cameras, record stories and then post online. Heather Ford of Ushahidi shared the story of the founding of her organization during the media blackout in Kenya following the elections in 2007. Citizen journalists who were witnessing violence could send a text message about what they were seeing, which then appeared on an interactive website. And Jade Frank of WorldPulse related success stories from her outlet’s PulseWire Community, which is connecting 11,000 women from 185 countries.

Friday afternoon’s virtual dialogue, “Global Exchange: Voices from the Ground,” allowed participants in San Diego to interact with journalists Yasmine Ryan, based in Tunisia for al-Jazeera, Mandira Raut of Today’s Youth Asia (TYA) in Nepal, and Zelie Pollon, a freelance journalist based in New Mexico. Ryan explained the successes of social media tools during the Arab Spring, particularly by Tunisian women. Pollon focused on the difficulty of reducing necessary context in stories to 140 characters on Twitter and the fear that journalistic standards are not being upheld in social media platforms.

Due to technical difficulties with the connection to Nepal, Santosh Shah, founder of TYA who was in the audience, was able to introduce the 25-year-old Raut and her women-produced television programs. TYA shows – written, produced and hosted almost entirely by women – are now aired on Nepali national television, including one program which is on primetime at 8 p.m. every evening. Raut is now working with a young woman in New Delhi to expand TYA to India.

Shah closed his remarks with the affirmation, “We never say, ‘Let’s give women space.’ We just give women the space.”