It is 1973 and I am a feminist living in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1969 I had moved south after college to work in the civil rights and progressive movement. I had faced jail due to my political activities and knew my life would continue to be dedicated to eradicating racism, the myriad vital issues facing women, and many other crucial challenges confronted by people seeking justice in the world.
It was becoming clear how to focus my energies. Instead of spreading myself thin trying to deal with all the multitude of life-threatening issues, I begin working with an organization my activist mother had founded in 1972: the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP) in Washington, DC. This is an organization doing something about opening up media ownership, increasing diversity in media, and the limited, distorted coverage of issues at the root of so many issues to which I am devoted.
My first step, still in Memphis, is to found the Women’s Media Project in 1973 in order to negotiate with broadcasters for improved programming and employment of women. A newsletter we publish not only reports any progress we make but also shares information from Media Report to Women, the publication of WIFP: statistics tracking media concentration into the hands of the few and descriptions of what women are doing about media. In 1974 I begin working on the first edition of WIFP’s Directory of Women’s Media. By the next year I move to Washington, DC to work full-time with WIFP.
While WIFP accomplishes much over the early decades – including many publications and international conferences – we do this with no paid staff but rather as a network of women (and a few men) who are concerned with media democracy issues. Interns learn that even the director of the organization has outside paid employment.
What changes we’ve seen over these four decades! We’ve gone from use of the mimeograph machine and typesetting our publications to desktop publishing, Twitter and Facebook. In addition to a printed Directory of Women’s Media, a version appears on our website offering free to access from anywhere in the world.
Sparse and distorted mass media coverage of the U.N. women’s conferences sparked interest at our meetings in finding a way for women’s voices to be heard first-hand. WIFP Associates decided to utilize the technology to make sure women’s voices were heard by holding two international satellite teleconferences from the U.N. World Conference of Women of the U.N. Decade for Women, in Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985.
Violence against women is still rampant. But women’s media expose what is going on in the lives of women who were once isolated and marginalized.
Technology is increasingly developing in such a way that even those with limited means can share their ideas, information, and perspectives. As long as we can assure net neutrality, we have an effective way to further media democracy and work on peace and justice issues.
Yet at the same time, huge corporations continue to consolidate and exert their power, putting financial profits over human and environmental concerns. In the U.S. we now have six media conglomerates making billions of dollars and controlling much of the information people see.
Media democracy remains a vital issue that affects all our justice concerns. It is encouraging that consciousness about media issues exists globally and we are connected now more than ever before. This movement cannot be stopped.
Voices for Media Democracy: http://wifp.org/VoicesforMediaDemocracy.html
Directory of Women’s Media: http://wifp.org/DWM/DirectoryWomensMedia.html
Martha Allen has been the director of WIFP since 1985. She welcomes connections globally.