These short articles provide foundational visions for Media Justice.

Media Content and the Struggle for Racial Justice

[from the Youth Media Council's Organizational Framework]

Media content is where disenfranchised communities first engage with media as a social justice issue. From the over-representation of Blacks and Latinos in coverage of crime, to the misrepresentation of Arabs and South Asians in coverage of terrorism and war, racial stereotypes in the news criminalize youth and people of color, and result in an uninformed public and punitive social policies. This trend extends to entertainment media where hip-hop music and even primetime TV are saturated with stories about crime. And, from the newsroom to the music studio, progressive voices remain largely unheard. The Youth Media Council (YMC) understands criminalization and racial bias in the media to be the result of three primary forces:

  • increased corporate ownership and consolidation of media outlets,
  • the resurgent influence of the Right over media infrastructure and public debate, and
  • >
  • lack of a comprehensive progressive media strategy to protect the public interest and defend communication rights.

These conditions, and the social change sectors most impacted by them, require an affirmative new communications framework that centers media content as a primary landscape for change and has a vision to transform corporate media -- its infrastructure, policies and outlets -- into an inclusive public resource.

From Privilege To Power: A Call for Media Justice:

Traditional frameworks for transforming media often rely upon privileged expertise, demand deep pockets and fail to expose or challenge structural racism. YMC is developing an emerging “Media Justice” framework to transform media through participatory, relevant and strategic processes that are deeply rooted in grassroots organizing to build the power of youth and communities of color. This framework contains a vision for media and culture that draws upon centuries of international struggle for communication rights and the historical resistance of communities of color to cultural colonialism.

Media Justice Principles: Educate, Liberate, Coordinate:

1. Educating grassroots leaders as media activists. YMC develops the media activism of emerging organizers of color through a process of participatory organizing and leadership development. To bridge the divide between professionalized media changemakers (most often in the D.C. beltway or PR firms) and grassroots organizing, we are developing a media leadership pipeline that highlights the voices and visions of disenfranchised communities in the movement for media and racial justice.

2. Liberating our media outlets from corporate and right-wing control through local, grassroots action. At the YMC, we develop and mobilize a local membership to make concrete changes in the media policy and content we believe will improve the social conditions most pressing to youth and communities of color. Our media activism is built on the premise of helping people fight for media change where they live in order to improve the lives of their communities on the issues they most care about.

3. Coordinating key regions to strengthen the capacity and strategy of the media justice sector. Building a movement for media justice requires a coordinated strategy. The YMC works in key regions to strengthen media activist organizations, increase campaign and strategic coordination across the sector, and build the field of media justice, while building the will for media activism in key sectors of the movement for racial justice and youth rights.

Through innovative programs, leadership development, strategic action and field building, the Youth Media Council is building a powerful new Media Justice Model for structural media change in the service of racial justice and human rights.

Pleading our own cause: people of color are leading an effort to define media justice as a movement not for content-neutral reforms but a vision of racial justice.

by Makani Themba-Nixon, Colorlines Volume 22 #2, Fall 2003

Drawing its inspiration from the environmental justice movement and their efforts to advance a different analysis from the “mainstream” environmental movement, media justice proponents are developing race, class and gender conscious frameworks that advance new visions for media content and structure. A media justice Summit is planned for summer 2004, the first gathering of its kind.

Says co-convener and technology expert Art McGee, “We’re modeling the media justice Summit on the historic Environmental justice Summit that occurred over a decade ago, in which people of color and the poor came together and made explicit their environmental issues and concerns, which had not been a part of the mainstream agendas of mostly white groups like the Sierra Club or Greenpeace. We’re about to do something very similar.”

Of course, media justice is not new. For media scholar and long time advocate Mark Lloyd, the movement that calls itself media justice today is just getting back to civil rights roots. “I think what is considered the media justice movement is less rooted in the consumer or public interest movement than it is properly rooted in a movement that began with the traditional issues and concerns of civil rights; a movement that is concerned with equality, with political representation, and the impact of culture on institutions like media and schools.”

Lloyd notes that this context is key to understanding the need for groups to create a media justice space outside of the traditional media consumer or media democracy movement. The people who dominate “institutions like The New York Times, The Nation, and certain foundations often do not see people of color as integral to this movement.” Lloyd observes that the separate and unequal treatment of “public interest stuff” as important and “civil rights stuff” as passé is connected to historical patterns of racism.

History is certainly front and center for media justice proponents of today. It shapes where we’ve been, who has been advantaged and disadvantaged, and where we go from here. Without a vision firmly rooted in this context, they say, we’ll have better, high-speed resolution for the same old oppression.

For McGee, understanding the history also helps us understand and draw inspiration from the historic leadership role that people of color have consistently played in media work. “Black journalists, publishers, and activists have been fighting for media justice since before the birth of this country. Check out the history of both Black people’s overall struggle to have some degree of control over their portrayal as human beings, and the tireless work that countless Black journalists have done to try to democratize the media landscape in this country.

“As Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm said in the premier issue of Freedom’s Journal back in 1827: ‘We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.’”

MEDIA JUSTICE: A Declaration of Media Independence

[Media Justice organizing document, summer 2003]

Media filled with stereotypical and demeaning imagery. Media that denies our basic humanity and renders us invisible. Media that promotes and justifies our oppression and murder. Too few outlets from which to tell our stories, to speak truth to power. The connections between media -- its form, content, and who owns it -- is inextricably tied to issues of social justice, power, and equity. From the criminalization of youth to the war in Iraq, the mainstream media has continued it's historical role as a willing propaganda machine for corporate interests, and has blocked dialogue and debate on the publicly owned airwaves. Communication is a human right, yet our communities are denied this fundamental right every day. This will not change until we hold all institutions, public and private, to a higher standard of accountability, one that ensures that media serves the needs of all the people.

We hold this truth to be self-evident, that people of color are members of an ongoing continuum of struggle for fair and just media: from the indigenous and enslaved peoples who fought to speak in the shadow of genocide, to the historic fight to develop and sustain independent ethnic newspapers, to the courageous organizers who stood up for fair television coverage in the '60s, to the public access battles of the '70s, to the cyberspace and multimedia pioneers of the '80s and '90s, to the thousands who recently marched, protested, and sat-in to challenge increasing media concentration, people of color are the most critical indicator of how democratic media really is. Today, Media Justice organizers are working to build meaningful participation from communities of color and indigenous communities to claim the undeniable right to communicate -- to liberate our airwaves, networks, and cultural spaces. We aim to fundamentally change the ownership structure, language usage, and policy discourse around media within the United States and internationally, so that those communities most directly affected by media inequities can own the movement and bring into reality the vision behind Media Justice.

We also recognize the interconnectedness between our literacy as media producers/cultural workers, the fight for media accountability and just media policy, and the need for community-owned and controlled media institutions and networks. Therefore, we define the Media Justice movement to include those working in the areas of media advocacy, media accountability and policy, cultural work and training in media production, alternative journalism, and virtual/real world technology organizing.

Why Media Justice?

Media Justice speaks to the need to go beyond creating greater access to the same rotten corporate media structure. We are interested in more than paternalistic conceptualizations of "access," more than paper rights, more than taking up space in a crowded boxcar along the corporate information highway. Media Justice takes into account history, culture, privilege, and power. We seek new relationships to media and a new vision and reality for its ownership, control, access, and structure. We understand that this will require new policies, systems, and structures that will treat our airwaves and our communities as more than markets for exploitation.

We believe that communities of color, indigenous communities, and other oppressed and underrepresented communities need to stake out a distinct space within and apart from the media democracy/reform movement -- similar to the environmental justice movement's relationship to the mainstream environmental movement. We believe this is necessary in order to meaningfully address differences in focus and approach to media organizing. At the heart of our work is a rigorous power analysis, with race, class, and gender at the center. We are not content to have these issues relegated to one segment of a "mainstream" discussion. We need a unique space so that our communities can move forward the visions and strategies for this work that are grounded in their own reality, which we believe will lead our society towards a truly free and democratic media.