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.’”
For more information on Media Justice and the upcoming summit, visit www.mediajustice.org.
Makani Themba-Nixon is executive director of The Praxis Project, a media and policy advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.