Media that Matters: Translating Rights into Reality

The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote in Peace Magazine for the October-December issue.

"Awareness is the first and most necessary step in ending human rights abuses.”’s a statement I have found myself saying over and over again both to myself and to others when talking about human rights violations around the world and the media’s role in reporting these issues. After all, if people aren’t aware of the rights and freedoms they are entitled to, how can one possibly, in the words of the ever-wise Bob Marley, “get up, stand up—stand up for your rights”?

Yes, awareness is the answer. It’s so intuitive, so common sense, so simple. But alas, common sense does not necessarily reflect reality and simple does not mean easy. Regrettably, around the world, including some of the most developed and prosperous countries, there is an outrageous and glaring lack of awareness of our most basic and fundamental human rights.

The media have a huge role to play in solving this problem by highlighting the gap between every individual’s guaranteed human rights and what they experience in reality. With their ability to reach millions of people, whether through print, radio, television, or now in our increasingly digital world, the Internet, the media are essential to a vibrant democracy that does not tolerate arbitrary abuse.

Journalists for Human Rights trainers working alongside a local journalist in Ghana

Let me demonstrate. A single radio station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the most important medium for information in the country, reaches thousands of Congolese people. Now multiply that by the approximately 360 local community radio stations that exist in the DRC and imagine the number of people who can be informed of their rights. In fact, a study in Ghana on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child found that the media was the largest source of information about the treaty. The media thus has the power to expose human rights abuses when they happen, to hold relevant actors accountable for their actions, and to empower marginalized and vulnerable communities to speak out and protect themselves.

But herein lies the rub: We live in a world where press freedom has been on the decline, where only 35% of all the countries in the world enjoy a free press, and where the infrastructure for a strong and independent media is, in many countries, virtually nonexistent.

In such a situation, it is no wonder that investment in local media is largely missing from the wider discussion of international development. Indeed, media development makes up a meager 0.5% of all international development efforts.

Despite this seemingly insignificant number, some organizations are working tirelessly to strengthen the journalism sector in some of the harshest conditions in the world—and are even achieving tangible success. To continue reading, download the PDF here.

#Tweet4Rights: An Evening of Rights Media


So it's the hot topic that everyone seems to be talking about these days: social media. It is completely transforming, if not fundamentally challenging the media landscape of today and it only makes sense for Journalists for Human Rights to be active participants in this ongoing dialogue. It seems that more and more, ordinary citizens all around the world are using social media tools like blogs, YouTube, and Twitter to reach out to a global audience to report on and expose the rampant human rights violations that are occurring every single day. There are tons of examples that have recently been capturing the headlines. Just think Iran, think China.

But it is all too easy for us to be swept away by this new frontier, overly confident of what it is capable of. This is not to say, of course, that we should not embrace its potential benefits or the wide range of possibilities that it has to offer. The complete opposite actually. But we must proceed with caution and with a conscious mind. As panelists Andrew Coyne and Shirley Brady of last week's "Traditional Media Meets Social Media" session at Toronto's Social Media Week agreed, the rush to be the first to break a story on Twitter (or any other social media site for that matter) is often at the expense of accuracy, context, and relevance. That's why we at Journalists for Human Rights are hosting #tweet4rights - A Night of Rights Media on February 26 from 6-10PM, where we are hoping to educate and inform our online followers of how to effectively and, more importantly, responsibly tweet, blog, or whatever the case may be, about issues dealing with human rights in a way that will encourage an ongoing dialogue.

We're at the cusp of something really great and there's nothing more we would love than for you to join us on this journey. For more information and to register for the event, click here -

Guys, My Bra Colour is Pink - Let the Cries of Controversy Begin!

So this seemingly playful bra colour meme that's been taking over Facebook for the past few days has, well, proven not to be so playful anymore with many crying out with controversy.

Rethink Breast Cancer's Save the Boobs Campaign For those of you who don't know, here's a brief run down...basically, some time last week a message going out to girls (and some guys) went viral asking us to change our 'status' to the colour of our bra as a way of raising breast cancer awareness. I got the message last Thursday from a good friend of mine and yes, I most definitely changed my status. Before long, my entire news feed was filled with a fabulous array of colours. Okay, fantastic! People are participating! I thought it was a fun and clever way to generate buzz on such an important issue but of course, it had to turn sour with some women outraged by the whole concept's sexual undertones and the supposed objectification of women. Personally, I think that's a whole load of feminist baloney. If you ask me, this whole line of reasoning only fuels the whole image of the woman as the victim and personally, I'm tired of being portrayed as such because uh, I'm not. And I know a hell of a lot of other women who aren't either. Have we not reached the point in time where we can quit the whining bullshit? Plus, has the brassiere not been used as a strategic tool in the past to make such important statements? Why not now? Crying foul at announcing one's bra colour is a) so immature and b) incredibly passé.

This is not to say, of course, that the campaign is a good one. Sure, I think it's cute, clever, simple and has the potential to accomplish some real concrete changes. But like many other cute, clever, and simple ideas out there, this one is lacking and most certainly not infallible. The problem with the whole bra colour meme for me is not the intimate details that it reveals but the whole campaign's lack of direction. Yes, people have changed their status but what does that translate to?  Who even started this trend? Because apparently, no one knows. Was it a cancer research organization, a patient/survivor, or just some random individual? And even if we do know, does that matter? How exactly has it raised awareness about breast cancer? And in any case, how would we define and measure "awareness"? What actions are taking place because of this? Are people donating more money to cancer research? Are more women getting mammograms because of it? Have more people researched breast cancer because of this development or has this all just been a silly game of sexual innuendos?

Rebecca Leaman of the Wild Apricot Blog asks the most appropriate question in this case, "Did it work?". So what the focus should be and the question that people should be asking is 'what exactly has this whole thing accomplished?'. Yes, awareness is the first and most necessary step but awareness without action is worthless. We need to think impact! And when it comes down to the nitty gritty, I think that's what really matters....that's all that really matters.