The portrayal of women and so-called women's issues by the media was the focus of a panel Tuesday, Nov. 27, sponsored by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and its Women's Solidarity Society. The breakfast program at the Ritz Carlton Hotel downtown was called "The Unbiased Truth: Compelling the Media to Tell Our Story."
As a member of the panel, I had an opportunity to participate in a discussion with Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing Company and former White House Social Secretary in the first Obama Administration; Carol Jenkins, former broadcast journalist and founding president of The Women's Media Center; Soledad O'Brien, anchor for the CNN morning show, "Starting Point," and special correspondent for CNN/US; Abby Disney, filmmaker and co-founder and co-president with her husband Pierre Hauser of the Daphne Foundation in New York; Geneva Overholser, director of the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School of Communication; and Dyllan McGee, executive producer at Kunhardt McGee Productions, where she produced Skip Gates' genealogy specials for PBS, "African American Lives."
The program was part of the efforts by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to raise awareness and funds to support a permanent exhibit on women and girls issues at the Center, which is scheduled to open in 2014. So far, $640,000 of the $1 million goal has been raised, according to Deborah Richardson, executive vice president of the Center.
The panel of women weighed in on the progress that has been made in addressing women's concerns and the portrayal of women in the media, as well as noting that there is still much more progress needed.
CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien said she thinks after 50 years we might be mid-way toward the goal of equity for women in media. "That's why it seems ugly," she said. "When you're in the middle it looks ugly."
USC's Journalism School Director Geneva Overholser said she doesn't think we're gotten to the middle yet. "I'm optimistic, but I don't think we've reached the middle yet."
Documentary producer Dyllan McGee said her latest project is a film on the Women's Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She said she is talking with individual women who were involved, not only in leadership, but in all aspects. "We have to tell our stories," she said.
Abby Disney recalled her efforts to produce her first feature-length documentary called "Pray the Devil Back to Hell." It is the story of the women of Liberia and their efforts to bring peace to their nation after decades of a destructive civil war. She said they were told about stories of women who stripped their clothes off rather than be moved from their protest. While media was present, there was no evidence. The videotape had been used to prop open a window and was nearly destroyed when it was finally discovered. "Only about 60 seconds was left, but it was exactly what we needed," she said.
The panel was moderated by Monica Pearson, former WSB-TV anchorwoman. Her questions prompted panel members to talk about the need for more women in charge of media decisions. I added that we need women deciding who covers what, how it gets covered and in what context.
Panel members talked about the impact of women's response to the efforts to limit abortion rights and access to contraceptives by some politicians during the recent Presidential and Congressional campaigns.
The attack by conservative radio talk shows on the young law school student who spoke out in support of contraceptives resulted in losses for the candidates proposing these restrictive measures.
Several panel members said it's more important than ever for women in media to provide a framework and context for reporting these kinds of stories so they are about issues and not personal attacks.
This is exactly what it will take to make things better. As women in media, we can make it better, said Carole Jenkins, founding president of The Women's Media Center. I agree. Our voices get stronger all the time.
Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who was also co-host and is chair of the board of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, closed out the program by urging the mostly women present to "let your voices be heard." It's important to speak out and help shape public policies that affect our lives, she said.
M. Alexis Scott is publisher of the Atlanta Daily World.