Does the Media Have a Responsibility Towards Social Progress and Equality?
By Lisa Kenney, CEO of Reimagine Gender, and Chad Felix Greene, Journalist and Author of “Surviving Gender”
This debate is being published in collaboration with The Impact Guild, a professional network for people who create, use, or distribute media, arts, or entertainment for social good or healthy democracy.
The Media Must be a Force for Gender Equality and Fairness
By Lisa Kenney – CEO of Reimagine Gender
The media has a powerful influence on public opinion. It shapes how people see the world and one another, and it can be used to promote or challenge harmful stereotypes. Consider the following two excerpts from reporting by the Washington Post:
- “Alyssa Wells, 29, said her views have changed on this issue in recent years as she has learned more, chiefly from Christian podcasts. ‘At first, I was on the side of acceptance, like using the pronouns and stuff, because I want people to be kind to each other. I don’t want people fighting all the time,’ she said. But she has come to see things differently. ‘My concern with transgender is mostly with the children.'”
- “In 2023, it’s still true that the vast majority of Americans say they’ve never met a transgender person in real life. So all they know about what it means to be a transgender person is what they’ve learned from the media.”
The rise in legislation across America threatening gender equality is a significant concern. State lawmakers have introduced more than 400 anti-trans bills so far this year, up from 150 bills in all of 2022. Currently, 28 states have proposed legislation banning all or most abortions. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort by some lawmakers to roll back hard-won gains for women, transgender, and non-binary identified people, particularly with respect to bodily autonomy. This trend is alarming, and it is important to understand the role that the media plays in addressing these issues.
Of course, “media” can mean a lot of different things these days, from traditional network and print news to TV shows and movies, podcasts, and a whole host of ways we now consume information and entertainment. So, what are the responsibilities of today’s media in addressing gender equality?
Broadcast Media Must be Held to the Highest Standard
Let’s start by acknowledging that not all media are the same. Because so much of what we consume today is entertainment and opinion, the distinction between types of media is important. If opinion is properly identified as opinion, I don’t believe there’s any obligation to the public. Aunt Martha’s site for fans of her southern comfort food and the TikTok or Instagram creator showing their intricate nail designs are in the business of entertainment and opinion. Their focus is limited and their perspective is personal.
Journalists and broadcast news, however, have clear public interest obligations. The FCC states in its manual, The Public and Broadcasting: “As public trustees, broadcast licensees may not intentionally distort the news.” The FCC has stated that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.” The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics also weighs in on the responsibility to the public, declaring four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encouraging their use by all people in all media. The principles are: 1. Seek truth and report it; 2. Minimize harm; 3. Act independently; and 4. Be accountable and transparent. It’s essential that we give a voice to the people who are affected by these issues. Holding media responsible for approaching reporting of stories to these criteria would make a tremendous difference in the public’s ability to discern differences of opinion, identify and understand relevant facts, and contextualize the information presented.
All Media Can Help Raise Awareness About Gender Equality
Non-news media can have a positive public impact in several ways. One way that the media can raise awareness about gender equality issues is through representation. When people see themselves represented in the media, it helps them to feel seen and heard as well as helps to challenge harmful stereotypes. Storytelling is another way that the media can help to promote gender equality. When the media shows stories about people who are facing gender-based discrimination, it helps to raise awareness about these issues. It also helps to humanize people who are often marginalized and stereotyped. Finally, the media can also play a role in advocating for gender equality. The media can use its platform to speak out against harmful policies and to promote change. For example, when the media reported on the #MeToo movement, it helped to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault. It also helped to empower survivors to come forward and share their stories and generated fruitful discussions regarding consent and sexual violence.
The media plays an indispensable role in addressing legislation threatening gender equality in America. Through representation, storytelling, and advocacy, the media has the power to shape public opinion, challenge discriminatory norms, and advocate for policy reforms. In these times, it is imperative for media to continue their commitment to gender equality, amplifying marginalized voices and fostering empathy. By doing so, the media can help create a more just and equitable society for everyone.
The Media is Stoking Gender Division and Fear
By Chad Felix Greene – Journalist and Author of “Surviving Gender”
A casual scroll through the daily headlines would likely have a reader believe that LGBTQ Americans, especially children, are under attack. A reader might gasp in horror reading the devastating warnings of what could happen to women’s health and rights if abortion bans continue.
Yet behind the headlines is a complex world of nuance, voter concerns, parental objections, safety, and the fundamental civil rights issue of our time: human equality. A reader might not realize, for example, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in 2022, is actually titled The Parental Rights in Education Act and provides clear instructions for parental consent and transparency in public schools.
Sensationalism In the Media
Headlines like “Ohio House advances transgender student-athlete ban for girls’ and women’s sports,” published by the Associated Press, create the impression of crisis. This has real consequences. The Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health, for example, found 93 percent of trans youth worried about transgender people being denied gender-affirming medical care, 91 percent worried transgender people were being denied access to bathrooms, and 83 percent worried transgender people were being banned from sports.
These worries, however, are largely unfounded. In many instances, transgender students are not banned from playing sports, receiving “gender-affirming medical care,” or accessing bathrooms. Similarly, an overwhelming majority of women are not at risk of receiving subpar medical care for their pregnancies due to abortion restrictions. Each of these issues is nuanced and requires context. These are all valid issues to debate and discuss, but only when accurate reporting is available.
We Must Consume Media with a Critical Eye
The media decided that conservative legislative efforts were “anti-LGBTQ.” They created the narrative and repeated it until it became assumed truth. Rather than accept Americans have wildly divergent views on abortion, they chose to advance the singular narrative of an imaginary revocation of women’s rights. The very idea that “gender equality” is threatened in America at all is a media-fabricated concept.
The media, in its current state, is a progressive activist system designed to shape public opinion. It is uniform and overwhelming, reinforcing the belief that whatever it reports must be the consensus view. Journalism should be objective and accurate, rather than activist and persuasive. The job of news organizations is not to champion what its reporters believe is a righteous cause or suppress opposing positions. These issues should be discussed and debated, but currently, we only have one perspective represented and one worldview positioned as assumed truth.
This debate is being published in collaboration with The Impact Guild, a professional network for people who create, use, or distribute media, arts, or entertainment for social good or healthy democracy. You can also read more from our Political Pen Pals debates here.