MediaWatch: A History

In the early 1980s, hair was big, skirts were long, and the film Tootsie entertained us with the fiction that the best way for an unemployed male actor to become a star was to dress up as a woman.

Canadian research proved otherwise.

A CRTC-funded study released in 1981 documented the ways in which women and girls were either barely visible or stereotypically portrayed in Canadian broadcasting. Despite the gains women had made in other realms, on-air “weather girls” and token newspaper “ladies pages” continued to define the mainstream media’s representation of women.
Understanding the power of media to influence attitudes and set agendas, MediaWatch was established to work for change. Its mandate was “to promote social justice and equality by conducting media research and advocating for change within government, industry and the public.”

For a relatively small, not-for-profit organization, MediaWatch had significant impact on media makers and consumers over two decades by:

  • Conducting research into portrayal trends and audience attitudes
  • Inspiring gender role guidelines for broadcasters and advertisers
  • Developing media literacy materials for use in schools
  • Delivering media literacy seminars to parents, teachers and students
  • Educating Canadian consumers about industry vehicles set up to permit them a voice
  • Intervening at CRTC hearings with an informed perspective on equity issues
  • Providing context about the social impacts of media through media interviews
  • Training women in Canada and around the world to conduct research and lobby for improved equity in their own media industries

 

Since MediaWatch was established, media forms and outlets have transformed, multiplied, and become more concentrated; regulation has become increasingly difficult; audiences have become more fragmented; and gender equity concerns have been pushed aside as trivial remnants of what many consider to be a problem solved. At the same time, government funding for equity-seeking non-profits has declined, making it difficult for MediaWatch to effectively address expanding media forms with reduced resources.

In the spring of 2005, MediaWatch closed its Toronto office in anticipation of a liaison with York University that ultimately didn’t proceed due to personnel changes. As a result, the organization has experienced a period of inactivity and review. Over the past 18 months, a small group of longtime volunteers and supporters held consultations with a broad cross-section of academics, students, activists, and media producers to explore the level of support for a revitalized MediaWatch.
The consensus? The challenges MediaWatch was set up to address loom larger than ever. “Bitches and ho’s” are regular features on music television, female politicians continue to get dissed for being too sexy (or not sexy enough), and thong underwear and push-up bras are now being marketed to a seven-year-old near you.

In response, a new board of directors has mobilized to build on Media Watch’s strong record of research, education and action. In fact, we’ve renamed ourselves Media Action Média to reflect our desire to make change. And we’re continuing to look for new partners and volunteers. Find more about we’re up to or how you can become involved.