A Framework for Media Justice
Malkia Cyril

Communication rights are human rights

George Clinton, a famous funk musician, once said, 'Whoever controls the flow of information dictates our perceptions and perspectives; whoever controls the news shapes our destiny.'

Despite the constitutional guarantee of free speech and free press, racial stereotypes and anti-youth bias remain rampant in news and entertainment media, while control over news, information, and culture has moved increasingly into the hands of private corporations and right-wing politicians. In a society fractured by structural racism and dominated by corporate power, neither the press nor speech can be truly free for youth, communities of color, and other disenfranchised groups. For these communities communication rights must be considered human - and not simply civil - rights, secured by both constitutional and international law, and distributed by a truly representative government. Two-thirds of the public makes critical policy decisions based on what they read, watch, and listen to in the media. Without the human right to communicate equally, the media present a 'double bind' for youth and communities of color - acting as both an opportunity for civic engagement and a significant threat.

Media content and the struggle for racial justice

Media content is where disenfranchised communities first engage with media as a social justice issue. From the over-representation of Blacks and Latinos in coverage of crime, to the misrepresentation of Arabs and South Asians in coverage of terrorism and war, racial stereotypes in the news criminalize youth and people of color, and result in an uninformed public and punitive social policies. This trend extends to entertainment media where hip-hop music and even primetime TV are saturated with stories about crime. And, from the newsroom to the music studio, progressive voices remain largely unheard. The Youth Media Council (YMC) understands criminalization and racial bias in the media to be the result of three primary forces:

- increased corporate ownership and consolidation of media outlets,
- resurgent influence of the right over media infrastructure and public debate, and
- lack of a comprehensive progressive media strategy to protect the public interest and defend communication rights.

These conditions, and the social change sectors most impacted by them, require an affirmative new communications framework that centers media content as a primary landscape for change and has a vision to transform corporate media - its infrastructure, policies and outlets - into an inclusive public resource.

From privilege to power: a call for media justice

Traditional frameworks for transforming media often rely upon privileged expertise, demand deep pockets, and fail to expose or challenge structural racism. YMC is developing an emerging 'Media Justice' framework to transform media through participatory, relevant, and strategic processes that are deeply rooted in grassroots organizing to build the power of youth and communities of color. This framework contains a vision for media and culture that draws upon centuries of international struggle for communication rights and the historical resistance of communities of color to cultural colonialism.

Media justice principles: educate, liberate, coordinate

Educating grassroots leaders as media activists. YMC develops the media activism of emerging organizers of color through a process of participatory organizing and leadership development. To bridge the divide between professionalized media change-makers (most often in the D.C. beltway or PR firms) and grassroots organizing, we are developing a media leadership pipeline that highlights the voices and visions of disenfranchised communities in the movement for media and racial justice.

Liberating our media outlets from corporate and right-wing control through local, grassroots action. At the YMC, we develop and mobilize a local membership to make concrete changes in the media policy and content we believe will improve the social conditions most pressing to youth and communities of color. Our media activism is built on the premise that helping people fight for media change where they live will improve the lives of their communities on the issues they most care about.

Coordinating key regions to strengthen the capacity and strategy of the media justice sector. Building a movement for media justice requires a coordinated strategy. The YMC works in key regions to strengthen media activist organizations, increase campaign and strategic coordination across the sector, and build the field of media justice, while building the will for media activism in key sectors of the movement for racial justice and youth rights.

Through innovative programs, leadership development, strategic action and field building, the Youth Media Council is building a powerful new Media Justice Model for structural media change in the service of racial justice and human rights.