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6/6/17 - "Watching out for Media: An Institutional Ethnographic Perspective on the Feminist Democratic Media Activism of “Media Monitoring Africa”" by Giuliana Sorce

Watching out for Media: An Institutional Ethnographic Perspective on the Feminist Democratic Media Activism of “Media Monitoring Africa”

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Giuliana Sorce received her Ph.D. in Mass Communications and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Penn State in May 2017.  She received an ARC research grant in Fall 2015 for her project entitled "Representing the Marginalized in South Africa's Media:  A Case Study of the Non-For-Profit Watchdog Organization Media Monitoring Africa".

My project explores the activism and impact of Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), a successful South African non-governmental organization (NGO) with the mission to promote media democracy, diversity, quality, and ethics. MMA is a media monitoring and advocacy NGO whose activism addresses both recurring (mis)representation in media content and inequitable structures in the political economy of the South African mediascape. Though scholars have referenced MMA for its successful media activism (Van Zyl & Kantor, 1999; Gallagher, 2001; Geertsema, 2010), MMA has never been the focus of an extensive study.

Through a six-week institutional ethnography (Smith, 2005) at MMA using participant-observation, in-depth semi-structured interviews, and textual analyses of organizational documents, I map MMA’s network of social relations, assess MMA’s social position, and understand MMA as a feminist democratic media organization. MMA’s activist strategies go beyond representational critiques in media content. Rather, the NGO recognizes the need for democratic intervention in the political economic structure of the South African mediascape. MMA’s content-based activism targets misrepresentation through media monitoring analysis, while MMA’s structure-based activism targets media regulation, policy, and media organizational politics. In most cases, MMA engages in both forms of activism simultaneously.

Through the institutional ethnographic method, I derive “reputation” and “impact” as two central conditions that shape MMA’s activist role in the South African mediascape. Via their stakeholder relationships and social position, MMA weaves into the organizational fabric of the South African mediascape through consistent intervention, activist innovation, and the curation of strategic relationships. Moreover, I use the institutional ethnographic analysis of MMA’s organizational particularities to study the NGO’s commitment to feminism and democracy that guide their activism in South Africa.

By analyzing the role of feminism and democracy in MMA’s activism, I argue that MMA is not only a media activist organization but rather, that it is a feminist democratic media activist (FDMA) organization. MMA is a FDMA organization because of MMA members’ strong individual identifications with feminist and democratic ideals, MMA’s feminist and democratic organizational mission, and the feminist and democratic orientation of MMA’s activist work. Combined with MMA’s strategic stakeholder relationships and unique social position, it is this two-fold, simultaneous FDMA that creates MMA’s significant activist success in South Africa.

 

Sorce blog photo