Malkia Cyril criticises US media outlets for being too white.

Malkia Cyril criticises US media outlets for being too white. Canva

Net neutrality activist censures ‘white-controlled’ US media

‘You have six companies that own all the media… you only have to look at the way media ownership has become consolidated.’

Malkia Cyril criticises US media outlets for being too white.

Malkia Cyril criticises US media outlets for being too white. Canva

The media system that exists in the United States is a “white-led system dominated by white people with white-centered ideas and approaches,” according to media activist Malkia Devich-Cyril.

“You see it in its basic structures, in the simple fact of its demographics,” says Cyril who is best known for spearheading national grassroots efforts of the Net Neutrality campaign, framing the narrative on protecting net neutrality as shifting away from the notion of ‘media democracy’ and framing it instead as a case of ‘media justice.’

He says the institutions are run by white people for the most part, not entirely, but for the most part.

“And then you have the ownership issues,” adds the award winning writer who is also a public speaker on issues of digital rights, narrative power, and Black liberation; as well as the lead founder and former Executive Director of Media Justice.

“Six companies own all the media, and over the last 20 years, you have to look at the way media ownership has become consolidated. Those companies are owned by some of the wealthiest people in the world. In spite of what they say, they have an agenda — to stay rich.”

Cyril says the drive for profits is behind the narrowing of content and starving out journalism to make it harder for local journalism to survive. 

Colour framed in black and white

In stories about people of color, about Black people, in particular, the coverage ends up being episodic versus thematic, he says.

“History and context are lost in these stories. Talk about the riots, for example. We frame them as riots, not uprisings. We talk about how these Black people are looting and destroying their own communities, but where is the story about the number of times their communities have been destroyed by gentrification?” 

The narrative that news is the ‘official story’ has been entrenched in society Cyril believes, and when the news is biased it creates an underlying sense that “white people are supposed to dominate and that white voices set the standard for the norm.”

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He says the earlier newspapers in the US were dedicated to and “justified the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans.”

“Newspapers and other forms of storytelling were dedicated to making those things make sense, to making something unjustifiable recognizable and reasonable, and I don’t think the mission has changed much in 500 years.” 

New vision for journalism 

Cyril says a good starting point to reform the craft is to invest heavily in investigative journalism, and to restructure how crime is reported.

“We need to start thinking about how we bring in context and history to crime stories. It could even be a line or two. It’s journalism no longer accepting police reports as the truth, but you have to verify [what they say]. It’s expanding the voices and who we consider credible sources.”

He said the Kerner Commission Report of 1968 is still relevant today as it was then. The Kerner report talked about the failure of a white-dominated media to report on Black people in an everyday kind of way, beyond uprisings and crime. 

Journalists, Cyril said, need to be able to report on Black people, immigrants of color and Native Americans from a frame that isn’t always about the problems, or that the problems they face are put in a broader context.

“At the heart of it all is the question of truth… Are you able to tell the truth?” 

Parallel worlds

Cyril believes that journalists have had a problem identifying with and participating in social movements because they often see themselves as “separate” as they have to “report” on those movements. 

He adds that ‘anti-racist journalists’ have a duty, a job that is about transforming journalism and that requires that they see themselves as part of a struggle. 

“Those are things that are often at odds because journalists of color too often have almost bought into the version of what journalism is supposed to be — that it’s separate from everybody.”

Cyril says the understanding of objectivity is changing, and journalists of color in the US are becoming part of a broader movement. 

He says the targeting of reporters and anti-racist journalists at protests is “waking journalists up to the fact that you can’t tell the story from the side.”