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SIX Interviews Sarhang Hars on Amedia Watch

Author: Sarhang Hars
Published Date: 9 July 2013

Amedia Watch was recognized at the recent human rights event—HuriLab—as an outstanding digital intervention promoting the rights of women in the Middle East.

Amedia is an online platform—currently under development—to monitor and tag misrepresentations of women in Iraqi media through both keyword scrubbing and crowd sourcing.The platform aims to raise awareness about the issue of media misrepresentation and create a discussion around it.

Sarhang Hars, founder of Amedia Watch, wants to engage both media consumers and media professionals in the project.He began this work because he has seen women systematically misrepresented and underrepresented in the Middle Eastern media.

To view the recent prototype in Kurdish, please follow the link:http://avestagroup.net/amedia/default.html

Could you describe Amedia Watch for us? What will it feel like to sit down at your computer and start using Amedia?

We all see how women are misrepresented in the media as sexual objects and as secondary to men, especially in the Middle East. Amedia Watch keeps track of and raises awareness of this norm. It reports, tags or publishes as many misrepresentations as possible. A team of specialists and volunteers would be monitoring Iraqi media and publish the results online and send them out to media agencies.

For the user, it is both a learning experience and a productive one. You both learn through our criteria and forms that would be available online on gender stereotypes and misrepresentation of women. But you also produce data and participate in the project.

You want to participate if you are interested in gender issues, if you want to learn about reproducing cultural values through the media, if you are human rights activist or just want to show your friends that you care.

There will also be some gaming elements and quizzes to make it a bit fun.

How long had you been working on the idea for Amedia Watch before you applied for a place at the HuriLab? What inspired you?

I have been frustrated with the way Iraqi media represent women for quite a while and have been interested in works of Geena Davis (Geena Davis institute on Gender in Media) and the documentary Missrepresentation for quite a while. I have been writing about it and done some research on that same matter. However, thinking of tackling the issue in this way and creating Amedia Watch goes back to just a few months ago. Around the time when I submitted the idea to Hurilab.

How has working at HuriLab modified or developed your original idea?

Hurilab helped the idea in two main ways: conceptually and technically. In my team, there were two fantastic Armenian journalists, Artur Papyan and Gegham Vardanyan, who helped quite a bit to add certain useful elements and make it more sustainable in the long run.

But also our programmers helped both with the idea of a data mining solution to facilitate monitoring and actually executing the idea in such a short time. Both Stepanyan Hrachya and Danielyan Vazgen were also amazing. I can’t thank them enough for their contribution.

Also, the organizers and the mentors helped quite a lot with giving us feedbacks and refining the concept furthermore. Overall, it was very very useful.

How do you want Amedia Watch to look at the end of this year? At the end of next year? Who will be using it? Where? What will the impact of their actions be?

By the end of this year, having a fully functional platform with a strong base in Iraq in Arabic, Kurdish and English where we can produce tags regularly. To have produced a few reports and send them out to media organizations.

By next year? Hmm…. Expanding it to other Arabic-speaking areas in the region and adding more features to the site. Having a training program for journalists and interns to learn and help out.

Users: News readers, activists, journalists and students are our target users.

Impacts:

· Just making the issue noticeable might be the most important impact. Just bringing such a subtle but yet vital aspect of reproducing cultural values to light is direly needed.

· Also, training journalists and reporters to be aware of the misrepresentation and hence reduce them, will be another important impact.

· Media literacy for media consumers. Regular media consumers can learn by participating in the project.

· Producing reports and data that can be used for research, media strategy planning, and policy-making.

· And the long-term impact would be empowering women in on the ground.

What do you need to get to where you want to be at the end of next year?

· Building a good network among media professionals, gender activists, academics and researchers. And building a wide user base.

· Having available funds.