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Media and Culture: Facilitating Intercultural Dialogue

Cultural Landscape in Canada

According to the 2016 Census, 21.9% of the Canadian population stated that they were or had ever been a landed immigrant or permanent resident in Canada. As immigration from the non-European countries increases Canada witnessed the growth of the visible minority population. The visible minority population represented 22.3% of Canada’s population in 2016. Predominantly, immigrants settle in larger cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. For example, in Toronto, 47% of Canada’s 2016 census respondents were immigrants, while 51.5% of respondents identified themselves as visible minorities. 

Statistics Canada projects that by 2031 46% of Canadians could be foreign-born, or could have at least one foreign-born parent. At the same time, it is estimated that from 29% to 32% of Canada’s population (between 11.4 and 14.4 million people) could belong to a visible minority group by 2031. Nevertheless, attitudes about immigration differ among the Canadian population. According to the Angus Reid Institute poll, 68% of Canadian respondents think that ethnic minorities should let go of their cultural traditions and languages and instead do more to fit in with mainstream society. At the same time, 79% of Canadian respondents would like for the government to limit immigration levels in favour of Canada’s economic needs.

As Canada becomes increasingly more diverse and starts to encompass people of different cultural groups, it is important to learn to understand and embrace other cultures in order to maintain inclusive social infrastructures. Media representations of immigrants and ethnic minorities contribute to the construction of the cultural and social fabric of society.  As such, media has the capacity to bridge cultural differences and foster intercultural dialogue.

Cultural Literacy

Wood and Landry define cultural literacy as “the ability to read, understand and find the significance of diverse cultures and, as a consequence, to be able to evaluate and compare the varied cultures that are interwoven in a place.” In other words, cultural literacy is a reflective ability that allows people to understand and interpret the complex texture of different cultures in the context of social structures. According to Ogbu, people operate within different “cultural worlds” that shape their views, values and behaviours. As a result, it might be challenging to read other cultures through the prism of one’s own cultural background and personal experiences.

Media and Culture: Facilitating Intercultural Dialogue

Image Source: iED

Since it is impossible to have a thorough knowledge of every culture in the world, to become culturally literate Wood and Landry highlight the necessity of intercultural dialogue. Intercultural dialogue entails open and seamless exchange of ideas between members of different communities. For them being intercultural means having the ability to listen and understand different cultural perspectives. Similarly, Dreher advocates for “listening across difference” that strives for a better understanding of other cultural groups, as well as a better understanding of “networks of privilege and power and one’s own location within them.”

Media and Culture

Media plays a crucial role in facilitating cultural literacy in a multicultural society. It has a tremendous impact on personal, cultural, and societal perceptions and can influence how people view themselves and others. Siapera states that media can overcome cultural barriers and encourage inter-ethnic relations through the promotion of shared cultural values. The 1991 Broadcasting Act requires all licensed broadcasting stations to reflect the racial and cultural diversity of Canada in both programming and employment in order to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.” Nevertheless, according to Fleras, the Canadian mainstream media continues to misrepresent and underrepresented ethnic minorities.

Media and Culture: Facilitating Intercultural Dialogue

According to Ojo, among the most evident challenges of the mainstream Canadian media are the portrayal of ethnic minorities as “others”, systematic stereotyping of members of ethnic minorities, negative representation of ethnic minorities, as well as the lack of cultural and racial diversity in media production teams. In this case, ethnic media serves to fill the gap and create a space for ethnic minorities to express their worldviews and share their community concerns and events.

Mainstream and Ethnic Media

Matsaganis, Katz and Ball-Rokeach position mainstream and ethnic media in contrast to each other. They define mainstream as “those media that are produced by and are produced for the mainstream of society.” At the same time, ethnic media is defined as “media produced by and for (a) immigrant, (b) ethnic, racial, and linguistic minorities, as well as (c) Indigenous groups living in various countries across the world.” However, the Canadian media landscape omits Indigenous people from the definition of ethnic media. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission defines ethnic media and programming as “one, in any language, that is specifically directed to any culturally or racially distinct group other than one that is Aboriginal Canadian or from France or the British Isles.”

Media and Culture: Facilitating Intercultural Dialogue

As a result, Yu argues that these definitions reinforce the binary framework in which ethnic media is positioned as “media for the Other” and exists in isolation from the mainstream media. Similarly, Husband states that the rigid distinction between mainstream and ethnic media creates “communicative ghettos”, in which producers and consumers of media are homogeneous groups that are exposed to narrow content which does not build deeper connections between different cultural communities but rather forms deeper trenches.

Intercultural Media System

Yu proposes ‘intercultural media system’ to overcome the gap between mainstream and ethnic media and facilitate a reciprocal flow of information amongst them. This media system makes sure that “voices from diverse communities are adequately created, circulated, contested, and cultivated in everyday discourse.” An ‘intercultural media system’ allows everyone to find their place in society by developing cultural literacy skills that strengthen the ability of the public to engage into rational discourse and deliberative processes based on shared facts.

Yu outlines several conditions for the creation of an ‘intercultural media system.’ The government is required to develop policies that improve availability and accessibility of mainstream and ethnic media, safeguard the plurality of diverse voices in media system, and encourage intercultural collaboration. Beyond government support, the ‘intercultural media system’ comes down to the willingness of mainstream and ethnic media to make themselves available and accessible, requiring them to commit to intercultural storytelling.

Collaboration between mainstream and ethnic media has the capacity to build and sustain intercultural dialogue. According to Yu, an ‘intercultural media system’ requires interaction between ethnic and mainstream media in order to make mainstream media available and accessible for culturally diverse people, and ethnic media available and accessible not only for their communities but also for broader members of society. Gerson and Rodriguez argue that mainstream media tend to miss out on stories covered by ethnic media that could have a lot of relevance for a wider audience. At the same time, ethnic media struggle with limited time and resources to develop in-depth articles or pitch them to larger media outlets. While mainstream media might have more resources to provide in-depth coverage they often lack cultural literacy skills to get all the facts right.

For example, Stonbel proposes “ongoing and co-creating collaboration” in which media outlets work together to create content on a regular basis. In the “ongoing and co-creating collaboration” media outlets share their resources which allows them to fill the gaps in expertise and help journalists gain new skills. It also eases the burden of collecting data by making it a shared responsibility between two newsrooms. This model of collaboration can also amplify the reach of content to a wider audience. However, the “ongoing and co-creating collaboration” requires a high level of trust between partners, frequent meetings, and a designated collaboration manager. Successful and long-term collaboration will be possible only if both of the outlets are willing to work together and be open to negotiating their cultural differences.