Alexandros Koronakis, Editor - New Europe
4 May 2009
1. What role should the media play in promoting diversity and social cohesion in Europe?
Europe can only come together on the social level if there is a practical implementation of theories. The media has an important role to play in this process; an ‘ABCD' approach.
The media must first be Aware and acknowledge the problems which keep social cohesion at a low level (these vary throughout Europe – but are for national and local media measurable, or at least observable), Balance Coverage on these issues in a way that aims to resolve issues of contention rather than magnify problems, and finally foster Dialogue by giving exposure (airtime, publication of articles, use as sources) to people representing diverse opinions, social groups ethnic minorities, and any other under-represented, but valuable voices. There cannot be a clear-cut rule to this; it is a series of value judgments.
2. Should the media act as a “responsible partner” in an increasingly multicultural environment?
Looking firstly at the news element of media, it is worth noting that each medium does not always act in a collective, solid manner. “Responsibility” can be seen anywhere in the news production process, from the intern doing research to the editor responsible for the news output, to the publishing organisation which often determines editorial lines and policy.
It is important that the responsibility to promote social cohesion, multicultural understanding and dialogue is not determined only on a top-down basis, but found at the individual level as well. The value judgments I discussed earlier are also made on all of the levels of hierarchy.
Do the media have an obligation to act as a “responsible partner” in this area? No. But should the media do so? Absolutely; and in the long run, this will be of benefit to both society, and the receptiveness of the audience to the medium, and open up new reader/viewer groups.
3. How would you respond to the complaint that freedom of speech allows extremists too great an access to the media?
The term extremist is sadly misinterpreted in our societies, usually understood to mean anyone who supports terrorism. With the many diverse opinions in our Europe, we need to embrace freedom of speech for what it really is: an opportunity for dialogue.
Dialogue is not only way to understand viewpoints and perspectives of other people, but to learn important information, understand value sets, and to be able to judge the positions of different sides through inclusive perspective.
This dialogue is productive as long as it follows basic values of humanity. There is a difference between a minority or anti-mainstream voice, and an anti-democratic, destructive voice.
4. How would you respond to the general criticism that the media is closed to ethnic minorities?
We must never forget that media are used by their owners as a profit making tool. This does not mean that they shed their functions of forming public opinion, acting as watchdogs of government or agenda-setters.
Representation of ethnic minorities is, at least on a theoretical level, connected to their representation of the audience of the medium in question.
If mainstream media under-represent ethnic minorities, it is likely that new media will come to fill the void. The media landscape always adapts very quickly to these sorts of things.
What is more important is media not being biased against ethnic minorities. Conscious under-representation for non-marketing/business model reasons of these minorities is also a form of bias, but there is a very clear distinction to be made between bias, and business.
5. How would you respond to the complaint that media reporting of ethnic communities is generally unfavourable?
I would say it’s realistic. Leaving aside the questionable element of bias – it stems from a combination of business, and the reality of news. On the business side, since the ethnic majorities usually make up the largest part of newspaper readership, it’s natural for news/editorial coverage of the different communities’ initiatives, to reflect the make-up of the medium’s audience.
Then comes in the reality of news. Sadly, the only time that coverage is guaranteed to smaller social/ethnic groups is when there are negative stories. Murders, robberies, violence, all get great coverage in the news. When mixed in with positive coverage- this creates a balance for the mainstream/majority groups. But for the smaller groups, ethnic minorities, ethnic communities, this creates an imbalance.
6. What steps could be taken to encourage more ethnic minorities into the media?
Active citizens and NGOs need to do their part. Ethnic minorities need to have representation of their voice through organized platforms of communication. These need to be in the form of spokespersons for communities or NGOs who take a professional approach (ie the approach of lobbyists trying to get clients perspectives published), or active citizens who take up blogging (micro- or traditional). Media nowadays has grown to include new technologies available to reach mass audiences. It is this second element of new media platforms which needs to be used as widely as possible, as new media trends are quickly developing around these free engagement services.
7. How has the media been changed by the development of Europe into multi-cultural societies?
Europe has not recently developed into multi-cultural societies. What has been amplified in recent years is the need to achieve integration and social cohesion among these societies; to develop intercultural understanding and foster intercultural dialogue. It is to this need that the media has been adapting; like to the many other social and political needs that arise.
And what we see as a result of this is the relatively recent birth of a plethora of media catering to relatively small audiences, in non-mainstream languages for the regions. Local media catering to municipalities; newsletters which go out to organisation members and societal groups with extensive blogging communities.
It is the mainstream media that has found it more difficult to adapt; forcing themselves to sometimes fragment their clean, streamlined editions/channel programming to include the multi-cultural elements of today’s Europe.
8. What measures still need to be taken by media organisations to adapt to Europe’s multi-cultural environment?
On the organisational level, this involves the training of staff with inter-cultural capability courses - or including this as an element in the selection of new staff. But generally media organisations are comprised of people who, by nature, have a certain degree of multi-cultural understanding and sensitivity. It is in the nature of the media landscape.
There needs to be greater adaptation in the forms and different outlets of the media. At the moment, the media is experimenting with different ways to deal with the changing environment and landscape, and I believe it will be a long process of trial and error before a dominant paradigm surfaces to serve as an example.