What has been the impact of communication – such as the media and the Internet – on cultural diversity? This chapter examines the rise of global communication, and new media. It argues that the greater prevalence of media holds opportunities and threats, especially in relation to audience fragmentation and the proliferation of stereotypes. Initiatives are needed to ensure that global audiences and cross-border programming contribute to pluralism and the free flow of ideas that foster cultural diversity.
There is an immense diversity of cultural expression communicated, transmitted and transformed by the myriad means available today (from print to digital technology). Communication of cultural content through these means has contributed to enhanced awareness and greater knowledge of cultural diversity. In this sense, globalisation has enlarged choice and stimulated the production of local content.
User-generated technology has the potential to empower individuals and groups that were previously marginalised by institutional and economic obstacles. It can help them to find a voice and the means to circulate their ideas and viewpoints to the public at large.
However, the prevalence of easily produced and exchangeable media also poses new challenges for cultural diversity:
- The increased supply of media content is not necessarily reflected in greater diversity of consumption. Confronted by an excess of choice, some consumers prefer to confine themselves to a small number of familiar titles.
- A significant intergenerational gap is opening up, particularly due to the emergence of new forms of digital content linked to social networking (such as Facebook).
- The rise of satellite channels and dedicated channels (such as history, women’s and so on) can lead to the tribalisation of cultural consumption.
- Media participate in the creation of stereotypes through ‘othering’, the determination of what separates one from other individuals, groups and communities by categorising them as ‘others’. Travel journalism, for instance, often perpetuates the celebration and exoticism of difference.
- The neglect of a particular segment of the population in the media can be interpreted as a form of silencing.
Consequently, critical consumption of media, and increased awareness of the importance of understanding other cultures is essential to countering audience fragmentation, isolation and stereotypes. Investment in media and information literacy initiatives and policies to strengthen the media and cultural industries are crucial:
- Media and information literacy must be recognised as a tool for empowerment and capacity building in the production of local content. This form of literacy can be promoted through various means such as by contextualising media coverage.
- In the field of cultural industries, the recent move towards newer digital technologies requires enhanced regulatory and industry support mechanisms. This should mirror the range of mechanisms governments have taken to foster the development of ‘analogue’ areas like film and television.
- These policies play a key role in protecting media practice and audience exposure; the operational tools range from self-regulation and codes of ethics to professional standards.
- In addition, if cultural content is to contribute to cultural diversity, three challenges must be met: the production of innovative content, especially supporting the production of local content; ensuring access to new media in order to reduce the digital divide; and ensuring the balanced representation of different cultures.