Lecture: The role of media in intercultural communication

Our Earth comprises a multinational community populated by many different ethnic groups. According to various estimates there are around three to four thousand ethnic groups in the world, and most countries are multinational.


Tolerance towards "the other"


As modern history shows, inter-ethnic understanding is not set in stone. Inter-ethnic relations represent a very complex and delicate sphere where a more fitting metaphor would be a garden that requires constant supervision and care. In our lecture we will talk about ethnic tolerance, understanding it as acceptance of the ethno-cultural characteristics of an ethnic foreigner. Ethnic tolerance is manifested in a society's tolerant attitude towards the “other”, “other” customs, rituals and etiquettes. Without this, cultural borrowings and contacts are impossible. At the same time, there is another type of human behaviour, namely intolerance of the “other”.

Preferring “one's own” to the “other” was a typical attitude in many pre-industrial societies, but also in societies in more recent history. As we know, the folklore of different peoples and countries reflects centuries-old experiences, including ethnic interaction. Among the proverbs and sayings of different peoples we find examples of a cautious and negative attitude towards the “other”: “an uninvited guest is worse than a Tatar” (Russian), “don’t go hunting with a foreigner, he will tie you to the saddle” (Kazakh), “you can talk to a Swede, but you can’t talk much to him” (Scandinavia), as well as an understanding that good and evil do not depend on ethnicity and that one should judge a person not according to the principle of “one's own”/“stranger”, but according to his personal qualities. “Don’t look at what the person is on the outside, rather look at what he has inside” (Uzbek).


The media´s important role  


Analysing the development of ethnic tolerance in the modern transforming world, characterised by the coexistence of many civilizations and cultures, we note the increased role of media in intercultural communication. The rapid development of the “digital revolution”, global television and the internet reveals just how enormous the role of the media is, and we can also see the variety of topical issues. The practical work in this field should be based on well-verified knowledge using the best domestic and foreign experiences. Western European and Russian researchers treat the theoretical issues of the role of the media in intercultural communication quite polyphonicly in their work. They focus on ethnic and religious diversity as the basis for stability and development in the modern multi-polar world (V.A. Tishkov), the media’s dialogical approach in forming an awareness of tolerance in society (I.M. Dzyaloshinsky) and the media’s ways and forms of dissemination of tolerant and conflictual ethnic information (V.K. Malkova). The Australian scientists C. White, M. Julie and P. Newcomber have studied the effects of globalisation and immigration policy on the processes of creating ethnically and culturally diverse societies. The works of the Norwegian researcher Gunn Bjomsen are also interesting here. She has studied how multi-nationality impacts journalists’ work, as well as how journalists understand their role in a multinational society. But, in spite of the internationalisation of scientific paradigms in contemporary research, it must be acknowledged that the concepts of a “multicultural society”, “intercultural communication” and “tolerance” are now raising more and more questions and thus giving serious cause to reflect on the mission and functions that the press has in modern society, as well as on the media´s position in diverse and transforming societies.

Intercultural communication means communication between representatives of different cultures, which implies both direct contact between people and indirect forms of communication (language, speech, media, electronic communication).

Multiculturalism is a policy aimed at preserving and developing the cultural differences in a specific country and in the world as a whole. Multiculturalism in contemporary Europe implies, first of all, that the cultural elements of the immigrants from developing countries are included in its cultural field. According to a number of foreign and Russian culturologists and sociologists, the very idea of multiculturalism as a policy in Europe has now reached a crisis point. Both the Prime Minister of Germany, and the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Angela Merkel and David Cameron respectively, have claimed that multiculturalism has failed. Tolerance is currently being actively discussed and written about in a plethora of special works. The famous philosopher V.A. Lectorsky formulates four understandings of tolerance: tolerance as indifference; tolerance as the impossibility of mutual understanding; tolerance as understanding the weaknesses of others; and fourth, understanding of tolerance – tolerance as an extension of one's own experience and a critical dialogue. The latter seems to be a productive approach when analysing the problem in question here.


How to preserve peace and understanding in societies at risk 


As modern history shows, the process of intercultural communication is taking place in a society at risk, and experts, politicians and the media are presently dealing with the question of how to deal with this risk and how to preserve peace and understanding in society.

Often associated with a religious factor, terrorism is a threat to society and a burning issue. The famous academic and futurist N. Moiseev once noted that the division line between peoples corresponds not so much with the borders of national territories as with the lines of religious delimitation. The religious factor is not just an external ideological stratum of an ethnic culture, it is also charged with a powerful energy that can either consolidate or dispel certain conflicts. The recent events in France have shown that religion is at the centre of events taking place in the modern information society. The tragedy that  befell the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo drew the public’s attention once again to the problems of media freedom and responsibility, and to media´s role in the intercultural dialogue.

There have been many discussions on recent events, but it is obvious that website creators, news agencies and publications that cover inter-ethnic topics should bear in mind that they play an important role in the portrayal of “the others” in their respective regions.

At the same time, due to the changes in the modern information space, “the forms and procedures of media self-regulation have become weaker, which has led to a decrease in the accountability of online media” (D. McQuail). This also in turn creates certain risks for modern society.

Various scientific centres, in particular the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, have been monitoring the media and continue to record such threats as “hate speech”, the distribution of low cultural standards in a region and incitement  to xenophobia. Ethnic crime, various forms of ethnic extremism and migrantophobia still represent the destructive aspects of the information policy of some media. Foreign studies of media´s role in intercultural communication also confirm that the consistent publication of negative articles has a cumulative effect and can have an impact on the readers´ assessments (S. White, (M. Julie, P. Newcomber).

The topic of the “others” that has recently become one of the most important themes in covering the processes connected to migration in the European countries and has become a concern for politicians and the general public alike, compels us to look at recent positive experiences as well. One such field of intercultural dialogue is found in multinational Russia, in particular the Volga Federal District.


Inter-ethnic dialogue in the Volga region


In one way, the Volga Federal District is a unique region: more than 140 peoples and ethnic groups live there. All faiths that are found in the Russian Federation are present there. Russian culture, the culture of the Turkic peoples and the Finno-Ugric world are closely interwoven. Here, the cultural and linguistic diversity of national minorities is protected by the state. Ethnic journalism is actively developing. Six per cent of all publications in the district are published in the 11 national languages of the national minorities inhabiting the Volga region. For example, one of the largest media holdings in the district, “Tatmedia”, issues its publications in the Tatar, Russian, Chuvash and Udmurt languages. Such publications as “Our Home – Tatarstan”, “Mariyskiy World” – “Mariy Sandalyk”, “Udmurt Dunne” are widely known not only in our country, but abroad as well. Publications for young people and children in the Volga Federal District are published in the languages of the national minorities, which is important for preserving their native languages. Journalists with different ethnic backgrounds work for leading television channels and news agencies.

The final resolution adopted at the International Conference (the Volga Forum): “Dialogue between Cultures and Interreligious Cooperation”, held within the framework of Russia's chairmanship in the Council of Europe in September 2006 in Nizhny Novgorod, pointed out that: “An example of effective cooperation that has evolved throughout history is the Volga Region, a region that has traditionally been distinguished by peaceful interaction between different ethnic and religious communities. Not only tolerance and intercultural dialogue, but also practical cooperation and joint actions have developed there over time. Mutual influence, joint actions and shared responsibility for regional stability characterise the historical example of the Volga region, which is an achievement of the Russian Federation and an example of a Europe without dividing lines. Such a high assessment from a very respectable community (the leaders of the Council of Europe, PACE, OSCE, representatives of the UN, UNESCO, the European Union, the federal authorities of the Russian Federation, the local authorities in the Russian Federation, authoritative international and Russian public figures, representatives of religious organizations, numerous foreign experts on the problems of tolerance, all participated in the Volga forum) was based on a deep analysis and study of inter-ethnic and inter-religious attitudes in the Volga region.

In concluding the lecture, I would like to point out that no matter how different the state structures and political and cultural traditions are, it is important for all nations and ethnic groups to encourage peace and tolerance. The media are called upon to contribute to the preservation of peace and understanding in our common house - the planet we call Earth.


Olga Savinova, Professor and Head of Department, Department of Journalism, Lobachevsky State University in Nizhny Novgorod (Russia)

An online manual on intercultural understanding, ethics and human rights to be used by teachers and students in journalism education. Read more.

Email : post@journalism-edu.org

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