Leading the global media conversation

(Edmonton) Media scholars and practitioners working with minority media organizations across the country and around the world began meeting at the University of Alberta May 10 for a three-day conference entitled Media and Media Practices in Minority and Competitive Contexts: From Local to Global.

About 50 participants have come from places as diverse as Switzerland, South Africa, Albania and Qatar to discuss issues relating to the functioning of minority media organizations. The conference comes at a time when there’s need for intercultural communication, especially considering increases in migration, says U of A researcher Elisabeth Le, one of the organizers of the event.

“This is important all over the world because migration around the world is not going to stop, it’s going to continue,” she said. “Cultural diversity is a richness but sometimes it’s taken as a threat; with media we can try to help people connect more and see what cultural diversity brings us.”

Do minority media have a major role?

Le says despite the need, there are very few studies or similar efforts in the world directed at addressing the place of minority media in societies, especially in North America. But this conference, which highlights the U of A’s commitment to fostering national and international research collaborations that contribute toward developing stronger societies, will help find practical solutions that minority media organizations worldwide can use as they help build stronger civic societies.

“With media, we have the ability to communicate with people outside our circles. And it is with those connections that we build societies. So media play an extremely important role, not just in a homogenous society but practically in a multicultural society. In the last few years we’ve seen many extremes. We’re starting an international network to work on these issues,” Le said.

Historically, some minority media organizations developed in response to meeting cultural needs, such as languages, of people who migrate to other countries. But very little is known now about how these organizations work, Le says.

Should they, for example, try to preserve cultural identities such as language, link minority communities and the rest of society, or work to integrate immigrants into mainstream societies, she asks.

“Very little is known about the role of minority media despite the important civic role they can play,” Le said. “Few studies have been conducted on the topic of media in the minority context. In today’s plurilingual and multicultural societies, their role in the functioning of democracy and in the construction of minorities’ cultural identities is crucial.”

Building community at all levels

Lesley Cormack, dean of the Faculty of Arts, told delegates, including a representative from UNESCO, that the U of A is acutely aware of the importance of responding to such needs in the 21st century.

“One of the things we’re very proud about in the Faculty of Arts here is that, unlike many North American universities, we have held onto the teaching of languages. We still teach 22 languages at the U of A. This is not the case at many universities anymore,” Cormack said. “And it shows not that we’re just holding onto some sad relic of a former time of glory, but that we’re forward-looking enough to understand that although English has become a world language, we’re living in a deeply international and intercultural global world. And only those who understand how to communicate and be sensitive to the mindset, the values and the history of those other worlds will succeed. Taking seriously minority media is a necessary and important part of that conversation.”  

Le says this effort is an example of the U of A’s commitment to helping building a better world.  “And we’re doing so at different levels; it could be within the city, the province, the country or within the world,” she said.

“When we do research, we try to get new knowledge, and especially in our faculty, it’s based on social needs; so what we’re doing is helping societies. The social need is the diversity of each country in the world and the necessity of everybody contributing towards community.”

Le says she and her colleagues in modern languages and cultural studies, professors Sathya Rao and Christian Reyns, hope that deliberations from the three-day meeting will help practitioners do their work.

“At the end of the conference there will be recommendations on what works and what doesn’t. Some practitioners may learn how the theory can help their practice, for example,” Le said. “We would also like to decide on the leading questions that academics and practitioners should begin to work on, so that media in minority contexts can work better in peaceful, democratic, multicultural societies.”