The seventh and last Brussels Debate in the framework of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008 was held on Wednesday evening and focused on the contribution of media to a diverse and open society in Europe.
Traditional, as well as new media have a tremendous impact on how people interact with each other. This especially applies to the fight against intolerance and racism.
During the debate, journalists, representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament came together with the public to share their thoughts on how media can contribute to fostering intercultural dialogue.
Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, pointed out the importance of the media, particularly new media, in spreading the news about cultural diversity. "Media has been an intercultural dialogue tool from the very beginning, even before the Internet era" said Ms. Reding. "New technologies are a great opportunity to seize. Due to interactive media, we can now overcome geographical and financial barriers and share our culture with others from all over the world", continued the Commissioner.
Ms. Reding also presented some of the projects that the European Commission has initiated in this field, such as Europeana, a European digital library bringing together national libraries, museums and film archives, which provides the general public with direct access to our cultural heritage. Another example is the MEDIA program, which provides training for European audiovisual professionals, as well as cross-border promotion and distribution of European films. MEDIA International expands this project to non-EU countries.
The news media was the focus of Bettina Peters, Director of the Global Forum for Media Development. She gave examples of media campaigns in Italy, the UK or Germany targeted against minorities and immigrant communities, perpetrating stereotypes about them. Self-regulation and active monitoring can help improve minority coverage in the traditional media.
The "Ethical journalist initiative" is one of the programs aimed at raising awareness among journalists regarding the challenges in reporting today's complex world.
Forward Maisokwadzo from the Exiled Journalists´ Network went even further. There are already programmes that prove that this approach works in terms of fighting intolerance and prejudices but "the whole debate has to go far beyond that". "You can´t write a story without people," said Mr. Maisokwadzo.
He suggested putting more efforts into bringing together editors and publishers with journalists and other people from migrant and minority communities, in order to push for more content diversity in the media. On the other hand, the media's internal structure itself needs more diversity in order to truly represent the public it is addressing. The public has its own share of responsibility, through sharing their stories and challenging erroneous or hostile reporting.
In her speech summing up the debate, MEP Christa Prets underlined that while digital media means more access to information, it also makes more important the acquisition of media literacy skills. We need tools to differentiate between important and unimportant content, especially in this age of an overwhelming flood of information. According to Ms Prets, "People need to have access to technology, to understand how stories become news and to be able to create their own content". She also pointed out that media literacy skills should be part of the curriculum in every school, and that teachers as well as journalists should be educated in order to be able to educate others in the use of media.
All speakers agreed on the importance of journalists and the media in contributing to the fight against intolerance, while avoiding the traps of racism and nationalism. As Shada Islam, the moderator for the evening's debate, concluded mentioning the notion of citizen journalism, "We all are responsible for the quality of the media".