Social Issues: Media & Diversity
From billboards to blogs, from radio to TV to hand-held smart phones, we are all bombarded with information. Moreover, with almost everyone (and indeed their mother) on social media in the Netherlands today, being media savvy about diversity is essential.
In fact, according to Emedus (European Media Literacy Education Study), the Netherlands leads Europe in digital media use. The study also advocates that whether you are consuming or creating it, striving to be an informed participant in the media is a responsibility everyone should share.
Such analysis of media is really about media literacy. Wikipedia’s definition of this is "a repertoire of competencies that enable people to analyse, evaluate and create messages in a wide variety of media modes, genres and formats."
Try this exercise
If you think current media is balanced, try a simple exercise like the following adapted from Discovery School.
› Choose an identity: race / gender / ethnicity / sexual orientation / religion / social class
› Choose a medium: TV show / Youtube video / billboard / webpage / commercial etc.
› Check the number of times each identity is portrayed
› Check the number of times each portrayal is a stereotype
If you did this, what did you find out?
Such exercises can be particularly enlightening when done in relation to children’s television shows. People are often astonished when they find that the predominate characters in children shows are male, for instance. Investigations like these often inform viewers that things may not be as balanced as they seem.
The actress Geena Davis has in fact created the Institute on Gender in Media and its programming arm, See Jane, to combat gender inequalities in every media and entertainment company. It uses cutting-edge research, education, training, strategic guidance and advocacy programmes to work for change.
It is worth taking a look at the video: Help Geena Davis End the Job Crisis (For Female Animated Characters) to see some current statistics.
Beyond performing exercises, various resources are available to examine the status of diversity in media specifically in the Netherlands. One online resource is Mira Media.
The organisation began in 1986, when seven national minority organisations, who were dissatisfied with the lack of attention to ethnic and cultural diversity in the media, founded the Stichting Omroep en Allochtonen (STOA) or broadcasting foundation and immigrants.
The organisations wanted to put an end to the inadequate supply of programmes for and by ethnic minorities in the Dutch public and commercial radio and television media.
Since 2001, the collective operates under the name Mira Media, a name chosen because in various languages "mira" means mirror or reflection. The name stands for the organisation’s commitment to ensure that the media in the Netherlands are an accurate reflection of society.
As an organisation they provide advice and guidance for media projects, training and workshops regarding media literacy, as well as doing research on the status of diversity in media.
Moreover they have an extensive archive regarding research on media and minorities. On average they publish research projects on varied topics four times a year.
Another media literacy resource is Mediacate, a centre founded in 2011. Their goal is to promote and support media literacy education, develop and refine critical thinking and critical analysis skills, and help people better understand how the "media works." They are also on Facebook.
Mediacate’s founders Egbert Alejandro Martina and Bel Parnell-Berry are part of the Cultural Embassy, located in the Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam. They have monthly meetings in which they discuss and analyse case studies and articles.
In each meeting they read a selection of (academic) articles and analyse how current events are reported. They encourage participants to do further research; reminding participants that even they, as organisers, have a specific outlook on the world and that those choices count. No one should uncritically accept what is presented.
Egbert points out that, "At the end of the day it's all about what choices people make: what kind of information has been chosen to be included, what kind of information was left out?" The group reads three to four articles every month and an equal number of case studies.
Interview: Egbert Alejandro Martina
What are the top 10 things to keep in mind to help keep media balanced?
Well, I would say that the first thing media producers should be aware of is that they produce media from a certain position, which greatly influences their take on any given story.
Another thing to help keep media balanced is diversity in perspectives. I think it's a very difficult challenge to keep media balanced; often media producers simply lack information, understanding, time and resources in order to produce a balanced story.
We, as media consumers, should be aware of these constraints placed on media production and learn to be savvy consumers of media.
One thing I always tell folks is that you should diversify your media in-take. Don't just read one media platform, read several, from different points of view, and make up your own mind.
What are the relative roles of minority-focused and mainstream media in reflecting and promoting Dutch multiculturalism?
That's a hard question to answer. The concept of "Dutch multiculturalism" is very problematic.
Dr. Sunera Thobani captures the pitfalls of multiculturalism very well in a lecture she gave. She argues that multiculturalism has displaced anti-racism and upholds white supremacy.
To be honest, I don't believe the roles differ so much, because of the dynamic that Dr. Sunera Thobani exposes. Both minority-focused and mainstream media operate from the same colour-blind, non-racist belief that serves the dominant discourse.
The only difference, I should say the noticeable difference, is often purely aesthetic: minority-focused media produce programmes that cater to a specific demographic.
Ironically, they might not differ much from mainstream media ideologically.
What are the benefits in making sure one’s media is diverse?
One of the major benefits is that one is better informed. It's good to read articles that challenge one's worldviews, or go against one’s notions.
It forces one to think critically about one's own position regarding a certain topic, and it might motivate one to go and search for information. When you are forced to think about a topic (to really explain an issue without rehashing sound bites) your thought process slows down and you're forced to examine your arguments, etc.
All of this should make you more careful when expressing an opinion. It's a cliché but there are, indeed, various sides to a story, and the more diverse one's media intake is, the better one might understand complex issues.
What are the roles and responsibilities of a person wishing to manage diversity in media?
If one only thinks about the amount of people of colour in mainstream media as "managing diversity" then we have a problem.
I think one of the most important things is to realise that representations exert a lot of power. Representations matter. The responsibility of a person in charge of the diversity policy is first and foremost to the communities that "represent diversity," that is communities that deviate from the "norm."
What I would like to see in media are honest representations, not just merely positive representations to counter the negative images, but honest, true, human depictions of people of colour. I want to see my humanity reflected.
None of us are perfect beings, nor one-dimensional characters. I want to see the richness we all possess reflected.
I also want to see (trans*) women and men of colour talk about politics, economics, etc. and not just about stuff that "affects our communities."
So the next time you are either producing or consuming media, think about the impact it has on your community and that of other communities as well. If you are unsure what to do about diversity management in the media you produce, use the resources mentioned in this article. Additionally resources can be found at:
› Sociological Images
Please feel free to add relevant links to the comments section of the article that may help readers. Sharing resources is the best way that internationals can help support each other.
Many thanks to Egbert Alejandro Martina for providing his time and expertise to help with this article.
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