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THE LAST STEPS OF THE EUROPEAN YEAR OF INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE: THE SEVENTH BRUSSELS DEBATE FOCUSES ON MEDIA AND INTOLERANCE

pdf mise en ligne :01 12 2008 ( NEA say… n° 57 )

IMMIGRATION > Protection de la santé

The seventh and last Brussels Debate took place on Wednesday 5 November in the frame of the prestigious press centre in the Résidence Palace in the EU district. The speakers concentrated on the role of the media in combating intolerance throughout the continent. What the European institutions and the Member States are doing to that aim? How much european media system takes care of ethical issues and how much does it fulfil the commitment to recognize and emphasize the diversity?

                       The European Year of Intercultural Dialogue

  The European Year of Intercultural Dialogue is next to its end (see the decision of the European Parliament and the Council of the 18 December 2006 establishing the EYID EN FR). An endless series of initiatives have been carried out during 2008. Since March every month it has been held one of the seven Brussels Debates almost always in one of the first days of each month (July and August excepted). The themes varied from migration problematic or inter-religious dialogue to multilingualism and educational issues (see the complete list of the debates and related speakers EN FR ). The first Debate had as special guest Franco Frattini, ex vice-president of the Commission and responsible for justice, freedom and security. The slogan was "No immigration without integration" in line with the current EU policy in the field of immigration. The first Brussels Debate had a large success and aroused great interest into the public and into the european press. The following Debates had the same resonance and they were considered a great occasion for discussing about european issues with the civil society at the presence of the european and national press. The debates were chaired by Shada Islam, a Brussels-based journalist specializing in EU foreign and development policies as well as immigration and anti-discrimination issues and Senior Programme Executive at the European Policy Centre. She is also a contributor to the BBC. Each debate lasted about one hour and included a question session with the audience. Intended for an audience made up of journalists and stakeholders in the field of intercultural dialogue, the Brussels Debates were opened to students and scholars interested in this area.

 

 

                       Talking Our Way Out of Trouble

  "Talking Our Way Out of Trouble: How Media Debate Can Combat Intolerance". This is the title of the seventh Brussels Debate (see background paper) held on 5 November  by high-qualified speakers who are personalities of european institutions and networks  such as Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Christa Prets (Member of European Parliament), Bettina Peters ( Director of the Global Forum for Media Development- GFMD) and Forward Maisokwadzo (Coordinator of the Exiled Journalist Network - EJN). The event was organized by the Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Shada Islam stressed the fact that nowadays we live in a complicated system and the work of the journalists is becoming even more difficult. Ethical journalism and the exchange of best practices should be the way to implement the integrative function of journalism.

  Commissioner Viviane Reding displayed the initiatives taken by the Commission in the field of media commitment to encourage integration and intercultural dialogue. First of all the Commission is striving to support multilingualism (it is enough to mention the establishment  of an apposite Commissioner in the present Commission). On the side of the education to tolerance and respect it must be quoted the promotion of educational games for the kids in order to inculcate these values into european citizens since the period of their childhood. This will influence them for the entire duration of their life. A culture of tolerance and the propensity to dialogue and interaction with "the other" are achievements that we learn gradually and especially if we are stimulated towards them. The political system, whatever it is, european or national, has the burden of orientating (without manipulating) citizens' behaviour and to put them in the conditions of effectively respect the diversity of cultures, customs and national heritages. Viviane Reding quoted Bertold Brecht who considered the radio as "…the finest information apparatus bringing  people into relations instead of isolating". "Brecht dreamt about interactivity, now we have it" as Reding emphasized.

  Another important initiative of the EU in intercultural dialogue field is out of doubt the so called "European Cinema", a film festival hosted every year in a different european city which allows european citizens get familiar with the cinematography of other countries. It is only in this way that citizens know other cultures and literatures. Commissioner Reding is from Luxembourg and she stressed the fact that even a small country such as Luxembourg has its own culture, language and literature the existence of which is neglected by the majority of the Europeans. That's the truth. The only way to make it be known by the large public passes through EU initiatives. The media have the task to include in their scheduling a particular and regular attention to the other cultures.

 

               EUROPEANA, connecting cultural heritage

   A similar initiative is the EUROPEANA project. EUROPEANA will be a huge european digital library that will gather digitalized books, newpapers, films and musical files from all over the continent. EUROPEANA will be available -Mrs Reding underlines it with a certain pride- in the very next weeks, on 20 November (learn more about Europeana). The point is: knowing each-other's culture is the starting point for dialogue and tolerance. Ignorance is quite often the cause of intolerance.

 

                  Media and intolerance

  The other speakers faced the problems of intolerance against Roma people and the false images broadcasted by media. Forward Maisokwadzo, in this regard, has brought as banal but representative example the image of some Somalians eating a donkey in a barbeque; a deceptive image which is false and tries to depict a people in a way which doesn't represent it. We should be defended from this media bombardment of false representations which aims to create specific (false) images in public's minds. An important role is due to the citizens themselves who should filter information in order to carefully evaluate the reliability of the broadcasted information. On the other hand it is quite difficult to tell true information from false one, notably in the case of a children audience. How to distinguish serious and scrupulous information from rubbish? This is exactly what Christa Prets wonders. She warns "…media can manipulate people for example for nationalism aims". It is difficult to defend oneself. The politics should lobby media and media organizations in order to grant the respect of diversity and the promotion of interaction. Surely, as stressed during the debate, the new technologies could be the basis of a platform for discussion and for enhancing the integration; it is enough to think about the increasing blogging phenomenon which allows rapid exchanges of points of view between very far (geographically and culturally speaking) people through a simple and easily accessible instrument such as internet which is already wide-spread over Europe.

 

 

 

Fabio Putortì

Università degli Studi di Firenze (Italy)