UNESCO’s report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development was the focus of a lively discussion at the annual conference of the International Association of Media and Communication Research, held in Oregon, USA, last week. Six academics from six countries compared the report’s global trends to those in their localities. They also gave insight into what trends might be expected to intensify over the coming five years.
Dr. Manisha Pathak-Shelat, Professor of Communication and Chair, Centre for Communication Management and Development, MICA was invited to participate in the expert panel that debated the report. Dr. Pathak-Shelat’s contribution focused on the aspect of pluralism.
Dr. Pathak- Shelat is the vice-chair of the media education research section IAMCR (International Association of Media and Communication Research) which is one of the most well-known, largest, and active professional bodies in the field
Comparing the trends in India with the global trends she pointed out how the affordable rate of data has caused a sudden jump in the number of dedicated smartphone/Internet users that were conventionally not seen as probable content consumers in India. The non-English speaking consumer is likely to represent nearly ¾ the country’s Internet user base by 2021. She observed that as a result, India is seeing more and more content, especially Net based content, being produced in regional languages. Content in the areas such as health, financial literacy, rights and laws etc. however, has yet to match the pluralism in entertainment content. She also observed that a lot of new, vibrant, and diverse content in diverse genres is being produced across media platforms, and especially on the Net, in India. A lot more content by and about feminist, queer, and Dalit communities are observed. The question, however, remains if the mainstream audiences are consuming this diverse and critical content. In that sense filter bubbles and Echo chambers very much exist and in fact, are getting more and more dense.
Prof. Pathak-Shelat argued that unless we make conscious efforts at balanced multi-perspective reporting in media, pluralism will suffer. To ensure true pluralism we have to widen audiences for marginalized content and encourage communication across cultures and ideologies. She recommended media and information literacy for all different sectors such as the media producers, journalists and content creators, corporates and governments who control media, and audiences.
She advocated that our education must go beyond teaching marketable skills to include public sphere participation, civic engagement, agonistic deliberation, geo-political and historical literacy, social sensitivity, these are very important 21st century skills that can easily get side-tracked when our focus is only on labour market skills and economic gains.
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