Why diversity in media matters

Pilar Kaltzada reflects on why diversity in media matters

News / 31.10.18

In dark times of economic downturn, conflict, climate change, poverty and inequality, people need hope and journalism has the potential to provide it. Stories told with style – as well as respecting press freedom and diversity – can help people better understand the complex world in which we live.

There is an ever greater need for journalism to break down walls of prejudice and ignorance, and to regulate some of our undemocratic tendencies. This is not an easy task in the age of the Internet and globalisation.

Media actors are currently bewildered. Converging technologies have changed the way journalists work, and previously profitable market models no longer deliver rich returns. Employers are cutting back on costs, creating precarious jobs where high standards of journalism are increasingly difficult to achieve.

Media is also a loudspeaker that magnifies power relations, and it can either reinforce or expose those who have political and social power. Diversity in the media is, more than a matter of professional ethics, a matter of questioning that given power.

Diversity in media matters because it brings attention to an otherwise underrepresented community and gives a voice to the otherwise voiceless.

By failing to reflect the diversified structures of societies and by fueling misrepresentations of “others”, media outlets feed the social distance that already separates different groups.

When a given minority or disadvantaged group is portrayed in the media in a positive light, stereotypes can be dismantled, and this is especially important for younger generations who are more directly exposed to this.

Photos from the 2018 summer school on national minorities and border regions, co-organised by Coppieters Foundation and ECMI, where Pilar Kaltzada delivered her presentation on diversity and media.

Can diversity in media be measured?

In one of the most frequently cited classifications, Philip Napoli makes the basic distinction between diversity in structure, content and exposure.

Structural diversity reflects the media policy goal of promoting a diverse range of information sources or content providers. This includes questions of media ownership, the number of outlets on the market, and various other dimensions of organizational or economic structures (e.g. public, private, non-profit media). A variety of organizational factors, such as editorial, management and recruitment policies, as well as newsroom cultures, also clearly impact diversity.

Content diversity refers to diversity of ideas, viewpoints or content options. Here a distinction is often made between external diversity, which refers to diversity across media outlets, and internal diversity, which refers to the diversity of perspectives within one media organization.

Content diversity is difficult to measure in a straight-forward manner, but it can involve, for example, measuring the space given to different issues, or the representation of gender, minorities, or any other dimension. More elaborate measures have also been developed to evaluate, for instance, the ideological diversity that can contribute to make news more “multi-perspectival”.

The third category is related to the role of journalism in democracy. It is about providing a choice to consumers, but also promoting exposure and dialogue between conflicting viewpoints.

It has been suggested that greater choice, the influence of selective exposure, and “filter bubbles”, may actually narrow the range of sources to which people are exposed. Audiences are increasingly exposed only to a narrow spectrum of issues and perspectives, in effect reinforcing rather than challenging their own personal prejudices.

We can’t do everything, but we can do a lot

I strongly believe that diversity is a driving force that will improve innovation, social cohesion and welfare in modern societies. I strongly believe that our responsibility as professionals relies on our capacity to find new ways of embedding the first principles of journalism in the culture of modern media.

Put simply these are:

  • Truth telling — an addiction to factual accuracy, checking and rechecking; the skill of anticipating the possibility of error; establishing authenticity through questioning; being ready to admit and correct mistakes; recognizing that underlying truths can only be revealed by rigorous research, in-depth interviews and a good understanding of the issues.
  • Independence and fairness — stories that are complete, without suppression of significant facts; striving to avoid bias; rejecting pejorative terms; allowing space for valid and reasonable disagreement; no surrender to the seductive influence of commercial or political interests.
  • Humanity and solidarity — doing no direct, intentional damage to others; minimizing harm; being open- minded and thoughtful; having due regard for the rights of the public and the moral quality of journalism itself.

Journalists need to navigate with care around lack of diversity to avoid stirring up intolerance, and to report fairly the mosaic of languages, religion, cultures and different historical perspectives that shape modern society.

The need for journalism to provide balanced, inclusive and informed coverage has never been more important.

Pilar Kaltzada is a journalist, communication consultant, a member of the board of directors of the Berria newspaper, and a board member of Save the Children Spain.

This is an abridged speech delivered by Pilar Kaltzada at our “Summer school of National Minorities and Border Regions“, co-organised with the European Centre for Minority Issues.


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This summer school is a joint initiative of the European Centre for Minority Issues and Coppieters Foundation.

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This conference is financially supported by the European Parliament. The European Parliament is not liable for the content of the conference or the opinions of the speakers.

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