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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


BORNMAN, Elirea. The state, diversity and the media: Some notes on the situation in South Africa. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.4-1, pp.683-700. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article deals with the controversial role of the media in diverse societies. Since the development of the mass media, the way we see ourselves and the way others see us, are no longer merely determined by interpersonal interaction and communication within closed communities. It has also become a product of complex media production processes by distant media conglomerates which do not necessarily form part of communities. This also applies to the cultural domain and our relationships with those who differ from us. Cultural diversity and issues related to homogeneity and heterogeneity only gain significance within a particular shared context which is the state nowadays. The article consequently focuses on various viewpoints on the nature of the state; the relationships between the people living within the borders of a particular state - the so-called nation - and the role of the media in dealing with diversity. Three different viewpoints of the state are discussed. In the first - the primordial state - nationhood and statehood almost naturally flow from socio-biological and/or cultural similarities. Therefore, the formation of a unitary nation precedes the formation of the state. The role of the media is to reflect and communicate the will of the nation and to make communication between its members possible. This form of state and nationhood does not make provision for differences. People who do not share the socio-biological and/or cultural characteristics of the nation are excluded. Although this form of statehood appears to be logical and natural, the political consequences are unacceptable. In contrast to the primordial viewpoint of the nation, the modernist paradigm views the state as a unique type of social organisation associated with modernity, industrialisation, capitalism and the development of modern transport, communication and media systems. Whereas unity precedes the primordial state, unity and an overarching national identity have to be created consciously in the modernist or civil state. The idea of the imagined community is one of the most important theories in this regard. In the nation of the civil state, citizens never see or interact with most of their co-citizens. Nation-building through homogenisation and universalisation are therefore regarded as essential to form a united nation and an overarching national identity. The aims of nation-building are to create a common political culture to which all citizens should adhere. A common and standard language and the media play a key role in these processes. It is believed that a standard language enables communication with and among citizens and ensures the effective functioning of the state. The media, apart from making communication in the territorially dispersed imagined community possible, need to create myths and narratives to create and unify the imagined community. Citizens who resist assimilation with the dominant political culture remain a thorn in the flesh of the civil state since this form of statehood does not make provision for diversity. Most civil states in the world have been heterogeneous due to the incorporation of smaller groups. Processes of globalisation, the need to form transnational relations and concomitant flows of migrants have made it increasingly difficult for civil states to deal with diversity. A new form of state - the multicultural state - has emerged to address this problem. Three principles of the multicultural state are distinguished: firstly, the state belongs to all its citizens and not only to dominant majority groups; secondly, assimilatory nation-building is rejected and the culture and historical legacies of all groups are recognised and accommodated; and, thirdly, the state takes affirmative steps to rectify any damage done to the language and culture of any group due to discrimination. Analysts believe that the role of the media has to change in order to reflect the diverse faces of nations. Whereas their role has been well established in primordial and civil states, the media has a more difficult and often controversial role in multicultural societies. Some aspects of this role are discussed. Firstly, the media need to steer clear of the idea of one nation, one culture. They need to remind people that they live in a diverse society and help them to understand how diversity influences their lives and society. Furthermore, the media need to foster empathy for the cultural Other. Attention should, in particular, be given to distorted and stereotypical representations of other cultural groups. This is easier said than done since representations are formed not only by the media, but also by interpersonal and intergroup communication. However, the media need to propose alternative representations in the case of negative and/or stereotypical representations. The media further need to look at how ingroup identities are reflected. Instead of an essentialist regime harbouring rigid definitions of ingroup identities, radical openness and an awareness of ingroup diversity are proposed. In the end, societal diversity should not only be acknowledged, but also be respected and fostered. Intercultural dialogue and robust debate on controversial issues should also be promoted. In the last section, the situation in Africa and South Africa in particular is discussed. The populations of most African states are exceptionally heterogeneous owing to the arbitrary borders drawn by former colonial powers. In their quest to build modern states and to deal with societal diversity, the unitary civil state and nation-building have been the choice of most African leaders. Although the results of this approach have been disastrous elsewhere in Africa, South Africa has also been following the path of nation-building since the advent of a democratic dispensation. The media have, to a large extent, supported nation-building initiatives. The article ends with a critical reflection of the role of the South African media and their failure to deal with many controversies associated with heterogeneity and cultural diversity in South Africa.

Keywords : Diversity; cultural differences; media; multiculturalism; nation building.

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