Promoting cultural inclusion and diversity using media

The media has a role in promoting cultural diversity through multilingualism, giving a place for different groups of people to feel seen.

That is the view of Dr Lyton Ncube, a media and society studies lecturer from Midlands State University in Zimbabwe.

He said the media should resemble an “inclusive public sphere” which represents everyone regardless of their background.

International Mother Language Day, which is observed on February 21 every year is a way to recognise the importance of the diversity of language.

In South Africa, the whole of February is observed as Language Activism Month to encourage South Africans to speak local languages and to promote a multilingual society.

Linguistic diversity is under threat, according to UNESCO where “globally, 40 percent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand”.

“From a broader social-democratic perspective, the history of the media in Africa is entrenched in the continent's colonial struggles,” said Ncube.

Africa’s French and British-dominated colonial history is reflected in the number of countries which have adopted these two languages as official languages.

However, online editor for Malawian broadcaster Rainbow Television, George Mhango, said the media must not forget those who do not speak popular languages.

“We need to understand that not everyone has gone to school so not everyone understands or speaks English,” he said.

Rainbow Television broadcasts in both English and Chewa and Mhango said broadcasting in an indigenous language helps people feel closer and connected to their news sources.

“People appreciate you more because it is in terminology which they understand,” Mhango said.

Mhango said Rainbow Television Malawi’s online presence has helped the broadcaster reach audiences outside of Malawi such as Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.

“Weather patterns in [southern Africa] are almost the same. You can spread hope to traders and farmers as well as inform them about politics and events in a way and language which they understand,” Mhango said.

World Bank Data data says that the majority of sub-Saharan Africans still live in rural areas, where many people primarily speak indigenous languages.

Radio is the most dominant source of information, education, and entertainment in rural areas because it is the least expensive mass medium in Africa, according to an Africa Renewal article. It adds that "there is one radio receiver for every five people".

“Broadcasting in African languages [...] will assist in promoting African languages and 'culture',” Ncube said.

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