The term migrant community media, also known as ethnic or diasporic media, refers to the print, broadcast, and Internet-based operations of ethnic minorities. They have emerged in recent decades as a significant category of global media. Previously, such media operated by minority groups in various countries were treated as being of minor academic interest. For a long time, migrant community media were usually underfunded and marginal to the mediascapes of most countries. However, ethnic media operated by community groups have increasingly become channels for transnational media flows. Their relative prominence has come about due to a combination of factors, including the growing wealth of minority communities, the rising acknowledgment of ethnic media among host societies, and the increasing technological possibilities for “narrowcasting.”
Migrant community media are no longer confined within borders of nations but have transnational audiences. The dispersed nature of diasporic settlements within countries and across continents has spurred them to adopt cutting-edge media technologies in order to develop links among themselves. Live or same-day programming is available from the homeland for its diasporas living around the world. Migrants who previously lived in the same neighborhood are also able to reassemble in cyberspace. But whereas the new technologies are becoming prevalent around the planet, diasporic individuals living in developing countries have less access to them than their fellows in the west. The growing corporatization of what were previously community-run ethnic media is also increasingly leading to the commercialization of diasporic media content. Nevertheless, diasporic media do provide an alternative to the longstanding western dominance of international media flows.
Types Of Media For Migrant Communities
The mass media, which usually look to serve the largest demographic groups, tend to exclude the cultural expressions of the smaller ones. This is often the reason why migrant groups establish distinct media organs to serve their members. These ethnic media are viewed as serving two primary purposes – they contribute to cultural maintenance and ethnic cohesion, and they help members of minorities integrate into the larger society (Riggins 1992; Husband 1994; Browne 2005).
Newspapers are the most common form of migrant media. There are hundreds of ethnic newspapers in countries around the world. They usually tend to be in the language of the group that produces and consumes them, but some are also published in the language of the country of settlement. There are large variations in the form, quality, and frequency among ethnic newspapers. Some are well-staffed, established dailies that compete with mainstream papers; these print media usually have full-scale production facilities and strong advertising revenues. Others may be very small outfits run by enthusiastic individuals out of their homes – such ventures tend to have fairly irregular production cycles and do not have a long life. They appear and disappear quickly, only to be replaced by other similarly short-lived publications.
The usually tight regulation of broadcasting by governments has historically made it more difficult for migrant groups to disseminate radio and television programming. When ethnic broadcasters manage to obtain small time slots on the schedules of existing stations, they are often at the most inconvenient times for their potential audiences. “Vernacular services” of government broadcasters in Africa have allowed for some inclusion of migrant programming. In the UK, Channel 4’s public service remit includes the dissemination of programming which appeals to a culturally diverse society. In Canada and the USA, community and campus stations have historically proved to be more accommodating, but ethnic minorities are also making inroads into commercial broadcasting. Certain governments have taken strong initiatives to ensure the presence of the cultures of minorities on the airwaves. The Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission has been steered toward facilitating the development of radio and television programming for minority communities. It has developed an ethnic broadcasting policy, which specifies the conditions under which the dissemination of ethnic and multilingual programming can be carried out. In Australia, radio, television, and Internet content is distributed by the publicly owned Special Broadcasting Services in some 70 languages. The largest Spanish-language US television network has hundreds of affiliates and is available to the vast majority of Hispanic households in the United States. In a time of fragmenting audiences, niche marketers in an increasing number of countries look upon advertising on minority-ethnic electronic media as a way to reach growing minority populations. Dávila (2001) has conducted a critical examination of these developments for the US Latino population.
The Opportunities Of New Technology
The relatively small and widely scattered nature of migrant communities has encouraged diasporic media to seek out the most efficient and cost-effective means of communication. Technologies that allow for narrowcasting to target specific audiences rather than those that provide the means for mass communications have generally been favored. Minorityethnic media have frequently been at the leading edge of technology adoption due to the particular challenges they face in reaching their audiences.
Digital broadcasting satellites are providing remarkable opportunities for diasporic communities. Ethnic broadcasters, previously having limited access to space on the electromagnetic spectrum in northern countries, are finding much greater options opening up for them through digital broadcasting satellites. For example, France’s main broadcast authority, the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, was actively encouraged by a center-right government to exclude Arabic stations from licensed cable networks in the 1990s. The response of a significant number of Maghrebi immigrant families was to subscribe to digital broadcasting satellite services, which provided them programming from North African countries from across the Mediterranean Sea (Hargreaves & Mahdjoub 1997).
Diasporic programming using this technology has grown exponentially in the past decade, well ahead of many mainstream broadcasters. Even as mainstream networks in Europe were making plans to introduce digital broadcasting, the Arab-owned and operated Orbit TV in Rome had begun by 1994 to provide extensive programming via digital broadcasting satellites to Arab communities in Europe and the Middle East. Med TV, a Kurdish satellite television station, is a case of a diaspora within and without the divided homeland attempting to sustain itself and to counter violent suppression with the use of communications technology (Hassanpour 2003). In examples of “reverse flow” of programming to home countries, Univisión and Telemundo, the two largest Spanish-language networks in the US, have been more successful than mainstream US media in exporting programming to Central and South America. Strong Indian diasporic subscriber bases exist for competing channels carrying material from “Bollywood.” Cable and satellite television services in northern countries have realized the viability of ethnic channels and are making them an integral part of their offerings.
Internet And Online Media
Internet-based media, which are able to support ongoing communication in the widely separated transnational groups, seem especially suited to the needs of diasporic communities. In contrast to broadcasting’s highly regulated, linear, and capital-intensive characteristics, the decentralized, interactive, relatively inexpensive, and easy to operate online networks prove attractive to migrant communities. In addition to extensively using online media like email, usenet, listserv, and the world wide web, diasporic groups are also publishing content in offline digital media such as CD-ROMs. The contents of diasporic electronic communications largely consist of cultural, heritage, genealogical, religious, and institutional information. Recent migrants separated from family and friends are placing notices on newsgroups giving particulars of individuals with whom they want to re-establish contact or to search for marriage partners. A number of web sites have established global directories of community members that include categorization under alumni of colleges, professionals, and businesses. The medical necessity to find human marrow donors from one’s own ethnic group for the treatment of more than 60 blood-related diseases has extended these searches into cyberspace.
In facilitating global accessibility to Asian, Latin American, and African views of the world, community online networks provide a small but important counterweight to the enormous production and export capacities of the cultural industries of developed countries. This becomes a way to mitigate the effects of cultural imperialism and to foster worldwide cultural diversity. A primary motivation for migrant communities to go online seems to be survival in the face of the overwhelming output of the dominant culture and the limitations of immigrants’ access to the cultural industries in their countries of settlement. Isolated members of diasporas who are using online media can participate to some extent in cultural production rather than merely consume media content. Information about reunions, festivals, and worldwide locations of community institutions facilitate the physical gathering of diasporic individuals. Current events and new publications of materials relating to the transnational group are regularly discussed in online news groups. Diasporas are increasingly turning to blogs (web logs) to engage in discussion with each other on contemporary political and cultural issues. Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are also providing for diasporic community members to interact with each other.
The global dispersion from the home country over a period of several generations is seemingly reversed by bringing together disparate members of the ethnic group to interact in an electronic chatroom. For example, Sindhis, a South Asian ethnic group whose members were dispersed by the partition of colonial India and by migration patterns outside the subcontinent, and white settlers who remained in Zimbabwe after independence and those who emigrated, have sought to recreate their community electronically. A website operated from Germany provided extensive hypertext links to Iranian universities, research organizations, information resources, cultural industries, literature, art collections, media, sports groups, businesses, political and religious organizations, government agencies, discussion groups, and individuals, located inside and outside Iran. Cooperative arrangements between students and professionals of recent Chinese origins working in high technology sectors in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom have led to the emergence of online magazines that express their particular concerns. These new arrivals feel that their information needs are not met by the content of the thriving print and broadcast Chinese ethnic media, which is produced largely by older groups of immigrants from China. The restrictions of national borders therefore appear to be partially overcome in this alternative form of globalization.
A number of diasporic websites are designed to correct what are considered misperceptions by outsiders and to mobilize external political support. Several groups also use online media to challenge hate propaganda and to carry out polemics against other websites. Some anti-government organizations have taken even more strong action with the use of electronic technology. One Tamil group electronically disabled the websites of several Sri Lankan embassies that it viewed as disseminating propaganda. The speed of simultaneous, worldwide demonstrations in March 1999 by Kurdish protestors, who reacted immediately to the capture of a guerrilla leader by Turkish forces, was enabled through the Internet links maintained by that global community.
However, the ability of global communities to maintain and extend effective electronic links began to be affected by the controls that governments started to exert ever more intrusively over online networks, especially post-9/11. Additionally, as national borders came to be sealed more tightly in order to prevent terrorism and to allay political hostility to undocumented migration, transnational communication became increasingly difficult for migrants.
The extensive presence of the communications conglomerates that were increasingly buying up diasporic print and broadcast media, and the growing commercialization of online media were also having an effect on the kinds of material they carried. Whereas the improvements in infrastructure and software may have benefited transnational groups, commercial priorities risked overwhelming community considerations in the organization of communication networks and in the production and distribution of content. Participation by members of global diasporas in communication networks is far from equal. Migrant communities living in wealthier parts of the world have considerably more access to media technologies than their counterparts in developing countries.
Nevertheless, it is clear that diasporic connections have become integral to the networks of transnational communication. Even as diasporic media are piggybacking on the communications infrastructures established and maintained by states and corporations, they are also engaging in the further development of the means of global communications.
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- Dávila, A. (2001). Latinos Inc.: The marketing and making of a people. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
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- Hassanpour, A. (2003). Diaspora, homeland and communication technologies. In K. H. Karim (ed.), The media of diaspora. London: Routledge.
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