Freedom of Expression in a Multicultural World

As societies become more culturally diverse the notion of freedom of expression takes on a new level of complexity. For journalist whose profession depends on this freedom, understanding the world's increasing multicultural landscape is critical and can even be a life or death matter. In the wake of harrowing events like the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and the great disappointment in the tone of coverage on the crises in Ferguson and Baltimore the need for cultural competence in journalism has taken center stage. The debate around boundaries of freedom of expression and cultural sensitivity has increased greatly amongst media think-tanks, scholars and practitioners.

On Tuesday, I attended an event at the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) hosted by NED's Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and the Media and Diversity Institute (MDI) discussing this very subject. A prestigious panel of journalist and experts in media led a discourse on increasing the capacity of journalist to deal with the complexities of multiculturalism.

Framing the conversation with the Charlie Hebdo attack, panelist debated whether journalism was sacred or contingent upon the context of an environment. The idea of social responsibility in journalism, determining the "red line" between careful journalism and censorship, and including a diversity of voices in media coverage were just a few of the topics discussed. This event is part of a very important on-going conversation in media. How do journalist handle the pressures of the field and still account for cultural diversity?

What I found to be the strongest overall point of the event (excuse my bias), and a viable step to solving this dilemma was made by Milica Pesic of the Media Diversity Institute. Pesic stated that there is a need to educate journalist on culture and religion and a need to educate the audience on good journalism.

By educating journalist and the public we have a much better shot at creating mutual understanding, promoting diversity in perspectives and preventing the alienation of both journalist and their audiences. Let's make journalism a true representation of pluralism and multiculturalism in society and STILL protect freedom of expression.

If you are interested in learning more about this growing discussion check out CIMA's 2013 report, "A Clash of Cultures: Hate Speech, Taboos, Blasphemy, and the Role of News Media", read through the live tweets of Tuesday's event on Twitter at #CIMAevents and watch a full video of the panel discussion below.

- Sabrina K. Garba

P.S. Make sure to share your thoughts on Freedom of Expression in a Multicultural World in the comments section!