Italy: Media’s role in fostering social cohesion
ROME — A discussion forum about the role of the media in fostering social harmony struck a chord with journalists in Rome who are concerned with the progress of their society.
The gathering, which was co-organized by the Bahá'ís of Italy, brought together some 60 professionals to explore how inclusive narratives can help people with different beliefs and values build a sense of common purpose and collective identity.
A representative of the Bahá’ís of Italy initiated the discussion by highlighting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words about the potential of news and media for social progress: “The publication of high thoughts is the dynamic power in the arteries of life; it is the very soul of the world.”
The event included representatives from a media organization promoting freedom of the press, a media research center, and journalists from across the country. Attendees were invited to reflect on their role in promoting inclusive narratives that promote societal unity.
The discussion comes at a time when immigration to Italy over the past years is challenging long-held views about the concept of belonging and raising questions about the media’s role in shaping people’s perceptions of migrants.
This issue was addressed in a paper, prepared for discussion by the Office of External Affairs in Italy and distributed to participants at the gathering, which calls for a broader understanding of civic participation beyond geographical or cultural confines, emphasizing the need to celebrate diversity and embrace the contribution of each person, irrespective of their origins.
“As the country undergoes change, belonging to a place comes with a sense of individual initiative, a desire to care, contribute, and support each other,” stated the paper. “The media bears great responsibility to use language that tells the story of the complexity of change and foster perceptions of people as protagonists in Italy’s development and progress.”
The theme of language featured prominently in discussions as participants examined the media’s role in shaping public discourse. Participants discussed how media narratives can create bridges and unite people.
Using language that “creates bridges”, noted the participants, implies promoting understanding, empathy, and inclusiveness, breaking down barriers between people with different beliefs and values. On the contrary, language that “creates walls” may exacerbate divisions, reinforce stereotypes, or marginalize certain groups.
Participants highlighted that in the light of the diverse backgrounds increasingly characterizing the Italian population, the need for the media to reflect a wide range of perspectives has especially become vital.
Maria Paola Nanni of the IDOS Study and Research Center stressed the importance of recognizing the contributions of journalists with migrant backgrounds who can “challenge prejudices and enrich the narrative.”
She further stated: “Acknowledging the contributions of journalists from migrant backgrounds enhances our understanding and representation of the newest members of our country, fostering a collective identity—a very important step to strengthen social cohesion in our country.
“I want us to leave this conversation with the goal of creating a new discourse that is open to multicultural engagement and open to the perspectives and analysis of people with different points of view.”
Participants highlighted that this would require a re-examination of the role of local news and its potential for amplifying diverse voices and stories that often get lost in the country’s media output.
Paola Barretta of Associazione Carta di Roma, a news organization dedicated to covering migration issues, stated: “We must understand how to further support local media, this has to be among the conversations we have. Because local media has a unique ability to tell stories of people at the grassroots that large national networks don’t have.”
Reflecting on the gathering, Alessandro Benedetti, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Italy, says that these discussions will continue, providing media professionals with an opportunity to reflect on how they can foster more peaceful societies through their profession.
“Journalists offer a window into the world,” he says. “Their stories can provide individuals, communities, and institutions inspiration for the progress of the country.”