Ethnic Minority Media: An International Perspective

Stephen Harold Riggins

Over the years, the literature on ethnic minority media has grown by large promises and small increments. This anthology takes a leap forward, bringing together material from cultures seldom linked before. Its strength is in the editor's insightful introduction, the diversity of chapters, and the scope of analysis; its weakness in the uneven scholarship, editing, and writing.

Riggins frames the material with an introduction focused on media survival and a concluding chapter on the media's future prospects and limitations. He cautions that media alone cannot assure cultural survival. Instead of burying paradoxes, he draws attention to them--for example, the dilemma that minority peoples are empowered by media attention to their cultures, yet disempowered by the assimilation that accompanies increased political participation. The suggestions for translating this into policy are thin, and best left for another volume. For example, the principle of designing minority media "in response to the informational needs and preferences of the community" (p. 286) is often heard, if seldom followed.

John Henningham offers an incisive look at the evolution of print and broadcast media in Hawaii, where "every ethnic group is a minority" (p. 149). Despite this fact, European dominance and Hawaiian subordination prevail, as evidenced by a survey of hiring patterns in major newspapers, which remain Caucasian-controlled and have few Hawaiian journalists. Henningham concludes that melting-pot policy has not resulted in an appropriate sharing of power.

Michael Meadows stresses the need for cross-cultural awareness in Australia, where offences often originate in ignorance or conflicting values: Because of prohibitions against showing of the faces or speaking the names of the recently deceased, there are requests to destroy film and tape (p. 87). The Walpiris give many the right to hear a story, but few the right to tell it (p. 86), a principle with great impact on broadcast programming and values.

Gail Guthrie Valaskakis's chapter updates her important work on Canadian northern broadcasting in the age of satellite-based Television Northern Canada (TVNC). She laments the ironic double bind of the 1990s--a continuing stream of funding and cutbacks that simultaneously encourages and discourages the continuing development of aboriginal media. Gabriel Bar-Haim contrasts the assimilationism of Israel's Romanian community with the less assimilated Polish community. Here, the focus is on minority cultures transported and transformed by immigration, rather than on indigenous cultures transformed into minorities after colonization.

While one suspects the rightness of its premise, Riggins's chapter on inadvertent assimilationism in the Canadian Native press leaps from data to theory with insufficient logic. His claim that a "flourishing native press is a threat to all politicians" because it publicizes "corruption and mismanagement" (pp. 121-122) presents only half the picture, ignoring the role of media in publicizing campaigns and activities. The data, which focus on environmental issues, reveal mockery and intolerance across cultures, but no clear evidence of assimilation. The portrayal of "tradition" veers too close to nostalgia, that of "assimilation" too close to ethnocentricity. For example, all survival-related concerns are dismissed as assimilationist "employment opportunities" (p. 119). There is no discussion of the relevance of language, leaving us to guess at how the presence or absence of aboriginal languages in newspapers might inform questions of assimilation.

By contrast, W. J. Howell, Jr. founds his comparative study of Wales and Ireland on the premise that "languages used on the air have legitimacy" (p. 217). The Welsh experience is underscored by violence--television transmitters were bombed after the government reneged on a promise to provide a Welsh channel. Ireland's Working Group on Irish Language Television Broadcasting and nationwide radio and television services look promising, but Howell cautions that the prevalence of English-language music could undermine Irish-language broadcasting.

Significant errors have survived the editing process (e.g., the spelling of Iqaluit as "Iqualiut," reference to the Native Press of 1988 with no indication that, by publication time, it had become the Press Independent). Quibbles aside, the collection promises to enrich scholarship and curricula; it provides opportunities to compare media experiences of aboriginal peoples in Australia, Chile, Canada, Greenland, Hawaii, and Alaska with those of minority peoples in France, Israel, Wales, Ireland, Algeria, and New York. For all the differences, there are significant continuities--the tendency for minority peoples to gain a measure of control over media which were created, in part, to control them; the complex interplay of cultural retention and loss, distinctiveness and assimilation.