Media - Catalyst for Preserving and Promoting Local Culture

18th October 2016

This week we have a new blog post from Shilpi Jain, Communication & Knowledge Dissemination Expert at IPE Global, consultant and and co-author of the book “Reflections of Managing Water: Earth’s Greatest Natural Resource”.

From the dance moves of the “Roma” Gypsy from Rajasthan to Spain, to stories from the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata painted on the walls of the templesin Angkorvat (Angkor Wat),Cambodia and the  Impact of European, Chinese and South-east paintings in India during the rule of the great Mughal King Akbar, moving on to the to the Influences of Western drama on Indian literature and imitations of English sonnets, odes, and blank verse by famous Indian poets - these are just a few examples that connect the dots between the cultures of the East and the West. Information is the key and literacy is fundamental, and media is what binds the two together.

Putting all this together, Media Information Literacy (MIL)  becomes crucial to promote ancient local traditions, culture, heritage for others to know, learn and replicate. With India having celebrated its 70th Independence Day, it's time to delve further in to what we mean by Media Literacy and how it can act as a catalyst in promoting local culture and traditions.

With a population of over 1.2 billion, India owns a diverse cultural heritage and has greatly influenced the world through Indian religions, practices, philosophy and local traditions. The Pan-Indian saree has gone global and the bindi on the forehead is slowly catching up in the West.

But, has anyone ever thought why there is this trend? The accessories were always there; the saree was always Indian so what made the difference? The answer is simple – more Information, awareness and literacy.

Promoting Local Culture through Media

Each of India‘s 29 states have their own language, religion, dance, music, architecture, food, and customs which differ from place to place within the country. Examples of secularism can be found in its Religion, Festivals (paintings, sculptures), Arts, Cuisine and sports etc. Each element has its own impact and circle of influence and thus leveraging through media becomes crucial.

Media reflects the norms, culture and values. Media can lead to evolution and revolution of mind and heart of the people fostering information, literacy and awareness in the nation. Broadly speaking, the relationship between culture and the media is one of inclusion. An example of this is the media in Malaysia and Singapore which reports extensively on the festivals of the different communities, their religious practices and so on. Television broadcasts, news articles in the media on how the different communities mix and mingle with one another have led to an interesting practice of Malaysians of different backgrounds coming together to celebrate the Yee Sang ceremony as part of the Chinese New Year festivities.

Media can help promote culture by:

  • Highlighting What’s Making News: Using local media (print/digital) and popular press to share and highlight innovative approaches for preserving ancient culture. For example, tribal people in Purulia district in Bengal in Eastern India have a rich heritage of folk dance, drama and music. In an effort to revive their folk art as a means of sustainable livelihood, the artists have formed Self Help groups (SHG), linking to banks for support under micro finance programs. However, it is important to note that government policy on the role of the media must recognise the latter’s role in disseminating cultural knowledge and promoting cultural discourse.
  • Creating a Cultural Confluence: Intercultural dialogue is critical in today’s globalized and blended world. It helps to contributes to one’s sense of community both in the host and home countries. With the increasing number of internet users, new media helps people across the world communicate and belong to different networks via virtual communities on the Internet regardless of boundaries and geographies.
  • Identifying Cultural Ambassadors: The promotion of cultural events and cultural products is highly effective through the promotion of those people who can become brand ambassadors of culture. The personalization of culture and cultural events, can help create the feeling that the cultural product is intended specifically for him/her.
  • Sharing and Connecting through Visuals: It is estimated that by 2017 over a third of the world's population, i.e. nearly 2.6 billion people are projected to own a smartphone. Instant connection with people through pictures and videos can bring to life and revive cultures across the seas. A two-minute video recorded on a simple mobile phone camera can go viral; can create an impact and even generate new followers.
  • Leveraging Radio as a Medium: radio programme broadcasts can have a powerful influence on the culture of the people and influence intercultural dialogues. This medium can also play a crucial role in educating members of the society and enlightening the people on the need to uphold their culture.
  • Promoting through Television and Films: television and films are perhaps the most powerful weapon that can influence people and culture. The television camera can travel over the length and breadth of the country, into the most remote villages and unearth traditional practices and celebrations and present them forcefully and creatively to viewers.

This is not an exhaustive list but does give an idea on how media is crucial to promotion of culture and can lead to increased social awareness, impact and empowerment through a participative and informative approach. However, for long term sustainability of culture, it is important to include learning from past experience, simple and impactful messages, and evidence based examples through a participatory approach.

The culture of any society is important because that is what differentiates one society from another and media has the power to affect our relationship with the world and have a transformative impact on culture and the society at large. However, one needs to ensure that efforts are centred around bridging the gap between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, between elite and pop culture; creating a transparent media strategy for the public rather than closing in to narrow specialist groups; creating a strategy of improved criteria and raised standards in promoting cultural content in high-circulation media and news broadcasts which include culture reports; supporting cultural projects which have no recognisable commercial value; refusing to engage in futile competitions with the commercial market; promoting a dimension of the new in culture in relation to existing culture and lastly preserving, promoting the nation’s rich heritage.


Shilpi Jain

Shilpi Jain is Communication & Knowledge Dissemination Expert at IPE Global.