Diasporic media play in migrant communities

What Role do Diasporic Media Play in Migrant Communities?

For communities of people who have re-located from their homeland to another part of the world, diasporic media do not play simply one role. By definition, the word 'diaspora' means a dispersal or scattering of people and can be for a huge range of different reasons, from the pursuit of work to escaping a threatening home society. This indicates that this scattering can be either voluntary or forced. From this, we can derive a meaning of diasporic media, media whose content is relevant to, representative of or produced by or for these groups of people. Because of the different forms of diasporic media, it often plays many differing roles, with fluctuating and debatable significance, for these communities of people.

The media plays a significant and vital role within almost any society or community, this is an observation made by many and it is almost impossible to deny. It has the power to take entire groups of people and their cultural and historical specificities and, in the very essence of the word, re-present them. Break them down to their most basic and generalizable parts, reconstitute them and then broadcast them, more often than not, to 'majority' audiences. In regards to diasporas, this process of generalizing and stereotyping found in mainstream media can be quite damaging considering they may be trying to integrate themselves into their 'new' and unfamiliar society. After all, majority interests and values are the mainstream medias priority, it is where "the largest market and profits are found" and because it is an industry governed by the hunt for audiences and advertising revenue, it can "thereby marginalize minority interests" (Cottle, 2000 pp. 3) This kind of alienation and segregation that mainstream media is capable of means that diasporic media is somewhat vital if a host countries media environment does not cater enough to the migrant communities needs and interests, or to their sense of integration with the host country.

In this sense, diasporic media can play the role of helping socialize migrant communities into their new environments and familiarising them, in a less intimidating way, with the host country. It is apparent that most, if not all, mainstream media is neither designed nor intended to serve this purpose. In fact, a lot of its sensationalist programming "can lead to the orchestration of 'race' controversy in pursuit of readers, ratings and revenue" (Cottle, 2000 pp.20)

However, the roles of diasporic media can vary, depending on what 'type' of media it is. The three that are most commonly discussed are 'ethnic', 'transnational' and 'diaspora' media. The one that best categorises the role I described above, according to Ross (2000), is ethnic media. She notes that this type of diasporic media's role is to compensate for the lack of self esteem and the alienation that is generated in the migrant communities by the mainstream media. And that "the rise of various types of ethnic minority media around the world demonstrates a clear demand by minority communities to see alternative images" (Ross, 2000 pp.146) Images that represent their views, in conjunction with their host countries' and that are presented to them in a way that does not set them apart or target them.

Cottle (2000) brings another important role of ethnic media into consideration, he explains that if this kind of media is made available to these communities, it will further "enhance the confidence of minority ethnic individuals and communities" and will therefore "increase access to, and active participation in, media production. (Cottle, 2000 pp.111) So it can be said that this type of diasporic media plays an important role in generating confidence and interest in the media's representation of these migrant communities. Ethnic media is not simply about helping these communities integrate and feel comfortable within their new society, it is about instilling a sense of place and significance in them. They are not simply the targets and victims of mainstream media representations but, through access to ethnic media, observe that they can represent themselves and have a voice within their unfamiliar environments.

The next type of diasporic media is transnational media. Compared to the other forms of diasporic media, this one in particular has more 'mainstream' potential and perhaps more commercial interests and objectives. Transnational media is programming produced and distributed by multi-national companies but is made in the country of origin, with a narrative, language, characters and themes that are accurate and relevant to the migrant communities living in other countries. Gillespie (2000) describes this kind of media as "modes of identification" (pp. 168) for the migrant communities, a symbolic link to their home country and their place within that past environment. Nonetheless, the migrant community viewers can relate to and identify with what is represented in transnational media better than they can from the home country's mainstream media. This means that "ethnic-based transnational audiences are lucrative niche markets" (Gillespie, 2000 pp.168) and that transnational companies are targeting migrant communities more and more in order to take advantage of the demand for that type of media.

However, the more commercial nature of this form of diasporic media means that the companies are more restricted. In trying to profit in similar ways as mainstream media, they are also subjected to the same need to generalize and pacify their content in order to reach a wider audience. This type of media "seeks to avoid community backlash and corporate censure by avoiding 'difficult' issues" (Cottle, 2000 pp.116) and thus could be said to be under or misrepresenting the migrant communities, you could even go so far as to say it could have a very negative effect on these communities. If transnational programming is trying to reach wider and wider audiences, the representations within them could potentially be as generalized and warped as those found in mainstream media. The feeling of alienation and the inability to identify with the representations that is often generated by mainstream host media is then perpetuated by media from the home country. For migrant communities looking for a familiar and reassuring representation within their 'own' media, this could be very confusing and potentially damaging to their ability to integrate into their new society.

This form of media also highlights, however, other positive roles that diasporic media can play, particularly when looking at the different generations within the migrant communities. In interviews carried out by Ross (2000), older generations of migrants commented on the fact that, within mainstream media, representations of minority or migrant groups are not accurate and that "characters are often too westernized". Yet, for younger generations within the communities who had grown up in the host country, these representations were symbolic of the "synergies between different cultural communities" (pp.139) This statement is more true of ethnic media but still has some significance within transnational media in that is reiterates the idea that representations are more generalized in order to appeal to wider audiences. This attempt to appeal means that representations are juxtaposed and so it could be argued that younger generations use these forms of media to draw similarities and differences between the representations portrayed. Thus helping the generations growing up in the host country to be able to hold on to elements of their heritage through the more accurate representations found in transnational media but additionally, help them establish similarities and differences between this and their host countries representations of its society.

Perhaps the more overlooked type of diasporic media is diaspora media itself. Cottle (2000) observes that "an array of forces serve to marginalise and constrain programme ambitions" (pp.116) and this type of media is very much restricted by the nature of the media industry. Yet this form of diasporic media seems to retain far more of its creative and representative aims, compared to that of ethnic and transnational media. Cottle also observes that this ability to represent diasporas and their communities within this type of media "is probably easier to sustain by newly formed, locally based and small scale production companies" (pp.112) This way, commercial pressures are lessened to some extent but also, it means that this media is more successful in creating a sense of community. Members of migrant communities creating, producing and distributing relevant, accurately portrayed material to the rest of the community and, unlike the other types of media, it is specifically aimed at those communities and not 'watered-down' to be applicable to a wider audience. Cohen (2008) remarks on the important role of this type of media within these communities and notes that "in a complex world, full of uncertainty and even fear, it is comforting to express a known and familiar identity" (pp.155) Diaspora media can provide a space in which the 'lost' connection with the home country can be temporarily 'reconnected' and are "enhancing a sense of diaspora consciousness" (Gillespie, 2000 pp.166) Arguably a very significant role to play in an environment where, within mainstream media, consistent and unvarying representations of ethnic minority and migrant groups mean that they "can become a target for envy, stereotyping and discrimination" (Cohen, 2008 pp.155)

All media, through its representations and vast amount of information invites us "to construct a sense of who 'we' are in relation to who 'we' are not." (Cottle, 2005 pp. 2) Given the nature of diasporic and migrant communities, it should be key that host countries develop and invest in media that is relevant to these communities but also helps integrate them in host issues and mainstream medias. However, diasporic media plays a vital, almost necessary role for these migrant communities, they help maintain connections with the communities culture, countering the mainstream medias "obliteration of ethnic history and memory" (Sreberny, 2000 pp.179) But diasporic medias today "confront a situation characterized by limited funding opportunities and a television industry increasingly led by market logic" (Cottle, 2000 pp.110) In order for these diasporic medias to play any part of their significant role within migrant communities, they must be financially and creatively supported.


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  • Cheah, P & Robbins, B (1998) Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press
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  • Cottle, S (2000) Ethnic Minorities and the Media: Changing Cultural Boundaries. Buckingham: Open University Press
  • Karim, H, K (2003) The Media of Diaspora. London: Routledge
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