In November 2006 the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilisations ( www.unaoc.org ), an initiative launched in 2005 by the United Nations and co-sponsored by Spain and Turkey, published a report claiming that the key reasons for the growing divide between Muslim and Western societies are not religious but political. Then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan stated that, "We need to get away from stereotypes, generalisations and preconceptions, and take care not to let crimes committed by individuals or small groups dictate our image of an entire people, an entire region, or an entire religion."
These findings are just one of many attempts to understand, analyse and address the "clash of civilisations" and societal disintegration, as identities are challenged, communities break down, and poverty fosters exclusion and humiliation. These are issues that touch every country and community in the world. Italy is no exception – with a history of empire, exploration and emigration, and current concerns around immigration, identity and values. Italy like its European and Mediterranean neighbours is grappling with how to be an integrated and civilised society.
The Role of the Media and Communication
As the UNAOC report emphasises, the media is perhaps the most powerful force today in shaping our understanding of events and peoples in the world around us. Media professionals can frame images and perceptions so as to better reflect the diversity of communities within societies and to improve the prospects for cooperation and harmony between them.
One year after the launch of the report, and as challenges continue to mount, the IPS Support Group meeting will be an opportunity for reflection on the role of media and communication in bridging the gap between peoples. The invited participants, keynote speakers and panellists will be drawn from communication professionals, academia, civil society, government, faith communities and international institutions.
The outcomes of the Support Group Meeting will contribute to the ongoing work of the Alliance of Civilisations initiative, which has placed particular emphasis on the role of media.