Shifting Public Perceptions and Values

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Nov 04, 2013
by Louise Hallman
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Shifting Public Perceptions and Values

Using arts, education, media and tech to help build positive and inclusive consensus in transition countries Belabbes Benkredda’s organization, the Munathara Initiative, aims to help rebuild the public sphere in the MENA region

Despite the fact that cultural rights are usually the most overlooked in the push for human rights, culture is often the first determinant, the pulse or manifestation, the symptom, and the expression of what is brewing or spilling over in societies on a social level.

Culture, be that art, media, education or the public sphere in general, provides multiple important outlets through which opinions can be expressed, views exchanged and consensus built.

This is especially important in countries in times of transition, such as the focus countries of the 'Getting Transition Right: A Rights-Based Approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity': Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.

The media plays a particularly important role in this field. In fact it plays three positive, and potentially one negative role: as a watch dog of government and public institutions; a guard dog, defending citizens’ human rights; a guide dog, steering society’s values and views; but also unfortunately sometimes as a lap dog, pandering to the elites.

Education, too, is vital, but is all too often left out until late into the policy delivery stage. Given that education can influence whole generations’ attitudes and values, educators and curriculum implementation experts should be involved in diversity and inclusion policy formulation process much earlier than end-stage implementation. After all, education is key to developing generational, long term change.

The public sphere – the social realm where public opinion can be formed – is currently ailing in the post-revolution countries, resulting in the revolutions themselves faltering and failing.

Social media, once held up as the tech of revolution is now enabling the customization of public sphere, allowing people to choose to listen only to those with whom they already agreed leading to a narrowing of views and radicalization.

People are not being forced to consider competing ideas and a respect for rational arguments is lacking. Many call for the right to freedom of speech, but often this means only their own right to speak, not everyone’s right to speak.

Broad civilian participation, including all marginalized and diverse groups of society, is needed in post-revolution discourse. Not only is this inclusive, but it also leads to a sense of shared ownership of ideas and thus greater legitimacy.