Lecture Series Highlights Media Inequality

Minorities lag in production and consumption of digital media, a worrisome trend as the media play an ever-growing role in society, a communications expert said Tuesday at a talk hosted by Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies.

In the first installment in a three-part lecture series, Ernest J. Wilson III ’70, the dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, spoke about the extent to which African-American, Asian, and Hispanic citizens are underrepresented as American society moves into a post-industrial era.

“We need to step away from daily clatter and Twitter and think of the class relationships, not just the latest gadget,” he said. He presented statistics to illustrate that minority participation in digital media has either remained stagnant or declined in recent years. For example, he said that in 2009, African-American people owned 1 percent of the nation’s commercial TV stations; today, they own 0.7 percent.

In a post-industrial world where communication is at the center of our daily lives, Wilson said, ownership and participation are becoming increasingly white and male.

Yet despite a lack of access to digital media, he said, minorities play a crucial role in the political sphere. He pointed to the fact that mobilization of minority voters was one of President Barack Obama’s main campaign strategies.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, introduced Wilson with an anecdote about how the two met while on a gap year in Africa.

Audience member Carla D. Martin ’03, a Harvard College Fellow in the African and African American studies department, said that Wilson’s talk lent itself well to the Du Bois Institute’s recent focus.

“[Gates has] been a pathbreaker in terms of doing things related to race online,” she said, mentioning recent initiatives by the Du Bois Institute to educate undergraduates about the presence of minorities in digital media. “I think [the events] will have a big impact.... Lectures such as this add fuel to the fire.”

The lecture series continues Wednesday and Thursday in the Barker Center at 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public, and a question-and-answer session and reception will follow each talk.

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