The Ways In Which Ethnicity Is Presented In The Media

In the media today ethnic minorities can be presented in a variety of ways. They can be presented as criminals, as a threat, as abnormal, as unimportant and as victim. It can potentially be very dangerous “pigeon holing” ethnics like this and it can have a significantly bad affect on the whole of society in general. Ethnic minorities, particularly people of black origin are often portrayed in the media as criminals or linked in with crime. Van Dijk conducted a content analysis of tens of thousands of news items across the world over several decades.

He found that black crime and violence are one of the most frequent issues in ethnic coverage. Black people, particularly Afro Caribbeans tend to be portrayed, especially in the tabloids as criminals. Stuart Hall suggests that ethnic groups are often defined in the British Media as social problems, as criminals around which we often find moral panics constructed. In his view the press are responsible for creating racist images such as the “black mugger” frequently used in the 1970’s.

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Although these studies do produce some firm evidence that the British press may be racist, recent developments have made them appear somewhat dated. Recently, mainly since the Stephen Lawrence case (perhaps the most pivotal case ever in race relations) and the police admitting racism does occur within the police force people have argued that editors of certain tabloids have swayed to presenting blacks in a more favourable light than that of the 1970s when the studies took place. For example the death of Daminola Taylor received mass media coverage being on the front cover of every major newspaper.

However, when it was proven that black people had been the attackers instead of a group of “Racist white thugs” as first assumed, the story suddenly found its way off the front cover. The media often display ethnic minorities as a threat. For example tabloid newspapers are prone to create a moral panic about the numbers of ethnic minorities in Britain. It is often suggested that immigrants are a threat to the citizens of the United Kingdom including taking their jobs and using up Government welfare etc. The Daily Mail is known for its opposing views to immigrants receiving benefits; however, whether all tabloids do this is debatable.

The Hegemonic Marxist Stuart Hall noted that the media can easily install a sense of moral panic by simply portraying a story from a threatening view point and papers like the Daily Mail does tend to do this amongst its readers which can cause them to believe that immigrants are a major threat to their well being. Papers and editors realise that controversy does sell and so can twist stories to try and increase profits even if this does mean presenting ethnic minorities as threats and causing a moral panic.

Ethnic minorities can also be presented as abnormal or indifferent to the rest of society. Some sections of the media are guilty of creating false cultural stereotypes around the value system and norms of other cultures e. g. People from Pakistan being forced into arranged marriages by their parents even when this is inaccurate. As suggested by Tulloch they are there to provide a storyline on issues. He believes that when a reporter has run out of ideas to show that an ethnic view is different to ours they will automatically go for the same old stereotype that is associated with that culture.

This can have a very bad affect on society on general. As Britain has been accused of “dumbing down” journalists have been accused of creating stereotypes that everyone can understand even if they are not true. The typical “man in the pub, Sun reader” might well be taken in by these stereotypes often used by the trashy tabloids and this is likely to cause race tensions. For example the race riots in Oldham perhaps could have been avoided if the media had not used stereotypes of both races and tried to prove how much indifference their was between the community.

Following the riots people will argue that the media should handle racial stereotypes with great care and that using tired typecasts can cause serious damage within communities. Some people believe that ethnic minorities are often presented as unimportant and that they do not matter. Their argument is that they are not represented in film and television; however, others will disagree with this opinion as they argue that television bosses, in particular are almost forced by those funding their show to have an ethnic character/presenter.

They would argue that the most popular show in Britain is “Eastenders”, this has many characters that are black. Some would argue back that the other popular soaps such as Coronation Street do not have any people of black origin. However, it does have Asian representatives. This is because there is a large population of blacks in London (where Eastenders is set) and a large amount of Asians in and around Manchester (where Coronation Street is set) therefore the shows are just representing the communities they are set in proving that ethnic minorities are being represented through their own communities.

There are now a lot of shows that are fronted or created by ethnic minorities. For example the comedy “Goodness Gracious Me” which has won numerous awards was created and starred an Asian cast, since then other shows have followed such as the drama “Baby Father” showing that television broadcasters now do encourage shows that represent ethnicity in Britain. Other examples include presenters; Trevor Macdonald is considered the most popular news presenter and fronts the 10 o’clock news for ITV.

Only recently have we seen an increase in radio shows and stations that represent Britain’s diverse ethnic society. The launch of stations such as the BBC’s 1xtra and Asian Community network suggest that ethnic minorities are now finding a way to express themselves across the media and not just in television. However, one argument that suggests ethnics are not always represented in television and in film is that it is very rare to have an ethnic playing the lead role in a Hollywood blockbuster.

Only a few actors such as Will Smith, Denzil Washington and Samuel L. Jackson are used in lead roles and only recently has a black lady won an Oscar showing that maybe times are changing. A sign that times are changing is the rise in Bollywood productions and films in mainstream cinema. Baring all this in mind it would appear there are still some problems in that both industries do not always employ ethnic minorities in the correct proportion to white actors and actresses but things are beginning to change It can be argued that ethnic minorities are presented as victims in the media. They are often presented as being unfortunate or being at the centre of being abused.

The Government report “viewing the world” points out; stories about less developed countries tend to focus on the ‘coup-war-famine-starvation syndrome’. The implication of such stories both in the newspaper and on television is that the problems lead to ignorance. It means that ethnics can be seen as being mistreated and that their lives are terrible. The Glasgow Media Group interviewed 26 groups of people in Britain (165 people in all) and asked them about their understanding of the developing world and what they viewed on television.

The views expressed were all very negative, the interviewees recalled images of war, terror, disaster and hunger, proving that perhaps ethnics are presented as victims. Some feel that the media do this without any real justification and that by simply presenting ethnics as victims it makes them feel sorry for themselves and encourage them to become withdrawn from society. However, against this it can be argued that ethnic minority problems are ignored because of their race and that the media won’t present them as victims because they do not understand their problems.

Overall with all the evidence taken into consideration, ethnics are presented more than fairly in the media. If this essay was to be written in the 1970’s perhaps there would be different evidence but now times have changed and ethnic minorities are often treated on the same level as whites. Editors of the media appear to be afraid to write anything that might be deemed racist and so sometimes stories will have to be changed to present ethnics in a favourable light.

This does not mean that whites are under-represented in the media by any means but, there are now more opportunities for ethnic minorities to present themselves through the media in a more favourable light. This could be contributed to the fact that editors know that this country has became so conscious of being politically correct and representing all communities that they can get away with certain things with whites but, can get away with a lot less with ethnic minorities due to the uproar than can be caused.

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