Journalism is not inherently racist, it does not create racism, however it can be a cause of it, it can encourage it. Racism is an act of segregation and ranking of individuals based on their inherent characteristics or features.
“Racism is manifested through discriminatory or exclusionary practices, on the one hand, and prejudiced beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and ideologies, on the other”
(European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations (ERCOMER), 2002).
Journalism is the ‘broad range of activities associated with news-making’ (Allan & Zelizer, 2010, p. 62). Both journalism and racism are interlinked, as Stuart Hall mentions in his article The Whites of their eyes, as ‘both involve ideology’. Both journalism and racism rely on a form of belief and ideals.
Racism does this through the belief that there is a superior race among humans. Journalism does this by reporting on issues that involve ideals that interest or affect their audience, such as politics (right-wing/left-wing/centrist beliefs), or by conveying the ideas of their owners.
The media’s main role is the ‘production and transformation of ideologies. An intervention on the media’s construction of race is an intervention on the ideological terrain of struggle’ (Hall, 1981)
Thus, this draws on the focus of this essay, which is explaining and analysing the key issues of journalism and racism. These key issues are, firstly, social division created by reinforced negative stereotypes and mythmaking in media. Secondly the act of ‘othering’ and ostracising of minority groups. Thirdly the issue of ownership and PR causing a lack of objectivity, and lastly, I will be looking at the lack of minority representation in the industry.
Each of these issues will be explained and discussed in this essay using theories/concepts from Stuart Hall, Walter Lippmann, Daniel C. Hallin, Stuart Allan, Barbie Zelizer and other scholars.
Social division created by negative Stereotypes and mythmaking in media
The idea or concept of ‘Stereotypes’ was introduced by Walter Lippmann (1922) in his book Public Opinion. According to Lippmann Stereotypes ‘are an ordered…consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves…a fortress of our traditions’. In the modern day it is believed that journalism has become the ‘Myth-maker of the past’, the producer and enforcer of stereotypes (Jack Lule (2002) c.t. Allan & Zelizer, 2010, p.76).
‘News narratives and pictures offer a way of producing and reproducing familiar and already recycled myths. Offering originary and instructive accounts of central aspects of society, designating heroes and villains, warning or tragedy, and instilling collective notions of order and disorder.’
(Allan & Zelizer, 2010, p. 76)
In journalism, narrative is used to portray the disclosing of an event(s). Narrative often includes ‘sequence, setting, perspective, characterisation, tone, and a relationship with the public’ (Allan & Zelizer, 2010, p. 77) and as a result it often includes stereotypes.
In a storytelling narrative the Propp theory is used where those featured in the event are characterised into roles such as the hero, the villain, and the victim. Often these characterisations or roles reinforce stereotypes, such as the stereotype of “Black people being involved in crime” or the “Arab or Muslim individual being involved in terrorism” or “immigrants being the enemy”. The stereotype being enforced is that the villain of the story often are those from minority groups (races other than white).
Stuart Hall talks about two groups of racism that is present in journalism in his article The Whites of their eyes’ these are ‘inferential’ and ‘overt’ racism. Stuart Hall coins the phrase inferential racism, the ‘naturalised representations of events and situations relating to race…which have racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions’ (Hall, 1981). For example, the stereotype that “black people are involved in crime”. All these claims may not be made outright but there is an ‘unconscious’ representation of these views, hence inferential racism. When inferential racism is used, and such ideas or stereotypes portrayed in narrative, these ideas ‘become a consistent picture of the world’ (Lippmann, 1922).
An example is the headline “Demon in the weeds” that was used to describe Chanel Lewis, a black male charged with rape, in the NY Daily News on the 6th of February 2017. His picture was put on the front page right next to the caption. Whereas for the Stanford Rape case that involved a white male the headline used by the NY Daily News was “Former Stanford All-American swimmer Brock Turner found guilty of raping unconscious woman behind dumpster outside of frat party”.
Both these stories are based on criminals charged with similar crimes, however one has the derogative noun ‘demon’ whilst the other has a monochrome statement as a headline, because of this compared to the latter the former is more memorable.
This reinforces that stereotype of ‘black people being involved in crime”, it develops an image in the readers head, and as a result in the future the public is more likely to associate “demonic” crimes like rape with black men like Chanel Lewis rather than men like Brock Turner despite crime not being limited to a specific race, because the narrative used to describe him was stronger.
Overall even though both men in the stories are characterised as Villains the narrative makes Chanel Lewis appear as a bigger criminal in comparison to Brock Turner. As a result, social division is encouraged by these negative images and negative stereotypes, as people feed into the underlying messages conveyed by this narrative they begin to believe these messages the same way people believe rumours and myths. That is why stereotypes and mythmaking is a key issue concerning journalism and racism because if journalism utilises stereotypes/mythmaking, inferentially or not, racism and prejudice will be strengthened by it.
The act of ‘Othering’ and ostracising of minority groups
Secondly a key issue that concerns both racism and journalism is the process of ‘othering’, the ‘us and them’ mentality. This loops into the previous issue on stereotypes and mythmaking as it investigates the reason these stereotypes are used. This reason is rooted in Galtung’s and Ruge’s (1965) theory on news values.
Johan Galtung and Marie Ruge in 1965 created a list of news values that stated what factors placed news stories at the top of the agenda worldwide, even today more than 40 years after its creation any debate on news values refer to this list.
These factors are impact, audience identification, and pragmatics. Looking at audience identification, it contains the characteristics: personalisation, meaningfulness, reference to elite nations, and reference to elite sources. ‘Personalisation’ and ‘meaningfulness’ implies that the audience wants a story that relates to them, that features stories with people like them, and that can interest them. The narrative of the news story needs to fit towards the audience in its ‘cultural proximity’, and this is where it links with racism.
A news stories’ values reflect the values of its dominant audience, and in the UK where 81.9% of the population is White British, the news will be representing that races views over others.
An example of ‘othering’ and ‘audience identification’ in action is the Aylan Kurdi case, where a young boy was ‘found washed up on a beach in Turkey’ (Withnall, 2015). During that time the media was negatively representing immigrants in the press. Although immigrants were fleeing from war-torn countries, the press (Daily Mail and The Daily Express) negatively portrayed immigrants with headlines such as “Migrant workers flooding Britain”, “Workers are fired for being British”, or “Migrants rob young Britons of jobs”. Those are only some of the ‘Daily Express’s 179 anti-immigration splashes’ (Greenslade, 2016).
This negative representation of immigrants continued, stories reporting their hardships and tragedies going mostly ignored, until Aylan Kurdi was photographed dead. It wasn’t the first time an immigrant child had drifted onto a beach, however the immigrants usually pictured were of a different race and with predominantly darker skin tone which most of the western audiences could not empathise with. This all changed with Aylan Kurdi who a three-year-old Saudi was-Arabian boy with a light-white-skin tone. The public’s opinion of the topic changed when they saw a child that had a similar image to their own.
This enforces the earlier point that audiences relate more to a news story that appears related to them, and stories representing other races that the audience can’t empathise with directly then tend to be more negatively stereotyped or ignored. This doesn’t just apply to western journalism but also to journalism in Asia and other parts of the world, they are likely to stereotype other races in a specific way as well due to audience identification.
Overall Galtung and Ruge’s (1965) model of news values explain that due to audience identification there is this frequently occurring process of othering and ostracising of races in journalism. The process of ‘othering’ is a key issue for journalism and racism, because if journalism is directed towards a specific audience the less objective it is, the more open to bias it is, and the more it encourages segregation between people.
Ownership and PR causing a lack of objectivity
Thirdly, racism isn’t just rooted in stereotypes and news values but also in ownership. Media moguls/Press Barons such as Rupert Murdoch align their newspapers along with their personal interests or views/values. They want their newspapers to represent them and people like them, hence also encouraging this discrimination.
The newspapers that wrote the most stories with discriminative headlines towards immigrants were the Daily Express and NY Daily News, both papers that are owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is unlikely that this is a coincidence, this is a product of bias towards the ideology of their owners.
‘Journalism is expected to be a reliable and honest broker of information about the world’ (Allan & Zelizer, 2010, p. 62) yet due to its tendency to alienate other races that reliability and honesty is being compromised. Objectivity is ‘detached, unbiased, value free news-making’ (Allan & Zelizer, 2010, p. 97). Objectivity as the ‘combination of faith in facts, a distrust in values, and a belief in their segregation’ Schudson (1978) c.t. (Allan & Zelizer, 2010, p. 97). Journalism and Journalists are supposed to be objective and impartial. This also links into the idea of Journalism being the ‘Fourth Estate’ (coined by Edmund Burke in the late 18th century), where the other three estates are the executive, legislature, and the judiciary. Journalism acts as the Watchdog over these institutions/estates, keeping them in check by honestly and faithfully reporting back to the public.
The BBC trust states that:
“The BBC has a position of great trust in the eyes of licence fee payers. Its journalistic mission is to provide audiences with the accurate and impartial information they need to be able to form their own views on the issues that shape public policy and their own lives.”
(Prebble, et al., 2013, p. 1)
Yet these days the notion of objectivity and the fourth estate are almost a fairy-tale, as honest fully investigative Journalism hardly occurs these day due to increase in PR, additionally due to ownership and the influence of news values such as audience making Journalism report unfairly in the favour of one race over another the ability to remain objective and act as a watchdog has become more unrealistic.
“Impartiality today requires a greater subtlety in covering and counterpointing the varied shades of opinion” (Wahl-Jorgensen, et al., 2013).
Daniel C. Hallin looked at the concept of framing, where an issue is framed in a certain way to gain a certain reaction from the public. For example, murder or theft being portrayed as a criminal activity implies to the audience that murder/theft is wrong. This same concept can be applied to the portrayal of race in journalism.
In articles about the migrant crisis the immigrants are framed as invaders or pests, thus the audience receives them as unwanted. Similarly, in the case of Chanel Lewis’s framing in the Daily News, the derogative language in the headline used in-line with his photograph implied that those that looked like him were “Demon(s)” and thus the public received those with his image (black) as scary/negative. This is what Hall (1981) called ‘inferential racism’, this is what reinforces Lippmann’s stereotypes, and this causes consumers of such information to be swayed by these messages and images. Media moguls or Press Barons can reinforce their own ideology using framing.
Overall if journalism was truly un-biased and objective, then journalistic mediums wouldn’t be swayed by their owners to represent immigrants and other races in a specific way that leads to be ostracised by the public. If headlines all treated us the same there would be a lack derogative statements or slurs towards these minorities.
Lack of wider representation in the UK Journalism Industry
Lastly, ‘journalism is 94% white and 55% male’ according to Oscar Williams (2016), Guardian reporter. In a report based on the study ‘Journalists in the UK’, 700 journalists out of the UK’s 64,000 professional journalists are non-white. ‘Comparing the results of our survey with data from the 2011 UK Census shows that those of Asian and Black ethnicity are under-represented in the population of UK journalists’ (Thurman, et al., 2016).
In another report on ‘Journalists at work’, it claimed that there are believed to be between 60,000-70,000 journalists in the UK, 1,067 were used as a sample in a report. Out of that number ‘969’ of those journalists were ‘white’ and ‘62’ were non-white(Spilsbury, 2013). ‘81.9% of the UK population are White British’ according to the ‘2011 census’ (Office for National statistics , 2011) So the percentage of White to non-white Journalists in Industry are reflective of the same percentage in the UK.
In the ‘BBC Breadth of Opinion Review’ report they investigated which voices and groups are heard in British programming, what were the demographic, occupational, and political features of these news sources, do these sources represent a wide breadth of opinion, and which minority opinions are given expression. According to the report in 2012 ‘54.8%’ of news sources for the BBC were politicians, ‘8.6%’ a member of the public and only ‘2.2%’ were from experts/academics (Wahl-Jorgensen, et al., 2013). Westminster sources are the most prominent of all news sources, proving that even among the same race, the voices of the elite are heard more.
Overall, the issue with this is that when these journalists report information they can’t relate to the minorities that they may be discussing in said article/broadcast/ or reports, then they can (not always) become biased towards the views that reflect their own race, then these journalists are less likely to be objective whilst reporting. That’s how headlines on the Daily Express such as ‘Migrant workers flooding Britain’, ‘Migrants rob young Britons of jobs’ (Greenslade, 2016) are written without conscience.
As stated in the beginning, both journalism and racism involve ‘ideology’ (Hall, 1981). Journalism is a cause and racism the effect. What makes all the points highlighted in this essay key issues concerning both journalism and racism, is that they all encourage the problem. Each key point encourages racism in society. If negative stereotypes persist in journalism then it is feeding racism, if there was to be a more positive narrative used when discussing other races than it would be the opposite.
If journalism was to be less audience orientated and more objective than it wouldn’t feed into discrimination. If more ethnic minorities were introduced into the industry/work place, or existing employees are given more training given on this topic then perhaps there would be less incidences where journalism has inferentially or overtly promoted racism. Overall the key issues concerning the two are stereotypes, othering, ownership, and representation in the industry and if these key issues are not tackled then journalism as one of the many causes of racism and will add to the issue rather than prevent it.
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