“It requires a certain contortion of intellect and morality to condone one set of atrocities as ‘blunders’ while humanising one set of victims and dehumanising another. ” John Pilger 2000, Hidden Agendas1 The aim of this essay is to discuss whether or not the media, specifically the British media, are racist.
Using Miles’ definition of racism as my standard as well as its symbolic and aversive incarnations, as discussed by Saeed, I will attempt to analyse the representation of ethnic minorities in broadcast media and the press, with reference to the work of Stokes and Van Dijk (‘question of numbers’), Ferguson (‘the problem within’), as well as Gilroy and Saeed (‘question of identity’). To relate the discussion to current issues in the media I will draw on work by John Pilger and Michael Parentti as well as specific examples and issues such as Asylum seekers, the September 11th aftermath and the present Iraqi crisis.So, are the Media racist, and if so to what extent? The current international situation in Iraq and the recent events following the events of September the eleventh go a long way to answer this very question on an international level, but its the media’s portrayal of ethnic minorities here at home that can deliver the most worrying truths. Britain is a multi-cultural society; after World War 2 until the passing of the 1961 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, anyone from the commonwealth had the right to settle in the UK.
Even though the passing of the act slowed the level of immigration, a large number of both commonwealth and non-commonwealth people came to Britain in order to find work and set up home legally. However, despite having lived in Great Britain for over half a century, the media’s representation of ethnic minority groups are often negatively stereotyped or completely absent from texts2. This is crucial in the development of ‘our’ (the British people) concept of race and how we understand the ethnic communities as illustrated in Stuart Hall’s study ‘It ain’t half racist mum.’ Miles (1989), defined racism as…
“… any set of claims or arguments which signify some aspect of the physical attributes of an individual or group as a sign of permanent distinctiveness which attribute additional negative characteristics and or consequences to the individuals or groups presence. “3 It can, however be argued that racism is not a static attitude, as those that hold them can reassess these sets of values. This is especially true with regard to the theory of Symbolic Racism.It has been suggested by Saeed, that in some cases an individual’s opinion of a minority group can be drawn by limited personal experience “and grow up with prejudiced views that are learned without much contact with or direct experience of black people”4.
If the first such experience of an individual with a non-national or person of ethnic origin (or reports heard from another), is negative they can quite often be led to believe that all members of this ethnic group will behave in a similar way, which would lead to the formation of uninformed negative stereotypes.An ideal example would be the attitudes fans of Leeds United Football Club after the incidents surrounding a game with Galatasaray several years ago. These events stimulated a hatred of all Turkish people amongst their supporters due to one isolated incident.
This could of course work to the contrary, but in western society it seems that people are far more ready to accept negative images of others, and individuals have to work hard to be held in a good light no matter what their racial origin.Another form of racial prejudice also defined by Saeed, as Aversive Racism5. He suggests that there are people within society who are not overtly racist, but don’t want anything to do with ethnic minorities and aren’t willing to give a chance to the unfamiliar. A lot of people who meet this description tend to be older members of society who have grown up in very ‘sanitised’ environments. “Broadly speaking, the media exist in a very close, sympathetic relationship to power and established values.
They favour a consensus view of any problem: they reflect overwhelmingly middle class attitudes and experience. ” Stuart Hall, 1974; ‘Black Men, White Media’6 It could be said that white British people are scared of ethnic minorities due to simple differences. The colour of their skin, different lifestyle and religions could all act as a symbol for this difference.
People are scared of what they don’t know, that is a basic human premise, but unfortunately people take too much notice of ‘hear-say’ and don’t back things up with facts.These facts should come from the media, but positive stories are few and far between, especially in national tabloid papers. “Immigrants have sparked a heterosexual HIV explosion..
. ” The Sun, Feb 7th 2003. “Ungrateful Iraqi asylum seekers try to blow up free flat because it was cramping their love lives” The Sun, Feb 13th 2003.
“David Blunkett is to order judges to boot out asylum seekers and send straight back where they came from” News of the World, Feb 16th 2003. “Muslim Priest El-Faisal embraced many of the views held by Bin Laden” The Sun, Feb 26th 2003.Such stories create what Stuart Hall (1992) and Said (1985) refer to as ‘Out Groups’. In this case the non-ethnic ‘British’ are the in-group. Balibar describes the ‘in-group’ as the ‘True Nationals’ who never have to prove themselves whereas the ‘out-groups’ are constantly battling for their cause. “..
. black people encounter most problems in sensitive power-areas: employment… housing.
.. local government..
. law and order..
. ” 7 This has never been so obvious as with the current problem the nation has with the perception of asylum seekers.The majority of asylum seekers are genuine people fleeing persecution at the hands of oppressive regimes such as the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, or even the Chinese government. In the press, all we hear about are bogus asylum seekers, which leads the public to believe the majority of these people are illegal immigrants ‘sponging off the state’, personified by such individuals as extremist cleric Abu Hamza and fanatic el-Faisal. That’s like all British people being represented by ‘thugish’ football hooligans: it just isn’t justified.This is reiterated in ‘A Question of Identity’ (Saeed, Gilroy) where the media try and use extremism, fanaticism and other negative issues to cloud the representation of minorities. The British press went ballistic when the figures for asylum applications were published earlier this year.
In 2002 there were around 50,0008 applications off people from war torn and politically unstable nations like Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, China and Iraq. At present it is estimated that there are currently 300,000 asylum seekers resident in the UK for one reason or another.A drop in the ocean when you consider the population of Great Britain is approximately 58,564,000. The above number looks big out of context but they were able to fuel a public outcry in doing so. Those taking up residency (and indirectly second and third generation minorities who were born here) were seen as being a burden on the state as well as being in competition for housing, jobs and schools. These social problems become redefined as race issues,9 which generates further ill feeling within the uninformed British public toward ethnic minorities on the whole.