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The ways in which the mass media represents ethnicity Essay

Mass media involves large numbers of people working together in the process of communication. This involves television, newspapers and radio which all provide valuable and knowledgeable sources for their audiences. Ethnicity refers to a shared cultural identity within a community. This can be expressed through religious values and practices, language, dress etc. If a group is different i.e has a different identity to that shared by most others, they are referred to as ‘ethnic minorities’.

The media portrays ethnic minorities in various different ways and these have changed dramatically over the years. In the 1980’s, coverage of incidents involving ethnic minorities was generally negative and bias towards them. Racism in general was reflected through journalist’s attitudes at the time. Nowadays, society is more tolerant but the media can still be seen to shape the public’s views. It may be that the media plays a part in reinforcing attitudes.

Research has been carried out examining the ways in which ethnic minorities are represented and portrayed in the top ten most viewed television programmes. Overall, ethnic minorities were represented by 8.4% of all people counted in the programmes. Although, 5.2% of this figure was represented by UK resident ethnic minorities compared with 6.7% in the real world. However, black people occur more frequently in UK programmes-3.7% compared with 2.1% in the real world.

Asian people (including Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and ‘other Asian’) were seen to be the most poorly represented. There were only 0.9% of UK participants on TV with an increase to 1% if ‘visitors’ (non-UK residents/actors) are included.

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These findings, along with others, prove to be grounds for concern in the way ethnic minorities are represented. Not only are they infrequently seen on TV but they contribute to only 5.7% of major roles in programmes. Representation of ethnic minorities only seems to be achieved through vox pop sound bites or very brief interviews-21% compared with only 4% of whites.

Overall, most measures did not show any major examples of prejudice against ethnic minorities however, the findings did draw attention to some more subtle, persistent problems regarding representation and portrayal.

The home secretary Jack Straw recently stated that he would not be suprised if the census revealed that 10% of Great Britain’s population was now an ethnic minority. At the moment, only 8% are over 60 compared with 21% of white people. This figure suggests that unless there are dramatic changes in the way ethnic minorities are represented and portrayed, his prediction will become a reality.

* Using reference to key authors and studies, asses the Pluralist view of the mass media.

The pluralist view of the mass media is in constant conflict with the Marxist view. The pluralists basic argument is that the mass media reflects what the public wants and responds to their demands. For pluralists, bias is inevitable but there are a range of views interpreted. The public need only select what they wish to take on board. They also believe anyone is free to own a media enterprise, and that no one group dominates the rest of society. Power is equally shared and the mass media is seen to reflect this diversity of interests.

However, as a consequence of this diversity, pluralists say that there is little direct media influence and what influence there is tends to reinforce already existing beliefs and attitudes. As a result, most pluralists are not likely to see media influence as a cause for concern.

The Glasgow University Media Group (GUMG) and Noam Chomsky are two sources with similar views. They both study the media reporting of conflicts and review ideas on agenda setting. GUMG examines various issues of journalistic assumptions and how news is portrayed. It argues that with regard to agenda setting in the news, that both journalists and broadcasters assume everyone sees and interprets the world in the same way therefore it is their views that decide which particular aspects are more important and what viewpoints are to be emphasised.

Although, GUMG have been known to slip up on occasions and some pluralist authors have accused them of having a hidden Marxist agenda. Noam Chomsky identifies the media as manufacturing consent. He has both pluralist and Marxist views on agenda setting and the media in general. Overall, there is a large body of evidence to suggest the media is not impartial. In pluralist society there are different and sometimes conflicting values. The media should reflect these values and research suggests it does not but pluralists are aware of this bias and still does not affect their views or opinions.

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