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The media play a pivotal role of informing, entertaining, and educating. Today, people all over the world are finding it increasingly easy to access different forms of media. Many studies have been undertaken on the level of fairness of the reporting practices of the media and their effect on racial and gender discrimination. The issues of racial discrimination and gender fill all sections of communities, including the media. Sometimes, the media may prefer to make unfair reports that indicate some level of racial and gender discrimination, mainly through stereotyping.
In today’s society, media stereotypes are inevitable, particularly in news, entertainment, and advertising industries, all of which are characterized by a mass media presence. As reported in the Media Awareness Network, a web-based publication, today, reporters are under pressure to provide news to international audiences within a short time. They are required to report events as soon as they happen. The availability of effective technologies facilitates the dissemination of news into all parts of the world in real time. This challenge sometimes compels news reporters to resort to stereotypes in order to help the audience understand the significance of an event from a certain social-cultural perspective.
Gauntlett observes that, in this way, news reporters use stereotypes as codes that offer audiences a fast, common understanding of a group of people or an individual (8). This knowledge normally takes the form of gender, race, ethnicity, social role, sexual orientation, occupation, and gender. However, such a form of reporting is unfair since it reinforces the negative attributes that the society uses to discriminate against a certain group of people or a person.
This creates a problem since a wide range of differences among people is reduced to simplistic generalizations. Moreover, the assumptions that are made regarding groups are transformed into ‘realities’. The stereotypes can also be used to justify the unfair position that is adopted by those in power. This can be detrimental to the group of people in question since it perpetuates inequality and social prejudices.
In most cases, the people who are stereotyped are given no opportunity to say something about the way in which they are represented in the mass media. This is where the element of unfairness comes into the limelight. In many newsrooms, unfairness in race and gender discrimination is caused by lack of diversity. When the composition of the news crew is not diverse enough to encompass reporters of different races and genders, it becomes easy for reporters to let stereotypic comments go ‘unnoticed’.
According to The New York Times, October, 28, 2010, television is one of the most prominent forms of media that tend to use stereotypes in order to attract unfair, often negative, attention to certain races and gender orientations. For a long time, scholars have argued that consumer culture tends to be both a promoter of social inequality and a product of it. The Time Magazine reported on June 23, 2010 reported that, during the 1990s, television content tended to portray White men as highly powerful and White women as sex objects. African Americans were portrayed like violent people, while African American women were presented like inconsequential beings.
Today, news reports contain exaggeration of the differences that exist between people of different races and gender, especially in the American society. This amplification of cultural differences denies the positive emotions from being derived from news reports that are supportive of cultural diversity among communities.
Unfairness in reporting about race and gender in the media is also enhanced by the fact that the media industry is not homogenous. Different media establishments have traditionally been targeting some specific segments of the society. The key factors used in defining the target reach of a media establishment are race, culture, geographical location, and social class. In the heterogeneous structure of media composition that comes out of this tradition, many stereotypes are generated. Today, this trend may be changing because of globalization, which compels community radio and television stations to reach out to the global audience or lose relevance altogether.
Media imagery and racial prejudice form ideological clusters that news reporters find hard to beat. This leaves them with no any other option but to join the fray. These reporters tend to have two contrasting types of prejudice at their disposal: the older, blatant form, or the subtle, emerging variety, which is ‘cool’ and indirect. Direct prejudice is direct and refers closely to the subject of stereotyping. Blatant prejudice carries with it the feeling of threat by the social group that the news reporter wants to portray with superiority.
Coltrane indicates that, through the emerging form of subtle prejudice, cultural differences are exaggerated, and the group’s disadvantages are attributed to these differences (366). This is in contrast with the blatant form of prejudice, where cultural differences are explained away, in order to deny that there is any form of discrimination.
Media reporters have also been accused of drawing unwanted attention to race while reporting to matters relating to war, specifically during the Gulf War and in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. During the Gulf War, reporters in the Australian Media were accused of giving reports that cast the people of Arabic origin in a negative light, sparking a spate of many racially-motivated attacks on people who had a ‘Middle Eastern appearance’.
Sometimes, the unfairness in media reporting is not intentional; it is only that people fail to differentiate between commentary, news reporting, and advocacy. The news that is reported has to reflect the reality of the world. After all, one of the roles of the media is to act as a reflection of the news. In some instances, news are reported in an objective manner, but during the analysis and analysis and commentary time, the race and gender dimensions are thrown into the discussion, thereby reinforcing prejudices and stereotypes.
When media reporters indicate that certain racial groups do not have any realistic chance of succeeding in a certain undertaking, they are reporting in an unfair manner. Unless there is concrete evidence to support this assertion, the media professional could be considered guilty of being unethical in his profession. Biases in the media through inappropriate reporting are responsible for the perpetuation of negative notions towards certain communities. It is unfortunate that such members of the groups that are discriminated against end up believing that they are inferior to everyone else.
Jackson, in an online article titled Affirmative Action Coverage Ignores Women – and Discrimination: A Six-Month Study of Media Coverage notes that unfairness in reporting on race and gender also manifests itself when reporters do not accord a certain activity the attention and focus that it deserves, merely on account of the racial and gender caliber of the participants. This denies such people the attention that is due to them. In this way, the media are said to have failed by not giving a true picture of the events that take place in society. To this extent, the media become a tool of propagating the interests of certain races and trouncing any growth prospects for all the others.
According to Gallagher, proponents of gender setting argue that in spite of growth in the international media industries and the continued breakdown of the traditional patterns of media regulation, local action is necessary for promoting diversity in media content (64). The portrayals of gender by the media, according to Gallagher, are partly responsible for violence against women, which has continued to increase with the increase in the number of media companies that are in operation across the world today (26).
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