Van Dijk (1991) conducted content analysis of tens of thousands of news items across the world over several decades and found that representations of black people could be categorised into three stereotypically negative types of news:
- Ethnic minorities as criminals
- Ethnic minorities as a threat
- Ethnic minorities as unimportant.
Minority groups as criminals
Wayne et al (2007) found that nearly 50% of news stories concerning young black people dealt with them committing crime.
Cushion et al analysed Sunday newspapers, nightly television news and radio news over a 16 week period in 2008-9 and found that black young men and boys were regularly associated with negative news values – nearly 70% of stories were related to crime, especially violent gang crime.
They further pointed out that black crime is often represented as senseless or as motivated by gang rivalries, which little discussion of the broader social and economic context.
Back (2002) conducted discourse analysis of inner-city race disturbances and argued that the media tends to label them as riots, which implies they are irrational and conjures up images of rampaging mobs, which in turn justifies a harsh clampdown by the police.
There is little consideration given to the view that such disturbances may be the result of legitimate concerns, such as responses to police and societal racism, which need to be taken seriously.
Minority groups as a threat
In recent years media moral panics have been constructed around:
- Immigrants, who are seen as a threat in terms of their numbers and impact on jobs and welfare services.
- Refugees and Asylum seekers – analysis from the ICAR in 2005 noted that asylum seekers were often portrayed as being a threat to British social cohesion and national identity, with such people often blamed for social unrest.
- Muslims – who are often portrayed as the ‘enemy within’
Moor et al (2008) found that between 2000 and 2008 over a third of stories focused on terrorism, and a third focused on the differences between Muslim communities and British society, while stories of Muslims as victims of crime were fairly rare.
They concluded there were four negative media messages about Muslims:
- Islam as dangerous and irrational
- Multiculuralism as allowing muslims to spread their message
- Clash of civlisations, with Islam being presented as intolerant, oppressive and misogynistic.
- Islam as a threat to the British way of life, with Sharia law.
Amelie et al (2007) focused on coverage of veiling as an Islamic practice, and found that media coverage tended to present this is a patriarchal oppressive practice, with little coverage focusing on the wearing of the veil as a choice.
Minority Groups as Unimportant
Van Dijk (1999) further noted that some sections of the media imply that white lives are more important than non-white lives.
He claimed, for example, that black victims of crime are not paid as much attention to as white victims of crime.
Shah (2008) claims that that the BBC engage in ‘tokenism’ – Black and Asian actors are cast as presenters or in roles just to give the appearance of ethnic equality, regardless of whether they ‘fit’ into the role.
The result is that many ethnic minorities do not identify with ethnic minority characters,
As a whole the mainstream media pays little attention to the genuine concerns and interests of ethnic minorities, because the mainstream media is dominated by a metropolitan, liberal, while, male, public school and Oxbridge educated, middle class elite.
Changing representations of ethnicity
NB – the photo at the top of this post is actually taken from a recent campaign to challenge the black male criminal stereotype in the media… find out more in this BBC article.
Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book