Equality in advertising messagesGay men in TV ads
Britain's most popular television programmes 'too white'
Too many black and Asian faces on TV
Canada: "Please Adjust Your Set"
USA: Representations of race in television commercials
Report on media literacy of disabled people
Adland is still too embarrassed to depict homosexuality without resorting to terrible cliché
Ten years ago this week, a good-looking young woman walked down the street, dropped her shopping and a good-looking young man stopped to help her. They flirted a little, hands touching as they picked up an apple. She thought she could be in. But guess what? A second man loomed into view and signalled for the first man to come with him. That's right - they were gay! Cut to shots of Quentin Crisp and a puppy in a studded leather jacket, for those who needed a bit of semiotic help.
This clunky narrative - girl meets boy, but finds out he likes other boys - was the storyline for what was heralded as the first "gay ad" shown on British TV, Impulse's Chance Encounter (yes, they give these things titles). It made its debut a decade ago, in May 1998. Its unsaid pay-off line appeared to be: "even gay men can't help acting on Impulse".
One might have hoped we'd moved on since then. But its gay "twist in the tale" has since become an advertorial cliché. It's been reworked recently to sell Organics Shampoo and Galaxy Promises chocolate ("different every time").
Previously homosexuality was only present in TV ads by its avoidance, like getting Henry Cooper and Barry Sheene to advertise Brut 33 aftershave (Subtext: wearing aftershave ain't poofy!), or the unwritten law that only three or more men should appear in beer ads - because two men looks a bit ... you know, funny.
Impulse was almost gazumped. Guinness had made a gay ad in 1994. To the tune of Stand By Your Man, it showed a slobby man in a house while a headless, genderless person did some domestic "housewifey" things. The amazing comic denouement: it was a bloke doing chores before boyfriend went to work ("not everything in black and white makes sense"). The then editor of Gay Times, David Smith, was invited to a pre-screening - but was later told he couldn't use any stills, nor even call it an ad, as it was "footage" which may or may not be broadcast. No official reason was given for it being pulled. Cold feet? Or maybe they realised it insulted and patronised both women and gay men?
Post-Will and Grace and Will Young, it's astonishing how few gay-themed ads have made it onto UK screens since. Gay celebrities may endorse middle England's favourite, M&S (Graham Norton, Will Young), or invite working-class women to take the Daz doorstep challenge (Julian Clary), but gay people rarely impinge on adland's "real world". When we do, we're all too often still the butt of a joke. In 2003, Yahoo Personal Finance ran an ad that showed a dolly old queen lasciviously eyeing up a man who'd been tied to a tree naked on his stag night. The Independent Television Commission soon banned it, after complaints that it showed an "outdated and offensive portrayal of gay men as effeminate, predatory and ... held them up to ridicule and was likely to increase fear and misunderstanding".
An ad for Virgin Mobile, first shown that same month, ended with Wyclef Jean in prison - and in a communal shower, being asked to pick up the soap. The ITC let this prehistoric joke pass.
Variations on this theme of homosexual panic are where you're still most likely to see a "gay" plotline in an ad; the young man and his potential father-in-law caught wrestling for Dr Pepper ("What's the worst that can happen?"), the lifeguards kissing for Marmite ("You either love it or hate it"), the girlfriends making their dozing boyfriends snuggle up in the current ad for Maltesers, or the campy air steward finding a naked man getting ready to join the mile high club for Müller. Müller thought this premise so funny they reworked it in a hotel corridor. Well done, Müller.
Elsewhere, drag is used to suggest the exotic (Rover 200's pearly queens). And how those queens can be the life and soul of any party - even if they're only serving Archers. The only recurring gay character in a British ad has been the prissy designer Van Der Puup, in a series of spots for Ikea.
But perhaps things are changing in TV ad land? A 2006 spot for Lynx showed Ben Affleck looking pleasantly pleased - not perturbed - that he got attention from women and men (I have a feeling that might not be the Lynx, Ben).
Two ads in recent years have hinted at how uncontroversial coming out is becoming. Both Heinz and Vodafone have used the same twist; son comes out to dad, but dad doesn't bat an eyelid.
"Normal" is a loaded term for gay people, but I can only recall one ad that presents homosexuality as "normal" - ie not a joke, a threat or a whodathunkit plot twist. In 2006, Egg Card featured a nice, campy gay couple ("Jamie and I felt that we'd been spending too much...") wittering away about their financial shenanigans.
There was just one slight problem. Why do we only get to see real gay men in TV ads played by guinea pigs?
By Nicole Martin, 19 Jul 2008
Some of Britain’s most popular television programmes including the Vicar of Dibley and Who Wants to be a Millionaire have been criticised for being “too white” in a report led by Trevor Phillips, the equality chief.
The research found that Black and Asian viewers felt that despite the growing number of ethnic minorities living in the UK, they still felt under-represented on hit television shows.
When non-whites did appear in dramas and soaps, they said they were often “token” characters who were stereotyped as Asian shopkeepers, such as the character Dev in Coronation Street, and black single mothers like Denise in EastEnders.
Viewers praised reality shows like the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and The Apprentice, in which ethnic minorities were defined by their talents rather than their skin colour.
However, they criticised shows such as Hollyoaks, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, Friends and the Vicar of Dibley for consistently not having enough ethnic minority characters.
Mr Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that all the evidence showed that television was still “hideously white where it matters”, a reference to those in senior roles.
“Most ethnic minority participants felt the media had a responsibility to reflect Britain’s diversity across all genres and was failing to do so in three main ways: by relying on tokenistic and stereotyped representation of characters; by representing extreme and exaggerated characters; and by failing to reflect the realities of contemporary ethnic minority culture,” he said.
“All these shortcomings were attributed to some extent to the perceived lack of a representative power base within UK media.”
The study was commissioned by Channel 4 following the Celebrity Big Brother race row last year when Jade Goody and glamour model Danielle Lloyd rounded on Shilpa Shetty, the Bollywood star.
Black and Asian viewers said they were concerned that white viewers got the wrong impression of ethnic minority groups because they were often inaccurately portrayed on screen.
Muslim respondents said that a recent episode of Wife Swap featured a Muslim family where the mother was “completely over the top”, while Asian dramas often focused on arranged marriages.
One Indian woman told researchers: “We would like to see a more realistic view of Asians. A lot of Asians are professionals and educated and we don’t just work in corner shops.”
Another black Caribbean man said: “They don’t portray black people doing different roles and in every aspect of every field, like doctors, lawyers and architects.”
The research comes only weeks after Dr Samir Shah, a non-executive director at the BBC, accused broadcasters of rampant tokenism in their programming.
He claimed that a “tick-box approach” to showing non-whites had left minority viewers feeling embarrassed and irritated.
His comments echoed those of Lenny Henry, the comedian, who claimed that television was still being dominated by white faces.
He said that urgent steps were needed to give people who did not benefit from an Oxbridge education the chance to get a job in the industry.
In 2001, Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general, attacked the corporation seven years ago for being “hideously white” and promised to make it more diverse.
Broadcasters have overcompensated for their lack of executives from ethnic minorities by putting too many black and Asian faces on screen, a leading television industry figure said last night.
Samir Shah, a member of the BBC's board of directors, said this had led to a "world of deracinated coloured people flickering across our screens - to the irritation of many viewers and the embarrassment of the very people such actions are meant to appease".
Shah, a former BBC head of current affairs who now runs an independent production company, Juniper, as well as being a non-executive director of the corporation, used a speech to the Royal Television Society to call for current TV industry diversity policies to be ditched because they were not working.
In an echo of the speech earlier this year by comedian Lenny Henry, who bemoaned the lack of diversity in British broadcasting, Shah said UK television had to go back to the drawing board to increase the number of black and Asian executives.
Speaking to an audience of television insiders, Shah said: "The difficult truth I want you to accept is this: the equal opportunity policies we have followed over the last 30 years simply have not worked.
"Despite 30 years of trying, the upper reaches of our industry, the positions of real creative power in British broadcasting, are still controlled by a metropolitan, largely liberal, white, middle-class, cultural elite - and, until recently, largely male and largely Oxbridge.
"The fine intentions of equal opportunities - and they are fine intentions - have produced a forest of initiatives, schemes and action plans. But they have not resulted in real change.
"The result has been a growing resentment and irritation at the straitjacket on freedom such policies impose and, paradoxically, the occasionally embarrassing over-compensation in an effort to do the right thing."
Shah said that instead of dealing with the issues surrounding why greater numbers of people from ethnic minorities had not made it to the executive level of British television, broadcasters had instead put more black and Asian faces on screen, regardless of whether they were cultural fits to the programmes they were in.
"I don't think that such over-representation is a brilliant idea. Another thing that's not real is some of the casting of non-whites in fiction," he added.
He pointed to the casting of the Ferreira family in EastEnders as an example. "If you were to cast an Asian family in the East End, it should have been Bangladeshi. Instead we had a family of Goan descent," Shah said.
"The plain fact is that this tick-box approach to equal opportunities has led to an inauthentic representation of who we are: a world of deracinated coloured people flickering across our screens - to the irritation of many viewers and the embarrassment of the very people such actions are meant to appease."
Shah said the reason there were so few executives from ethnic minority backgrounds in broadcasting was not because of institutional racism, but because managers liked to "clone" themselves when picking other senior staff.
"The search for comfort can take precedence over the search for the best, because cultural cloning carries no immediate cost," he added.
Shah said that when recruiting new senior staff, managers should think about the diversity of their team.
He added if he had a "magic wand", he would "make it incumbent on every major broadcaster and producer in the UK that, within five years, they need to demonstrate that their team of executives with real power over airtime or commissioning budgets come from a variety of different backgrounds, life experiences and ethnicity".
Shah said that if the UK TV industry did not change, then further regulation might force reform upon it.
"If you want to avoid that happening, then maybe the industry ought to start taking really seriously the need to tackle institutional cloning," he added.
"We urgently need to break the cultural hegemony that has dominated broadcasting in Britain if we are to tap into, and not lose, the creativity among all our people. It's time to force the change, before the change is forced upon you."
"Please Adjust Your Set": Media and Minorities in a Multicultural Society
by Augie Fleras: Communications in Canadian Society, 4th Edition, 1995
Introduction: Framing the Problem
Minorities are increasingly perceived as a legitimate and integral component of Canada's much vaunted "mosaic." This commitment to diversity has been strengthened in recent years with passage of the Multiculturalism Act in 1988, the constitutional entrenchment of multiculturalism in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1985, and the proclamation of a federal department of Multiculturalism and Citizenship in 1991. The combined effect of these legislative and constitutional changes should not be taken lightly. A revised political and social agenda has evolved that underscores a shift in the management of diversity. Racial and ethnocultural differences are no longer dismissed as anomalies, to be shunted aside in the never-ending quest for national growth, identity, and unity. Diversity is promoted instead as a legitimate contender in the competition for scarce and valued resources. Major institutions such as education and criminal justice have come under additional pressure to foster organizational responsiveness and equity. This emphasis on institutional accommodation through removal of discriminatory barriers has altered the magnitude and scope of official multiculturalism, in the process consolidating Canada's reputation as the world's first post-multicultural society.
Multicultural initiatives for "managing diversity" continue to attract worldwide attention and global acclaim. But such accolades gloss over certain discrepancies between official rhetoric and the institutional exclusion of minorities. Criticism has proliferated in recent years, with many pouncing on official multiculturalism as little more than "undertheorized romanticism", both simplistic and reductionist, as well as divisive and misplaced. There is some element of truth to these charges. Not all institutions have contributed equally to the multicultural reconstruction of Canadian society. Neither is there any wholesale commitment to multiculturalism beyond what is necessary to stay one step ahead of the law (in this case, compliance with the Employment Equity Act of 1986). Few institutions, however, with the possible exception of urban policing, have attracted as much criticism and concern for their negligence as the mass media.
As repeatedly observed in the literature and research, media treatment of aboriginal and racial minorities in Canada is mixed at best, deplorable at worst. Academics and activists have reproached the mass media for their unbalanced, biased, and inaccurate coverage of minority groups, many of whom continue to be insulted, stereotyped, and caricatured - when not actually ignored by the media. Media institutions have come under scrutiny for disregarding minority representation and meaningful input, thus robbing them of credibility as a progressive force within the community. People of color have been rendered "invisible" by selective depictions in TV programming, newscasting, and advertising. Minority experiences continue to be filtered through the fears and fantasies of a dominant white culture. The cumulative impact of such discriminatory behavior is unmistakably clear: the media are accused of acting irresponsibly toward minorities in a society where multicultural principles prevail but do not always translate into practice. To be sure, a single, isolated image out of context is not likely to create problems, but difficulties arise from the long-term effects of discriminatory actions from varied sources.
Strides in media integration of racial and aboriginal minorities have not gone unnoticed. These are evident in the U.S., where African-Americans (but not Hispanics or Asians) are increasingly featured in TV commercials - from high-powered executives to personal-product advocates, once deemed off-limits to people of color. But much of the existing research continues to underestimate the challenges of restructuring media-minority relations. In looking to tarnish the media for wrongdoings - both real and perceived, by omission or commission - many studies overlook the commercial logic inherent within media dynamics. The constructed character of media reality is also ignored, as are deeply entrenched media values, distinctive agendas, organizational priorities, and corporate commitments. Reluctance to confront these sometimes knotty issues has made it relatively easy to criticize the mass media. Yet refusal to recognize media agendas and priorities in restructuring media-minority relations can only hinder securing a multicultural balance between media goals and minority aspirations.
Canada is universally acclaimed as a multicultural society, whose commitment to managing diversity at institutional levels is globally admired and occasionally copied. Yet the media in Canada still have a long way before claiming to collectively mirror ourselves. The mass media have been singled out as visibly negligent in responding positively to Canada's aboriginal and racial diversity. In an effort to determine the "what," "why," "who," and "how" of this contradictory state of affairs, the principles and practices of media-minority relations are examined and analyzed. The perils and pitfalls of the restructuring process are explored in relation to the evolving demands of a post-multicultural society. The following questions provide a basis for sorting out relevant issues:
What, precisely, is the nature of media-minority relations in a multicultural society such as Canada? How is this problem expressed at the level of newscasting, TV programming, and advertising?
Why does the problem continue in the face of increased awareness and growing pressure for reform? Who and what is responsible? Racism and discrimination? Or does it reflect a combination of ignorance, fear, and economic calculation? To what extent is the problem systemic and inherent within the logic of the media?
How are media misrepresentation and underrepresentation being dealt with? What are the impediments to change? What are the successes?
The Context: Multiculturalism in Canada
Everyone agrees that Canada is a multicultural society. Many, however, disagree on the nature and scope of Canadian multiculturalism. Neither is there much consensus about the impact of multiculturalism on society at large, much less upon minorities in particular. In general, multiculturalism is concerned with the principles and practices of "accommodating diversity" in a way that ensures interconnectedness, without loss of the constituent units in the process. The objective of multiculturalism is not the promotion of minorities per se, but the creation of a society in which diversity is recognized as a legitimate and integral component. Much of the confusion associated with multiculturalism rises from failure to recognize differences between empirical fact, ideology, policies and programs and process.
As fact, nearly 45 percent of Canada's population acknowledges some degree of non-British, non-French ancestry according to 1991 census data. Those who identify themselves as aboriginal now stand at over one million, or 3.7 percent, of the total population - an increase of 41 percent since 1986, according to another Statistics Canada report. Visible minorities comprise between 9 and 10 percent of the population (based on preliminary results from the 1991 census data), with most concentrated in the major urban centres of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. This expanding diversity should come as no surprise, since immigration patterns reflect a high proportion (nearly 75 percent between 1981 and 1991) of new Canadians from "nonconventional" sources such as Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. Both national and urban figures are expected to escalate in light of government projections for expanding immigration flows by 250 000 per year until 1996.
As ideology, many Canadians uphold the ideal of diversity in its own right, as well as a means to end. The set of ideas and ideals associated with the "mosaic" are endorsed as part of Canada's distinctiveness and distance from the American "melting pot." A multicultural ideology "prescribes" a preferred course of action that endorses the "celebration of differences." Many Canadians appear comfortable with the ideals and principles of multiculturalism. They take pride in themselves as a fair and tolerant people who subscribe to cultural diversity as a matter of course. Numerous polls, surveys, and studies since the early 1970s have demonstrated consistent support for multiculturalism by a majority of Canadians. To be sure, these ideals do not always match reality. Support for multiculturalism diminishes when social, political, cultural or economic costs are deemed excessive in relation to anticipated benefits. Nevertheless, levels of endorsement remain encouragingly high even when multicultural principles are transformed into official policy or practice.
At the level of policy, Canada is officially multicultural (within a bilingual framework). The commitment to diversity is formally entrenched, making Canada the first (and only) country to enshrine multiculturalism at constitutional and legislative levels. Official multiculturalism originated in 1971 and continues to flourish as an instrument of state intervention for the effective management of racial and ethnic diversity. Various agencies and funded programs have been established by federal, provincial, and municipal authorities to achieve that goal. The recent shift in multicultural directives is clearly in progress, from an initial focus on culture and ethnicity ("celebrating differences") to one which emphasizes antiracism and equity "managing diversity". This emphasis on managing diversity and institutional accommodation strikes at the core of Canada's post-multiculturalism. With passage of the Multiculturalism Act in 1988, institutions under federal control are now obligated to make appropriate adjustments for minority accommodation through improved entry, access, representation, and treatment. This post-multicultural mandate - to implement programs and policies that reflected, reinforced, and promoted Canada's multicultural realities - was extended to include media institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the National Film Board (NFB), and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The act also empowered the CRTC to withhold the broadcasting licenses of stations that failed to abide by the new rules.
Finally, Canada is multicultural in terms of process. Both politicians and minorities have taken advantage of multiculturalism as a valued resource for promoting personal or group interests. For politicians, multiculturalism remains an essentially political tool to achieve political goals in a politically astute manner. For racial and ethnic minorities, multiculturalism serves as a key resource in the competition for recognition, power and status. This interplay of competing forces injects multiculturalism with a certain dynamism and developmental character - at times in new and exciting directions, at other times in directions not always envisaged in policy or ideology.
As mentioned, Canadians are generally supportive of multiculturalism, in principle if not always in practice. This support has been known to fluctuate over time, with variations from one region to another, as well as because of differences in age, socioeconomic status, level of education, and (possibly) gender. There is mounting evidence of an emergent backlash against multiculturalism as divisive, disruptive, irrelevant, ornamental, and impractical. Though accurate to some extent - after all, any policy or ideal possesses shortcomings when taken to its logical extreme or assessed against some utopian ideal - much of the criticism can be seen as groundless or off target. Still, progress toward institutional "mainstreaming" has been slow by most accounts. The mass media in particular would appear especially resistant to accommodation and change - despite government initiatives to restructure a relationship that historically embraced "pale male" priorities and anglocentric agendas, and have not yet integrated the principles of multiculturalism into their operational philosophy and procedures. Racial and aboriginal minorities have accused Canada's mass media of slanted coverage, ranging from the unfair and inadequate to allegations of outright racism. The media have defended their actions by pointing to improvements in a field historically resistant to change.
The Problem: Media (Mis)Treatment of Minorities
As might be expected, the relationship between the media and minorities is complex and elusive, as well as fraught with ambiguity and stress because of upheavals in Canadian society. The media in Canada convey information (both deliberate and inadvertent) about minorities, including who they are, what they allegedly want and why, how they propose to achieve their goals, and with what consequence for Canadian society. How accurate and representative is the coverage of media- minority relations? Who makes the decisions, and on what basis? Answers to these questions are, frankly, subjective and subjective to diverse interpretation. Nevertheless, common themes can be discerned in describing media treatment of minorities. Minorities are portrayed (1) as invisible and irrelevant, (2) in terms of race-role stereotyping, (3) as a social problem, and (4) as tokens for entertainment or decoration. These patterns furnish a convenient point of departure for sorting out issues in media-minority relations.
1. Minorities as Invisible
Aboriginal and racial minorities have long been ignored by the mass media, except when it has been convenient to do otherwise. Whether in advertising, newscasting, or TV and film, minorities are rendered virtually invisible through under-representation in programming, staffing and decision-making. Minorities have appeared to be unworthy of coverage unless caught up in situations of conflict or crisis. In a scathing indictment, the advertising trade magazine Marketing even praised certain types of South African "mixed" beer advertising as more enlightened than Canada's "lilywhite" images.
In a recent study on billboard advertising in Montreal subway stations, Fo Niemi and Mario Salgado found minorities featured on only one billboard (a promotion by Ontario Tourism featuring the image of a black ballerina repeated 10 times) from a total of 163 on display. Another study, by Robert MacGregor, underscored the invisibility of visible-minority women in Maclean's magazine over a 30-year period. Most were also restricted to limited roles as well as to a narrow range of goods and services. This observation was made nearly a decade earlier by Doreen Indra in her study of minority-women depiction's in the Vancouver press. Even substantial representation in certain sectors may be misleading, others argue, if the minority presence is slotted into a relatively small number of narrowly defined programs.
The dearth of minorities in the media is the rule rather than the exception. A 1984 survey of English-language broadcasting revealed that racial minorities represented 9 percent of the characters in dramas, 2 percent of news anchors, 4 percent of reporters, 5 percent of the guests on news features, and 6 percent of music and variety-show participants. Statistics from a 1984-88 national survey on advertising disclosed the presence of racial minorities in 7 percent of the advertisements, including 3 percent in alcohol ads and 11 percent in Ontario government ads. The findings elsewhere were even less positive. A 1987 ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) study found minority actors comprised only 3 percent of the characters on Canadian stages, less than 3 percent in commercials, and 5.5 percent of television performers. However, a recent study by MediaWatch points to some improvements, with minorities occupying 16.6 percent of the appearances in a select sample of Canadian-produced TV shows.
The assertion that minorities are "neutralized" by the media must be qualified. It is not so much that minorities are ignored by the media; it can be argued that they are overlooked when it counts but spotlighted when it doesn't. Take for example the presence of African-Americans on TV. There is no question that African-American performers are disproportionately represented on TV programming, particularly during the early evening slots. This may be linked to audience studies that show that blacks are the heaviest consumers of prime-time fare. Yet African-Americans are rarely seen outside the "ghetto" of situation comedies. They are likely to appear instead as grist (either as criminals or victims) for the mills of detective or "realism"-based police shows. Thus, African-Americans may be tolerated as comics or criminals, but are routinely ignored after the 9 p.m. slot - outside of cameo appearances for certain period pieces. The situation is similar in newscasting. Not only are minorities routinely rebuffed by the media unless convenient for "selling copy," but their opinions rarely solicited outside the "narrow sourcing" of the racial or ethnic community. That newscasting endorses a black-and-white view of the world also exacts a toll on minorities. A one-sided image of minorities is fostered that defines them as less than human because of a taste for violence and propensity for crisis. Paradoxically, the reality of minority experiences as seen through TV news (with its predilection for violence, drugs, crooks, or victims) is at odds with their depiction in entertainment programming as models of middle-class virtue, as in The Cosby Show, ironically being telecast at the same time as the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
A further problem is the absence of racial minorities in creative positions (such as those of director, producer, editor, or screenwriter). Fewer still are employed in the upper levels of management where key decision-making occurs. The experiences and realities of racial minorities are thus distorted or attenuated. Largely white, middle-class personnel are unable to comprehend the world from such diverse points of view, much less to appreciate the intensity of minority problems. As well, images of racial and aboriginal minorities are filtered through prisms that refract superficial encounters or the cumulative effects of previous reporting. For women of color, the situation is accentuated. They are doubly jeopardized by "pale male" ideologies that devalue women's contributions, distort their experiences, limit their options, and undermine self-confidence. The magnitude and scope of such insensitivity and inaccuracy suggest that discrimination and racism are indeed a "natural and necessary" component of the mass media.
How do we assess the impact of minority marginality? In psychological terms, media "whitewashing" (especially advertising) intensifies the invisibility of minorities in society. As one author put it, minorities are restricted in ways that "deny their existence, devalue their contribution to society, and trivialize their aspirations to participate, as fully-fledged members...."39 The absence of minorities serves to consolidate the status quo, with its prevailing distribution of power and resources. As noted elsewhere, those with the power to define others through images and representations are positioned to control and manipulate. The exclusion of people of color also perpetuates the "white face" of Canada, leaving others with "feelings of rejection, of marginality, and of non-belonging." "Whiteness" is conveyed not only as the norm from which all else deviates but also as a source of privilege - invisible and unearned - but real and at the expense of the nonwhite. One might conclude that what is not said by the media is as important as what is explicitly articulated.
2. Minorities as Stereotypes
Aboriginal peoples and racial minorities have long complained of media stereotyping. Historically, minorities were presented in a manner consistent with prevailing prejudices and attitudes. Images of minorities were steeped in unfounded generalizations - virtually to the point of near parody. For example, media stereotypes of aboriginal peoples dwelt on themes of "the noble savage", the"savage Indian," the "drunken Native," and the "subservient squaw." Other racial minorities were labeled as dropouts, pimps, and drug pushers, while still others were stigmatized as mathematical or scientific geniuses. Blacks in film and TV roles were often portrayed in one-dimensional ways - as entertainers or sport figures, villains, victims, buffoons, and domestics. Only rarely did minorities appear with something significant to say or do. Their lived experiences were reduced to the level of an "angle" or "jolt" for spicing up plot lines. Minority characterization rarely led to critical views of prevailing myths of society, namely, (a) things will get better, (b) systemic racism is not a problem, (c) working within the system is the way to get ahead, and (d) whatever your color, the American dream is within reach. Through stereotypes, minorities were put down, put in their place, or put up as props and adornments for audience gratification.
The film industry, as an important cultural institution, must shoulder its share of the blame for perpetuating stereotypes. According to Michael Parenti, the author of Make Believe Media: Politics of Film and TV, minorities were historically caricaturized as heathen savages or as subordinates in devoted service to white masters (e.g., Tonto for the Lone Ranger and Cato for the Green Hornet). Minorities were obligated to know their place on the silver screen, a subservience often conveyed by deferential actions related to serving, smiling, or shuffling. Similarly, Third World women of color were slotted into the category of background or filler as servant, alternatively as dangerous or evil, with potential to destroy all that is civilized or ordered. In other situations, minority women were deemed to be helplessly in need of paternalistic protection. This negativity was softened only when women of color internalized colonialist attitudes and modern values.
Progress toward eliminating mass media stereotyping is proceeding at glacial speed. Race-role images continue to be reinforced, perpetuated, and even legitimized through selective media coverage. Identifying a person by racial labels even when irrelevant to the story ("race-tagging") remains an occasional problem. In advertising, minorities are often cast into slots that reflect a "natural" propinquity for the product in question. Who better to sell foreign airlines, quality chambermaid service in hotels, or high-cut gym shoes? They are associated with exotic and tropical areas, portrayed as famine victims (usually children) in underdeveloped countries, enlisted as congenial boosters for athletics and sporting goods, or ghettoized in certain marketing segments related to "hip-hop" or "rap."
The net effect of this stereotyping is that minorities are slotted or labeled as unusual or negative, and this "foreignness" precludes their full acceptance as normal and fully contributing members of society. As well, stereotyping obviously conveys false information. The presence of a few highly visible entertainers or athletes in advertising is hardly typical of minority life chances. Particularly disheartening is the message that minority success is just a dribble or a dance step away for those with "natural" ability, "rhythm," or a "funny-bone." Herein lies a social function of stereotypes. In an industry geared to image and appeal, there is pressure to enforce the rule of homogeneity and conservatism through stereotyping. Images of consumer goods need to be sanitized and stripped of controversy or negative connotation for fear of lost audiences, hence revenue. Stereotypes "sanitize" our perceptions of the world. Majority apprehension of minorities is rendered less threatening through exposure to familiar and reassuring images.
3. Minorities as Social Problem
Generally speaking, aboriginal and racial minorities exemplify a "social problem" as far as the media are concerned. They are described in the context of having problems in need of solutions that expend an inordinate amount of political attention or a disproportionate slice of national resources. In addition, the media are likely to define minorities as villains who "create problems" by making demands unacceptable to the social, political, or moral order. Time and again, aboriginal peoples in Canada are portrayed as "troublesome constituents" whose claims for self-determination and inherent self-government are contrary to Canada's liberal-democratic tradition. People of color come across in a "dazzling array of trouble spots: hassling police, stumping immigration authorities, cheating on welfare, or battling among themselves or with their families." This "us versus them" mentality is conducive to minority scapegoating for an assortment of social or economic misfortunes. Such a mindset can generate resentment against those who do not conform in outlook, appearance, and practice with some mainstream ideal.
Mass media portrayals of aboriginal and racial minorities are as likely to inform and reveal (if selectively) as they are to misinform, conceal, and evade. There is no shortage of examples about information whose one-sidedness borders on propaganda. How often does media coverage of the Jane-Finch corridor in Greater Toronto veer outside the confines of a high-density concrete jungle composed mostly of African-Canadians immersed in drugs and guns? Reporting on aboriginal peoples is equally negative, although public sympathy for them remains high. The First Nations are portrayed as a threat to Canada's territorial integrity (the Lubicon blockade in 1988) or national interests (the Innu protest of NATO presence in Labrador); a risk to Canada's social order (the Oka crisis); costly (over $5 billion in federal expenditures); an economic liability (the massive land claims in the North); a crisis for the criminal-justice system (disproportionate numbers incarcerated); and a medical concern (suicides and rehabilitation). Finally, media dealings with refugees are often couched in terms of illegal entry and associated costs of processing and integration into Canada.
Several studies support these examples. In a 1986 content analysis, researchers reviewed the national newspaper coverage of Canada's immigration policy between 1980 and 1985. Items were examined in terms of several persuasion techniques: the positioning and layout of the story, article length and type size, content of headlines and kickers (phrases immediately after the headline), use of newspeak or inflammatory language, use of quotes, statistics, and racial origins. Researcher Michelle Ducharme found that use of these criteria resulted in immigrant portrayals that were both racist and discriminatory - albeit in a subtle, almost subliminal, manner. The use of clichés, stereotypes, and provocative language combined to escalate the negative aspects and perceived costs of immigrants and immigration policy. DuCharme writes:
By emphasizing the problems immigrants cause for the system, obvious solutions are suggested: entrance rules have to be made tougher, quotas have to be set, amnesty policies have to be questioned, refugee totals have to be cut, visa card systems need to be reconsidered to curb illegal entry, and marriages of convenience must be refused. These are but a few examples from newspaper articles that suggest that readers may come to believe that Canada has a serious "immigration problem" and that immigrants themselves pose a threat, not only to the system, but also to Canadians as individuals.
In other words, immigrants are perceived as troublemakers who steal jobs from Canadians, engage in illegal activities such as drugs or smuggling, and offer nothing to Canada in return for its largesse. Moreover, we can wonder if this deviance is proportionately greater or less than in mainstream communities. By contrast, articles of depth and scope pertaining to progressive community development by such minorities and immigrants are rarely considered for inclusion. Neither is there much space devoted to depictions of minorities as average, normal, tax-paying Canadians with a broad range of opinions and activities beyond the ethnic community. It is worth mentioning that comparable situations exist in the U.S. and the U.K where both respected newspapers and the right-wing "gutter" press take exception to the presence of racial minorities.
Media images of racial minorities pivot around the negative, unusual, and problematic - not the least because of the way news is defined. Minority realities are "boxed in," then sanitized, by the constraints, demands, and priorities of the mass media. Such treatment of minorities could be dismissed merely as an annoying quirk were it not for its repercussions. As pointed out in the magazine Report on Equality News, "Alternating between denying or exaggerating their presence, the media create a strong psychological barrier between visible minorities and the rest of Canadian society."
The cumulative effect of constant negative messages may be to marginalize minorities as irrelevant or as a threat to society. Minorities are likely to suffer when depicted as a "social problem" or as "having problems" typical of "others" or "foreigners." They come across as violent and emotionally unstable, with a diminished respect for human life or basic decency. The "moral panic" generated in media "hype" of conflict situations may leave authorities with no other (perceived) recourse but to intervene and control. Law enforcement and militia may be pressed into service to quell minority disturbance and impose order - as was the case in the aftermath of the Oka conflict. Equally damaging is the implication of a single, comprehensive solution to minority problems. Reality is more complex and convoluted than implied by the media, and proposed solutions may be simplistic to the point of disservice.
4. Minorities as Tokens
Minorities have frequently been cast as tokens that provide entertainment, serve ornamental purposes, caricature themselves through exaggeration, and reinforce a status of irrelevance. Television programming followed the historical lead of Hollywood in this respect, in casting minorities as comedians in sitcom ghettoes, or as hapless children and subservient adults. They may be viewed only as part of a crowd, or as "walking away from the camera" - an observation noted by jazz pianist Oscar Peterson in describing the presence of black musicians on beer commercials. The restrictive effects of such actions have served to trivialize minority aspirations. The narrowcasting of minorities as ciphers or as decorative not only distorts their image, but desensitizes the audience by making it more callous toward and indifferent to minority experiences.
Such entertainment angles become manifest at the newscasting level. This was illustrated recently with media coverage of the conflict involving pro-and anti-gambling factions on the St. Regis-Akwesasne Reserve near Cornwall, Ontario, in May 1990. Time and again the media focused on the escalation of hostilities and violence between factions in the "Mohawk Casino Wars," which culminated in two shooting deaths. The audience was repeatedly exposed to the dramatics of gun-toting Indians, heavily armed paramilitaristic Warrior Society members, and a sundry array of roadblocks, evacuations, death lists, and acts of arson. Age-old stereotypes about bloodthirsty savages were dusted off and circulated for the benefit of audiences who were fascinated and horrified by the vision of Mohawk against Mohawk. There was little attempt to put the conflict into some kind of historical or contemporary context. With the exception of several opinion pieces by aboriginal writers, few writers bothered to deal with prickly topics such as aboriginal self-determining rights, preferring instead to dwell on sensationalistic and confrontational as part of the total entertainment package. A similar assessment may be applied to the 1990 armed stand off at Oka, Quebec, between Mohawk activists and law-enforcement agencies.
Why the Problem? From System to Person
Media mistreatment of minorities is routinely acknowledged by the literature even if its precise nature remains unclear. What is less explicit are the reasons for this negligence. Why are minorities not reflected to any significant degree in consumer, advertising, on TV programming, or in news accounts? Such media neglect may arise for a variety of reasons, which may range in scope from hard-boiled business decisions reflecting market forces to a lack of cultural awareness and deep-seated prejudices. Progressive action may be thwarted by outdated presuppositions about minorities in terms of who they are and what they really want. Institutional constraints may also inhibit positive relationships. Two sets of responses predominate when delving into questions about negative media-minority relations. One set points to institutional resistance and media logic; the other looks at the dynamics of discrimination.
Negative portrayals of minorities are unfortunate but not surprising in light of the logic behind media operations and objectives. The media are involved in the construction of reality through the processes of socialization, legitimization, and agenda-setting (the latter accomplished through selective exposure, limited range of options, or established priorities). The mass media not only codify and shape perceptions of reality, they constitute a constructed reality of diverse forces, internal and external constraints, and personalities. This constructed character imposes restrictions on what the media may or may not do. Foremost among these constraints is the commercial logic that no longer exempts even public broadcasting from financial considerations. In seeking to secure as large an audience as possible for revenue purposes, mass media constitute business whose bottom line is profit and accountability TV shareholders. The corporatist nature of the media puts a bureaucratic clamp on organizational outputs, often at the expense of conventional social values. This should not automatically portray the media as reactionary. The media are neither homogenous nor monolithic, but allow ambiguities and openings for dissent or change, at odds with conservative values.
Understanding the input of the media in media-minority relations reinforces a key conviction; despite protests and pretensions to the contrary, the media are part of the establishment. They rarely occupy the cutting edge of change, are poorly equipped to deal with race and aboriginal issues, and resist the voices of the marginal and disorganized. Media dynamics cannot be divorced from the political and economic milieu that creates, sustains, and modifies media-minority relations. As well, the media resemble organizational forces in their own right, with a corresponding assemblage of symbols, meanings, and aesthetics. Locating the media as a social force within a broader context is pivotal to exposing the "unspoken assumptions" governing media dynamics. What is the nature of this "hidden agenda," and how does it shape - however inadvertently - media perception of aboriginal and racial minorities?
The Logic of Newscasting
What eventually becomes the "news" is not something tangible, with clearly marked labels that everybody can agree upon; neither is it a random but objective reaction to disparate events by detached professionals. News is a socially constructed process, shaped in part by a collective set of intrinsic values and created through the interplay of uneven forces. The socially constructed dimension of news is distilled from a vast range of potentially newsworthy events or personalities. Decisions about "newsworthiness" must take into account media perceptions about who or what is important to the audience. Gatekeepers (such as editors) are actively involved in the news selection process, which is influenced by various factors including organizational imperatives, personnel demands, audience constraints, sponsorship needs, and the bottom line. A pervasive bias in newsmaking reflects the interaction between private ownership and profit imperative. Various biases are inherent within the news process, but especially vulnerable is coverage, news collection, reporting, the news source, editorial gatekeeping, and presentation. Increasingly intense competition for the consumer dollar encourages the repackaging of news as entertainment with an informative slant ("infotainment"). The net result resembles a "residue" of news that is "print to fit," which says more about media priorities than reality itself.
Television programming is similarly constrained by inherent limitations. Despite the illusion of diversity, TV programming conforms to a proven formula in effect since its inception. Under the slogan of "safe, simple, and familiar," TV content is sanitized for fear of disturbing the consuming public. Characters are typecast within a restricted span of roles consistent with public expectations - lest this disturb the flow of advertising messages. The cumulative effect of TV programming is the perpetuation of a "boxed-in reality." It is not so much that television programming transcends reality, but that reality is "boxed-in" to conform with the practical constraints of a 26-inch screen, a half-hour time slot for resolution of plot and problems, and a storyline filled with unblemished characters of implausible virtue and free-spending habits. If the audience in general is poorly served by this "bracketing" of reality, then minorities are doubly jeopardized by the pull of TV programming to homogenize ("whitewash") pluralistic experiences for majority consumption.
Nowhere is the one-sidedness of the media more evident than in the area of advertising, which is central to media processes. Media dynamics revolve around securing an outlet for advertising, primarily by attracting a wide audience to maximize product sales. In deference to the buying public, advertising conforms to an underlying code that seeks to (a) attract viewer attention; (b) arouse interest; (c) target an audience; (d) manipulate images; (e) neutralize reservations; and (f) create conviction. The advertising media capitalize on consumer fantasies as one way of massaging the message of "more and more." But media messages often exclude minorities from such definitions, in effect banishing diversity to the margins of society. People of color are infrequently used in the advertising of beauty-care and personal-hygiene products, so entrenched is the image of "whiteness" as the preferred standard of beauty. Rarely are they advertised in conjunction with high-priced or luxury items. The loss of sophistication or exclusiveness is too much for the media. Reluctance amongst advertisers is further fueled by anxieties over a white boycott of minority-endorsed products, despite an overwhelming lack of evidence to this effect.
Media-Minority Relations as Propaganda
This negative portrayal of minorities is consistent with media logic, operations, and objectives. Newscasting, advertising, and programming are guilty by commission or omission in contributing to double standards and closed doors. The nature of this relationship can be critically explored by reference to the concept of propaganda. This can be defined expansively or narrowly, but we prefer to see it as a communication process in which behavior is influenced through emotional and one-sided manipulation of words or images. In taking this perspective, we do not equate propaganda with blatant brainwashing or crude displays of totalitarian-state censorship. Nor do we subscribe to the notion that propaganda constitutes a deliberate attempt at disinformation. Propaganda as discourse may reflect unconscious processes or unintended outcomes in the same way that systemic discrimination is based on the negative consequences of even well-meaning rules, equal standards, or uniform procedures rather than simply intent. Yet even unintended consequences are anything but inconsequential. As outcome or process, propaganda may lead to the exclusion of alternate points of view, reduction of dissent, and disagreement, manufacture of consensus and consent, compliance with the dominant ideologies, and definitions of outer limits of permissibility in society.
The impact of the media as a system of propaganda is subtle and oblique. This very unobtrusiveness transforms the media into a powerful agent of domination and control. The media fix the premises of public dialogue by defining the outer parameters of debate, thus massaging audience perceptions of what is normal or necessary. Media images about normalcy or acceptability are absorbed without much awareness of the indoctrination process. Spirited discussion and lively dissension may be encouraged, but only within the confines of an elite consensus. The fundamental premises upon which our society is founded - the virtues of materialistic progress, private property and market forces, and competitive individualism - are rarely scrutinized. Also unexamined are the tacit assumptions underlying the interpretation of reality from "pale male" perceptions.
The dynamics of propaganda provide a vantage point for analyzing media treatment of minorities. Propaganda within media imposes a cultural context for framing our experiences of social reality. Media images become interwoven into the fabric of society and culture, serving as instruments for molding opinion and public discourse. As well as crystallizing power in the hands of those who do the defining, these images reinforce and transmit the prevailing values and beliefs of society, thus defining collective experience, shaping social consciousness, and legitimating the status quo. A clear message is articulated about who is normal and what is desirable. Our dependency on the media as a basis for reality construction assumes even greater relevance when alternate and balanced sources of information are unavailable.
Discrimination and Racism
Discrimination and racism are frequently acknowledged as manifest within the mass media. One of many examinations of media treatment of minorities, the Report of the Committee on the Participation of Visible Minorities in Canadian Society (better known as Equality Now!) in 1984 issued a blistering indictment of media treatment of racial minorities in Canada. The report accused the mass media of fostering a "white only mentality" that generated "fantasies" or circulated "lies" about racial groups. Advertising was castigated for its commitment to "white sells" as largely out of touch with Canada's multicultural and multiracial reality.
How justified are such accusations? Does media mistreatment of minorities imply the presence of personal prejudice or overt discrimination? Or does it reflect a preference to act out of self-interest and according to marketplace dictates, especially during economic recessions and periods of corporate restructuring? Is it racism, or are media personnel unsure of how to deal with diversity without detonating a series of cultural landmines in the process? Do advertising moguls fear marketing mistakes that could attract negative product publicity, or worse still, incite a consumer boycott? Are minorities themselves unwilling to enter media professions because of low status associated with such employment? Answers to these questions are critical, but often begin with the assertion that media-minority relations are driven by racism and discrimination - at times deliberate, at other times inadvertent.
Blatant expressions of discrimination or racial slurs are rarely encountered in the mass media. Overt hostility and discrimination is neither acceptable nor legal in Canada. Various human-rights codes and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibit discriminatory behavior on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Yet coverage remains that is "politely" racist. According to Effie Ginzberg, a content analysis of columns and editorial in The Toronto Sun between 1978 and 1985 exposed a "biased, inaccurate, and unbalanced portrayal of visible minorities." Prejudicial attitudes were directed at racial and aboriginal minorities through circulation of stereotypes, defensive strategies (denial of racism in Canada), biological racism (genetic superiority of whites), scapegoating, and incitement of fear and hatred toward racial outgroups. Such hostility may be muted, yet the accumulative effects may be powerful and long-lasting. Robert Fulford explains:
For instance, racism itself can mask as a belief that the majority group is somehow losing out to minorities in jobs or housing It may appear as criticism of multiracial immigration: someone who wants fewer Asians admitted to Canada, and yet does not call them genetically inferior, is still arguing for discrimination on the basis of race - which is what most people mean by "racism." Ideas of this sort, expressed occasionally in isolation, may be regarded as purely eccentric, like Porter's eugenics. But when they come together in one place, and are repeated by various writers, they may form an attitude that amounts to institutionalized racism.
Polite forms of prejudice and discrimination continue to fester beneath the surface in the refusal to hire or promote racial minorities for one reason or another. The exclusion of minorities from advertising, for example, is discriminatory in consequence (if not in intent) because it leads to the restriction of employment opportunities. This is not overt discrimination, but can be "justified" on political, economic, or social grounds.
How pervasive is institutionalized discrimination within the mass media? Under institutional discrimination, rules and procedures are deliberately invoked to exclude racial minorities from equitable treatment, as in former times in South Africa and some parts of the U.S. Even more powerful in many ways is "systemic" discrimination, a term that often is ill-defined but that generally refers to bias within organizational procedures and policies that falls outside of conscious awareness of its existence or impact. It consists of barriers that may be involuntary and hidden in rules and procedures that seem neutral, yet lead to discrimination against individuals, not because of lack of merit or credentials but because of their membership in a devalued group. No one sets out to flagrantly violate the rights of others. Yet those in positions of authority may inadvertently contribute to the problem by invoking seemingly neutral rules, standards, and expectations. Hence, systemic discrimination arises from the consequences of well-meaning but misguided actions. It thus may arise from the application of universal standards to unequal situations.
Coverage of minorities is couched within the context of crisis or calamity with an emphasis on the negative or spectacular at the expense of a long-term, multifaceted struggle for development. While such events do occur, the absence of balanced coverage results in distorted perceptions of who minorities are, and what they collectively want. Objectively, such events may be true, and the distortion resulting from selective coverage is not deliberately engineered. Media preoccupation with readership and advertising revenues may lead to selective coverage. The flamboyant and sensational are highlighted to satisfy audience needs, without much regard for the effects on racial minorities. The mass media may not be aware of its discriminatory impact, arguing only that the news is being reported. The result is unavoidable - an unflattering portrayal that distorts minority experiences under the guise of information or entertainment.
What is the Solution? Mainstreaming the Media
Two Steps Forward....
The media in Canada have come under pressure to change and adjust. A preoccupation with economic incentives and organizational agendas has left the media poorly prepared for managing Canada's diversity. Some progress is evident in delineating a more positive and realistic portrayal of racial minorities and concerns. Reforms within the CBC include sensitivity training for program and production staff, language guidelines to reduce race and role stereotypes and the monitoring of on-air representations of racial minorities. Rules are in place to deter abusive representations of individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, or disability. The Broadcasting Act of 1991 has firmly endorsed the concept of "cultural expression" by expanding air time for ethno-racial minorities. As well, the CRTC has made it known that broadcasters will be evaluated on the basis of employment equity hiring when licenses come up for renewal. These initiatives are consistent with the provisions of the Multiculturalism Act, with its expectations that all government departments and Crown agencies improve minority access, equity, and representation. In addition, the Employment Equity Act of 1986 requires annual progress reports on minority hiring and equity goals from federally regulated agencies. To be sure, formal sanctions and quotas are absent at present, but minority representation in the workplace is likely to expand in response to government action against non-compliance.
Some ambiguity remains with respect to policy. This raises many questions such as: What is fair in terms of minority participation and presentation in the media process? Who decides, how, and why? How should diversity be incorporated into the media (e.g., by way of sensitivity training for white personnel or through balanced programming)? Are minority needs better served through minority ownership and control over the media? How do we restructure the media to make them more diverse, accessible, and accountable, as well as fair, just, and equitable, while still encouraging freedom of expression? Various recommendations have been proposed for attainment of a media reflective of Canada's emergent plurality. Some have suggested government intervention to ensure the salience of multiculturalism at all levels of mass media. Others propose to establish government advisory bodies (such as MediaWatch) to monitor the coverage of racial minorities, as well as to establish codes and standards with "teeth." Still others argue for more hiring and promotion of aboriginal minorities at all levels in the media industry. Such accommodation makes good business sense in view of the increasing economic power of minority-group members.
The Third Media
The expansion of the "third media" (including minority publications and broadcast programs) is a prime example of minority empowerment. In Southern Ontario, the multicultural channel CFMT delivers a much-needed service. Inroads are also evident in the private sector where multicultural issues have been addressed by Toronto's CITY-TV and on-air programming, such as the acclaimed series Degrassi High. In advertising, racial minorities are appearing more frequently across a broader range of products and services. Companies that utilize diversity are now perceived as sophisticated and cosmopolitan compared with their all-white counterparts, who come across as staid and outdated. As well, the mass media are beginning to recognize the vast, untapped market potential and commercial clout of racial and ethnic minorities.
One of the most successful examples in the third-media experience is in Northern Canada, where aboriginal communities have attained control of the local media. The CBC began operating a northern service in 1958, albeit from objectives that reflect priorities of the South, including industrial expansion, cultural and national integration, and protection of Canadian sovereignty. However, it was not until the advent of satellite broadcasting that expansion could make northern TV a commercially viable proposition for isolated communities. In 1975, Ottawa promised satellite TV for every Inuit community with a population over 500. Despite widespread acceptance, there was concern over loss of traditional lifestyles, normal social interaction, invasion of alien values, and a pending generation gap. To overcome these concerns, the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation was established in 1981 with the express purpose of controlling the airwaves through Inuit-produced programs about themselves, in the language of their ancestors. The verdict is mildly positive as CBC programs are counterbalanced by community-based, culturally sensitive programming as experienced through the visions and priorities of the Inuit rather than the South.
There are additional aboriginal-controlled radio and TV systems, such as TVNorth Canada, Northern Natives Broadcasting Access Programs, and Wawatay. Each employs a modern system of technology and communication to preserve the aboriginal language and culture. The impact and implications cannot be underestimated. The Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, co-chaired by Gerald Caplan and Florian Sauvageau in 1986, singled out the needs of aboriginal peoples and racial minorities as a starting point for improving future initiatives. The task force claimed that measures were required to protect and promote indigenous languages and cultures against the onslaught of Canadian assimilationist pressures. Aboriginal communities now possess the resources to blunt the electronic imperialism of foreign radio/TV programming with its capacity to distort aboriginal realities. Aboriginal-owned media are currently in a position to assert their own cultural values in a way that reflects their needs. Finally, aboriginal media encourage communities to break out of their isolation and to align themselves with the concerns, aspirations, and developments of indigenous peoples elsewhere. Politicizing aboriginal awareness through exposure of comparable movements in the area may prove the most long-lasting benefit of aboriginal media.
The ethnic press is an important factor in serving the minority community. Evidence suggests that ethnically owned media perform several major functions. Heritage-language papers create safe havens for ethnic cultures to flourish, while simultaneously fostering newcomer adaptation to the new cultural environment. They also facilitate the integration of immigrants into society by serving as a buffer and agent of socialization. Others, however, such as Kim and Kim, concede that ethnic newspapers (Korean papers in Canada in this case) may isolate the ethnic community through emphasis on heritage-culture values and links with the home country. Black and Leithner refute this position on the basis of findings that reveal modest increases in ethnic political involvement.
....One Step Back
The media have come under pressure to make appropriate adjustments in the multicultural management of diversity. Yet moves to convey a positive image of minorities have faltered on occasion, in the process suggesting that concessions may be more apparent than real. A study by MediaWatch that monitored eight Canadian-produced TV programs between September and December of 1992 concluded that 16.6 percent of the 1295 characters were persons of color - 4.2 percent women and 12.4 percent men. Such representation is striking because they accounted for only 9.3 percent of the 1991 population. It may well be that advertisers, and hence network management, are becoming more aware of the increasing financial power of such minorities.
Similarly, there is evidence of improvement on the newscasting front. People of color are employed increasingly as front-line reporters and anchors, but overall employment levels remain low. Further, there remains the question of negative co-worker attitudes because many minority-group members may be seen as having been employed simply to meet equity-hiring rules. Yet, even such efforts by media to improve representation may backfire. Positive portrayals and inclusive programming may be scorned as window dressing, condescending, tokenistic, and unrealistic by minority-group members. Critics' reaction to change is instructive. The highly rated Cosby Show received numerous accolades as one of the first all-African-American prime-time shows to dispense with many familiar stereotypes. Yet compared with the impoverished reality of many African-American lives and life chances, the Huxtables exuded a degree of affluence that few could realistically attain. Several themes prevailed on The Cosby Show: collectively, minorities could have it all if they wanted it; negation and internal discord were scrupulously suppressed, except as a minor inconvenience to surmount; and happiness was synonymous with material affluence and social success. The show was criticized for desensitizing whites to the problems confronted by minorities in the competition for success. If the Huxtables could make it, what was holding back others? Even the notion of the Huxtables as an "African-American experience" came under scrutiny by those who saw the trappings of a typical middle-class family but with "black" pigmentation to bolster plot lines or improve sight gags.
In short, the media have been criticized for both action and inaction. Ontario Hydro ads that involve a judicial mixture of minorities and non-minorities are taken to task as token gestures. Benetton ads that prominently display minorities in a variety of positive or negative situations are praised by some as progressive and cosmopolitan, yet denounced by others as exploitative and a trivialization of minority concerns. Once again the media find themselves in a double bind, in a no-win situation where they are dammed if they do, and dammed if they don't. Bewildered and taken aback by criticism for their efforts, the media have moved cautiously in accommodating diversity.
Conclusion - Contesting the Terrain: Toward a Post-Multicultural Media
Canada is undergoing a period of profound upheaval at demographic, social, and political levels. Time-honoured rules and conventional practices are slowly crumbling under the onslaught of new realities. Many, however, remain firmly entrenched as vested interests balk at discarding the tried-and-true. New visions are gaining credence as they filter into our national consciousness. Yet these ideas often lack political clout or singularity of purpose to displace traditional patterns. This interplay between the old and the new can be disruptive, especially when both the ideas and their audiences are torn between competing world views and evolving agendas. But it is precisely these circumstances that hasten institutional change.
In a seemingly progressive society such as Canada, the media have lagged behind in mainstreaming diversity, a situation that, as I have indicated, is not always of their own making. Yet progress has been made in the restructuring of minority/media relations. It goes beyond the introduction of programs intended simply to mollify activists or politicians. What is at stake is nothing less than a fundamental transformation of the media, which have historically ignored many of the interests of minority-group members. As in any great restructuring of social systems, the process is crystallized around the struggle for power. The competition for power in the struggle for scarce resources thus transforms the media into an importantly contested site that requires our continual attention.
Dr. Augie Fleras teaches in Toronto, and is co-author of Breaking the Mould: Redefining the Representational Basis of Media Minority Relations in a Multicultural Canada, a project looking at 25 years of media minority images
Representations of race in television commercials:
a content analysis of prime-time advertising
Dana E. Mastro. Dec 2003
Research from the U.S. Department of Commerce demonstrates that, collectively, the annual purchasing power of racial/ethnic minorities constitutes over 20% of the nation's total consumer spending and is rising at a rate faster than that of the non-minority population (MBDA, 2000). Together with rapidly changing demographics, these figures have prompted advertisers to aggressively tap into the extensive minority market (Holland & Gentry, 1999). While such attempts represent tremendous financial opportunities for the ad industry, they are not without consequence for consumers. In fact, researchers argue that the sheer pervasiveness of advertising may enhance its potential to influence television viewers (Stern, 1999). In order to identify the possible implications of advertising exposure on minorities, this content analysis utilizes a social cognitive perspective in its evaluation of portrayals of Blacks (African Americans), Asian Americans, Latinos, and Whites in current prime-time television commercials. Because these depictions have traditionally been questionable in nature (Greenberg, Mastro, & Brand, 2002), these groups were isolated for examination. Although content analyses cannot offer causal evidence, the content features derived from these analyses are integral to the development of comprehensive media effects studies (Shoemaker & Reese, 1996).
Social cognitive theory (SCT) suggests that under certain conditions, such as the repeated, simple, and rewarded messages that typify television ads, viewers can and do learn from what they see in the media (Bandura, 1986; Bandura, 2002). Although not every learned behavior is emulated, SCT submits (and empirical research supports) that the manner in which images are presented on television influences how viewers interpret and respond to the modeled acts (Bandura, 2002). One contextual feature in particular that may be considerably influential for audience members exposed to television commercials is the extent to which the models are believed to be similar to self. The character's race/ethnicity has been found to be an especially salient indicator of this perceived similarity (Jose & Brewer, 1984) as evidenced in research indicating that Black viewers prefer ads (Williams, Qualls, & Grier, 1995) and programming featuring Blacks (Nielsen Media Research, 1998), and that Latinos favor Spanish-language programs. Additionally, studies reveal that children are more likely to report identifying with and wanting to be like media characters of their own racial/ethnic background (Greenberg & Atkin, 1982). Given that Blacks and Latinos also have been found to be among the heaviest television consumers (Nielsen Media Research, 1998), examining how often and in what context characters from different racial/ethnic groups are depicted in commercials becomes consequential.
Typically, researchers interested in evaluating images in advertising have focused on three primary areas: (1) frequencies, (2) selective presentation, and (3) presentation quality.
Frequencies. Examining numeric representation is meaningful as presence in the media is seen as an indication of social relevance in larger society (Dorr, 1982). Despite their actual proportions in the population, racial/ethnic minorities have been chronically underrepresented in television commercials (Greenberg et al., 2002). This finding has been supported by longitudinal (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000) and cross-sectional studies of television advertising (Wilkes & Valencia, 1989). Two exceptions include Licata and Biswas' (1993) and Taylor and Stern's (1997) results revealing elevated occurrences of Black portrayals in television ads (finding Blacks in 35% and 31.8% of ads, respectively). Further, Taylor and Stern (1997) found Asian Americans to be depicted in 8.4% of commercials, Latinos in 8.5% of ads, and Whites in nearly every advertisement (98%).
Selective presentation. Examining the quality of these portrayals in terms of product association and setting is necessary as these provide implicit cues regarding the cultural worth of the individuals associated with them (Cohen, 1992). Typically, Blacks appeared in integrated ads for food (Taylor & Stern, 1997; Wilkes & Valencia, 1989), cars, alcohol (Wilkes & Valencia, 1989), or institutional/service advertisements, with the value of the product inversely related to interaction with Black models (Licata & Biswas, 1993). Comparatively, Whites appeared most often in advertisements for cosmetics and were most frequently found at home. Asians were most often in ads for retailers while Latinos were primarily located in banking/ finance ads (Taylor & Stern, 1997) or ads for food and entertainment (Wilkes & Valencia, 1989).
Presentation quality. Although arguably the most illuminating measure of the value of the characterization, relatively little is known about the qualities associated with these presentations. On average, studies suggest that racial/ethnic minorities appear most regularly in minor or background roles and group settings (Taylor & Stern, 1997; Wilkes & Valencia, 1989); are less likely to be pictured as parents or spouses (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000); and are less likely to give orders.
When the potential impact of exposure to television commercials is considered from the perspective of social cognitive theory, the quality of these ads assumes increasing social significance. As such, based on the assumptions of SCT and existing content analyses, the following research questions were formulated:
RQ1 : What is the comparative frequency of portrayals of race in television commercials?
RQ2: Do characters' age and sex vary by race?
RQ3: What occupational and familial roles are associated with which groups?
RQ4: What physical attributes are associated with which groups?
RQ5: What personality characteristics are associated with which groups?
A one-week sample of prime time television programming (8:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. EST, Mondays-Saturdays and 7:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. EST, Sundays) across the six broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN, and WB) was recorded over a 3-week period in February 2001. Program time periods were assigned numbers from a random numbers table and these were then blindly drawn to construct a complete week. All national advertisements were coded, yielding 2,880 ads. Consistent with existing research, the use of a simple random sample was deemed appropriate to allow for generalization (Neuendorf, 2002; Riffe, Lacy, & Fico, 1998). While no uniform standard exists regarding sample size (Krippendorf, 1980; Neuendorf, 2002; Riffe et al., 1998), using standard error estimates to calculate confidence intervals around the current measures provided 95% confidence in the generalizability of findings (Neuendorf, 2002).
Four undergraduate students, extensively trained on commercials outside the actual sample, served as coders. Scott's pi was used to assess intercoder reliability for nominal level variables (Potter & Levine-Donnerstein, 1999). Ordinal/interval data were appraised with Krippendorff's alpha (Krippendorff, 1980). Reliabilities based on the actual sample are individually reported alongside each variable definition to follow.
Units of Analyses
The present study involved two units of analysis. First, consistent with current research on prime-time advertising, all national commercials were coded including repeated ads (Craig, 1992). Local commercials, political advertisements, trailers for television shows, movies, and sports events were excluded (Bartsch, Burnetts, Diller, & Rankin-Williams, 2000; Wilkes & Valencia, 1989). Second, the first three speaking human characters in each ad were coded. A speaking part was defined as a singular, discernible voice emanating from an identifiable character. Pilot testing revealed that the majority of prime-time commercials contained fewer than three identifiable speaking characters. Thus, a maximum of three characters per commercial was coded thereby providing a systematic assessment while avoiding the uncertainties that arise when identifying "primary" or "background" characters (e.g., Bartsch, et al., 2000). In addition, because social cognitive theory posits that audience members are more likely to prefer (Williams et al., 1995) and identify with characters similar to self and are more inclined to attend to notable and distinctive characters (Bandura, 1986; Bandura, 2002), only human speaking characters were included.
At the commercial level, product type (Pi =1.0) was coded to identify the best description of the product using a 30-product coding scheme. At the character level, several variables assessing context, roles, behaviors, and attributes were coded. To address the context, setting (Pi =1.0) was coded as the primary location where the character was found (including work, home, other indoors, and outdoors). Characters' relationship to the product (Pi = .92) was also addressed and categories included using, endorsing, both, or neither.
Characters' primary behavior (Pi = .83) (i.e., work, domestic, recreation, and other) was assessed to determine principal function within the ad. Another measure, job authority, (Pi = .75) was used to estimate characters' primary professional relationship with other characters at work, including order giver, order receiver, both, and neither (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000). Similarly, a social authority(Pi = .86) measure designating giving advice, receiving advice, both and neither was utilized to determine character's social status. Family status (Pi = 1.0) was recorded in terms of whether or not the character was depicted as a family member. Alluring behavior (Pi = 1.0), measured as a dichotomy, indicated whether or not the character took part in behaviors such as flirting (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000). To assess the extent to which a character engaged in sexual gazing (Pi = 1.0), the following four options were provided: receiving a sexual gaze, giving a sexual gaze, both, or neither (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000). Characters also were examined to establish the presence or absence of an accent (Pi = .91) (Mastro & Greenberg, 2000), and their affective state (Pi = 1.0) was coded to determine if the characters laughed, cried, and/or shouted in anger.
Several other character attributes were assessed on a 5-point scale. Degree of dress ([alpha] = .88) measured the attire of the character ranging from conservative (1) to suggestive (5) (Mastro & Greenberg, 2000). Hierarchy position ([alpha] = .88) addressed the status of the characters from superior (1) to subordinate (5). The extent to which characters were respected ([alpha] = .94) was evaluated from highly (1) to not at all respected (5). Each character's activity ([alpha] = .72) was rated ranging from active (1) to passive (5) (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000; Mastro & Greenberg, 2000). Physical attractiveness ([alpha] = .88) gauged characters' physical beauty by mainstream U.S. standards from attractive (1) to unattractive (5) (Mastro & Greenberg, 2000). An affability item ([alpha] = .95) described the disposition of the character from friendly (1) to hostile (5) (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000). In addition, body type ([alpha] = 1.0) was measured on Stunkard, Sorensen, and Schulsinger's (1983) 9-point pictorial scale ranging from extremely thin (1) to extremely overweight (9). Finally, age (Pi = 1.0) was measured from child (1) to senior (5).
To examine differences based on the race of the character, chi-squares were performed. The sizeable imbalance in appearances across racial/ethnic groups presented too great a violation of analysis of variance assumptions to employ such analyses with ordinal/interval variables. It was further necessary to collapse the following variables into three levels to avoid violations of the chi-square minimum frequency requirement: degree of dress, hierarchy position, respectability, activity level, physical attractiveness, affability, body type, and age.
Across the 2,880 commercials coded in this sample of prime time television, the race of 2,290 of the 2,315 speaking characters was identified. The majority of these characters was White (n = 1907, 83.3%) followed by Black (n = 285, 12.4%), Asian (n = 53, 2.3%), Latino (n = 24, 1.0%), Native American (n = 9, 0.4%), and "other" (n = 12, 0.5%). Males of all races appeared more often than females with the exception of Latinos, among whom the number of males and females was equivalent.
Commercial Level Characteristics
Black characters were most commonly depicted in commercials for financial services (n = 56, 19.7%) and food (n = 50, 17.6%). Asians appeared most commonly in ads for technology (n = 16, 30.2%). The commercials most frequently featuring Latinos were for soap/deodorant (n = 10, 43.4%). White characters were seen most in commercials for technology (n = 285, 15%) and food (n = 277, 14.6%). Native Americans, rarely shown, were most often depicted in ads for macro-retailers (e.g., WaI-Mart) (n = 2, 22.2%) and automotives (n = 2, 22.2%). Due to the small number of appearances of Native Americans, they were excluded from further analyses.
The setting in which characters were located in commercials was found to vary significantly by race, [X.sup.2] (9, n = 2239) = 36.22, p < .01. While both Black (n = 83, 29.4%) and Latino (n = 10, 43.5%) characters were most often located outdoors, Asians (n = 22, 45.8%) were most often found at work and Whites (n = 574, 30.4%) were most often at home.
Character Level Attributes
Chi-squares revealed significant differences in characters' relationship to the product based on race, [X.sup.2] (9, N = 2244) = 35.25, p < .01. Blacks (n = 103, 36.4%) and Whites (n = 667, 35.4%) were predominately seen using the product. Alternatively, Asians (n = 34, 65.4%) and Latinos (n = 12, 50.0%) most often had no relationship with the product being advertised. The primary behavior of characters did not differ significantly by race, [X.sup.2] (9, N = 2260) = 15.04, p = .08. However, while Black (n = 94, 33.0%), Latino (n = 12, 50.0%), and White characters (n = 746, 39.2%) were most often found engaging in activities other than work, domestic activities, or recreation, Asians were most often seen working (n = 22, 44.0%). If shown in occupational roles, the job authority of characters differed based on race, [X.sup.2] (6, N = 833) = 20.94, p < .01. Findings indicated that while Blacks (n = 51, 44.7%) and Asians (n = 10, 45.5%) typically did not give or receive orders, Whites were nearly as likely to give orders (n = 226, 32.4%) as they were to neither give nor receive orders (n = 279, 40.0%). An insufficient number of Latinos appearing in occupational roles barred them from inclusion. Measures of characters' social authority demonstrated no distinctions based on race. Among Black (n = 241, 84.6%), Asian (n = 39, 78.0%), Latino (n = 15, 62.5%), and White (n = 1524, 80.1%) characters, the most common representation was neither giving nor receiving advice. Characters' family status also did not vary by race. The majority of Black (n = 214, 76.2%), Asian (n = 35, 71.4%), Latino(n = 21, 95.5%), and White(n = 1365, 72.0%) characters were not identified as family members.
Statistically significant differences by race did emerge in chi-square tests of sexual gazing, [X.sup.2] (9, N = 2253) = 61.28, p < .01. The vast majority of Black (n = 264, 93.0%), Asian (n = 48, 96.0%), and White (n = 1762, 93.0%) characters did not give or receive sexual looks. Latinos, however, were more evenly divided between those who did not give or receive sexual gazes (n = 13, 54.2%) and those who did (approximately 45.9%). A similar pattern surfaced for use of alluring behavior, [X.sup.2] (3, N = 2253) = 52.01, p < .01. Although Blacks (n = 262, 92.3%), Asians (n = 50, 100.0%), and Whites (n = 1777, 93.8%) rarely engaged in alluring behaviors, Latinos were more closely divided between behaving alluringly (n = 10, 41.7%) and not demonstrating such behavior (n = 14, 58.3%). Whether or not a character had an accent was significantly associated with race, [X.sup.2] (3, N = 2237) = 304.81, p < .01. Overall, Blacks (n = 271, 95.8%), Asians (n = 43, 87.8%), and Whites (n = 1842, 97.7%) spoke with no discernable accent. In contrast, Latinos (n = 14, 73.7%) were likely to speak with an accent. Although statistically significant, differences in laughter were not found to be associated with the race of the character, [X.sup.2] (3, N = 2259) = 76.37, p < .01. Race was not significantly associated with crying, [X.sup.2] (3, N = 2256) = 1.70, p = .64 or shouting, [X.sup.2] (3, N = 2254) = 2.67, p = .45.
The race of the characters was significantly related to their age, [X.sup.2] (6, N = 2268) = 18.21, p < .01. Black characters (n = 138, 48.6%) and White characters (n = 1020, 53.5%) were most commonly depicted as older adults, while Asians (n = 22, 41.5%) and Latinos (n = 10, 41.7%) were typically portrayed as young adults. Significant differences for degree of dress also were revealed, [X.sup.2] (6, N = 2260) = 14.59, p < .025. Whereas Blacks (n = 167, 58.6%), Asians (n = 35, 70%), and Whites (n = 1219, 64.1%) were shown to be conservatively clad, Latinos tended to be more suggestively clad (n = 12, 50.0%). Differences in hierarchy position, [X.sup.2] (6, N = 2260) = 6.50, p = .37 and respectability, [X.sup.2] (6, N = 2260) = 14.72, p < .025 did not vary meaningfully based on race. The characters were typically deemed to be average/neutral on both variables. However, the characters' activity level, [X.sup.2] (6, N = 2259) = 20.74, p < .01 was significantly related to character race. Although Blacks (n = 114, 40.0%) and Whites (n = 747, 39.3%) were moderately active, Asians (n = 29, 58%) were most often found to be more passive. Latinos, were evenly divided between highly (n = 10, 41.7%) and moderately (n = 10, 41.7%) active. The attractiveness of characters also varied significantly by race, [X.sup.2] (6, N = 2256) = 29.95, p < .01. Both Black characters (n = 127, 44.6%) and White characters (n = 904, 47.7%) were average in attractiveness. Asians, however, were nearly evenly divided between very attractive (n = 20, 40.0%) and very unattractive (n = 18, 36.0%). Most often, Latinos (n = 15, 62.5%) were identified as very attractive.
Chi-squares for affability were conducted separately for men and women (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000). Latinos were excluded due to an insufficient sample size. For men, no meaningful differences existed based on the race of the character, [X.sup.2] (4, N = 1308) = 11.54, p < .025, as each group was most often depicted as average in affability. Although not significantly different, [X.sup.2] (4, N = 908) = 7.45, p = .11, both Asian women (n = 12, 66.7%) and White women (n = 370, 48.7%) were identified as highly affable while Black women (n = 74, 56.5%) tended to be depicted as average in affability. Last, significant differences in body type emerged by race for both males, [X.sup.2] (6, N = 1277) = 52.08, p < .01 and females, [chi square] (6, N = 907) = 33.61, p < .01. Among males, Black (n = 78, 53.8%) and White (n = 770, 70.4%) characters were typically average in weight, while Asians (n = 17, 58.6%) and Latinos (n = 6, 60.0%) were most commonly extremely thin. An examination of the women revealed that Black (n = 72, 55.8%), Asian (n = 12, 70.6%), and White (n = 464, 61.9%) women were most frequently depicted as extremely thin. Latino women (n = 11, 100.0%) were identified exclusively as extremely thin.
Overall, this analysis of contemporary television advertising indicates both progress and stagnation for racial/ethnic minority representations. While Blacks are generally portrayed in a more diverse, equitable manner, and at a rate commensurate to the population, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans remain underrepresented and, at times, negatively depicted. Because television commercials not only promote consumption, but also shape images and "sustain group boundaries that come to be taken for granted" (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000), it is important to consider how such representations might influence racial/ethnic minority viewers. However, linking exposure with consumer outcomes certainly will require micro-and/or macro-level effects studies (Hertog & Fan, 1995) that incorporate audience and production level variables together with content characteristics (Shoemaker & Reese, 1996).
According to SCT, the process of learning from the media begins with the act of attending to the media event. Similarity and identification with the model facilitate this process (Bandura, 2002). Given this, Blacks and Whites have the greatest number of potential models in current television advertising among all racial/ethnic groups. When compared with U.S. Census (2000) figures, Blacks are represented in commercials proportionately (12.3%) while Whites are over-represented (75.1%). Black characters are typically found in ads for financial services or food, and are attractive, respected adults commonly located outdoors. This is largely comparable to the depictions of Whites, who tended to be fairly average in their roles and attributes. Based on SCT, then, it would be expected that Black and White viewers might be less likely than others to develop harmful self-perceptions as a result of exposure, especially when considering that characters' mere presence in ads suggests social relevance and group legitimization (Dorr, 1982).
Latino and Asian consumers may acquire substantially different sets of messages. Although Latinos comprise 12.5% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census, 2000), they make up only 1% of speaking characters in commercials. These models are highly attractive, younger adults with noticeable accents, who are more suggestively clad than their commercial counterparts and more frequently found engaging in alluring behaviors and sexual gazing. In applying SCT, Latinos exposed to these ads may learn to identify physical appearances and sexuality rather than intellect, for example, as the most important components of self. Alternatively, Asians attending to images of self will typically find young, passive adults at work in technology ads. Potentially, this may serve to reinforce perceptions of Asian Americans as dedicated to work only, ultimately tying self-worth to submissiveness and superior achievement. Unfortunately, Native Americans are so infrequently represented in television ads that it is impossible to speculate about the type of social learning that may result from exposure.
Limitations and Implications for Future Research
Given that these results reveal dissimilar patterns in the portrayal of different racial/ethnic groups, empirically testing their consequent implications for viewers will be essential in future research. Until such time, assumptions regarding the impact of media exposure on consumers remain largely theoretical. As Shoemaker and Reese (1996) point out, it is by integrating information about media production constraints, audience characteristics, and media content features into effects studies that we are able to more fully explain and predict the outcomes of exposure.
Although this study provides insight into representations of minorities in contemporary television commercials, the picture is far from complete. Future content analyses in this area should consider carefully the constraints presented by coding only the first three speaking characters in each ad. This practice limits confidence that all primary characters have been included and privileges primacy effects over recency effects. Further, this analysis, like much quantitative research on television content, utilized sampling and analytical techniques that, despite their ability to provide objective and generalizable information, preclude the inclusion of groups with minimal representation (i.e., Native Americans). As a result, continued research aimed at assessing the impact of the absence of representation on perceptions of self should consider, at minimum, the use of longitudinal data to detail and match changes over time (Poindexter & Stroman, 1980).
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Dana E, Mastro (Ph.D., Michigan State University; is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona. Her research interests are aimed at documenting depictions of race and ethnicity in the media and examining the impact of exposure on intergroup behaviors.
Susanna R. Stern (Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) is Assistant Professor in the Deparment of Communication at Boston College. Her research interests include youth, gender, and electronic media
The promotion of media literacy is a new responsibility placed on Ofcom arising from Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003.
In addition, Section 3(4)(i) of the Communications Act requires Ofcom, in performing its general duties “to have regard to the needs... of persons with disabilities” as it deems relevant in the circumstances. To this end, as part of the Media Literacy Audit, it was important to ensure that the views and media habits of disabled people were fully represented.
Ofcom’s definition of media literacy, developed after formal consultation with stakeholders, is ‘the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts’. Media literacy gives people the confidence and knowledge to get the most out of the many media platforms that now exist.
Ofcom has carried out an audit of media literacy across the UK and in March 2006 published its first report, which details the audit’s findings across all UK adults. That report, Ofcom’s Media Literacy Audit: report on adult media literacy, is available at www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/media_literacy.
This supplementary report focuses on disabled adults aged under 65, defined as any type of self-reported impairment that ‘limits your daily activities or the work you can do’.
The reason for the focus on adults aged under 65 in this report is to disentangle the strong relationship that exists between age and disability. A separate supplementary report, published alongside this report, details the findings for older people aged 65 and over and includes analysis of older disabled people’s media literacy.
The purpose of this report on disabled people is to provide stakeholders with an array of information about the opinions and habits of those people in relation to media literacy. We recognise that disabled people are a diverse group and so we have examined, where possible, a range of sub-groups in this report: those with visual impairment, those with hearing impairment, those with mobility impairment, those aged under 45 and those aged 45-64.
But it is important to stress from the outset that this report uses a wide definition of disability, similar to that of the Disability Rights Commission and the Disability Discrimination Act(-1-) . Our definition includes any kinds of impairment that are limiting to daily life and work. In this report we cannot categorise separately these disabilities by level of severity. Rather, our analysis is top-line, examining the extent to which the various elements of media literacy are differently achieved by those with impairment.
Its purpose is to act as a first stage, to provide Ofcom and its stakeholders with an overall view, supplemented by more detail where possible, in order to encourage debate and further examination.
The audit as a whole looks at how UK adults and children access, understand and create communications, with Ofcom’s particular focus being on electronic communications. In this context, our definition of access is much wider than availability or take-up of the platforms. Rather, it focuses upon interest, awareness, usage and competence relating to each platform. Understanding relates to how content (such as television and radio programmes, internet websites, or mobile video and text services) is created, funded and regulated.
Some of the elements of this audit - such as attitudes towards the provision of news, or knowledge of content regulation – apply to traditional analogue television and radio as well as their newer digital counterparts. But for the most part, this audit focuses on the four main digital media platforms – not only digital television and digital radio, but also the internet and mobile phones - as these are the ones where there is most divergence between different groups within the UK in terms of understanding, take-up and usage.
Our main findings are:
Across all platforms
Some 82% of disabled people aged under 65 in our survey have a mobile phone, 65% have digital TV, 50% have home access to the internet and 46% say they have access to digital radio services. These levels of ownership are similar to all UK adults under 65, with the exception of mobile phones (90% all adults under 65) and the internet (62%). Digital television is more likely to be owned by those with mobility impairments, and least likely to be owned by those with visual impairments. Those with visual impairments are slightly more likely to have internet access at home and have a mobile phone.
In comparison to all UK adults under 65, disabled people aged under 65 watch more TV, listen to more radio, and use the internet and mobile phones to a similar extent.
Concerns about TV content are higher amongst disabled people aged under 65 than amongst all UK adults under 65, with concerns about radio content, the internet and mobile phones at around the same level. Concerns appear to be slightly greater for those with mobility impairments than those with sensory impairments.
Disabled people aged under 65 watch on average 25.5 hours of television per week, compared to 20.1 hours of TV viewing per week on average for all UK adults under 65. This rises to 28.6 hours for those with mobility impairments.
Around three quarters of disabled people aged under 65 say they can use Teletext/Ceefax, and three in five say they can set up a recording on the VCR or use the digital TV interactive button. These figures are lower than for all UK adults under 65.
Knowledge of TV regulation, channel funding and the watershed are at very similar levels for disabled people aged under 65 and all UK adults under 65, at around 80%. People with hearing impairments appear to be more knowledgeable about most of these elements.
Three in five (59%) disabled people aged under 65 say they have any concerns ‘about what is on TV’; considerably higher than amongst all adults (43%). Concern appears to increase with age, and those with mobility impairments appear to be more concerned than those with sensory impairments.
Similar numbers (two in five) of disabled people and all UK adults under 65 say they have interacted with TV using either their mobile, the interactive button on their remote control, or the internet.
Disabled people (46%) are about as likely as all UK adults under 65 (48%) to say they have access to digital radio services.
Disabled people aged under 65 say they listen to radio (both digital and analogue) for a total of 17.7 hours per week, compared to 15.2 hours for all UK adults as a whole. People with visual impairments are more likely to listen most per week, compared to those with hearing or mobility impairments. They are also more likely to be interested in the features of digital radio.
A majority of disabled adults aged under 65 are aware that radio is regulated and are aware of how BBC radio stations are mainly funded, with fewer than half aware of how commercial radio stations are mainly funded. These levels are broadly similar to those for all UK adults under 65. People with hearing impairments appear more likely to be aware.
One in seven (14%) disabled adults aged under 65 says they have any concerns ‘about what is on radio’. This measure is higher than that for all UK adults under 65 (10%).
Amongst disabled internet users aged under 65, self-reported weekly usage levels are similar to those for all UK adults under 65 (10.7 compared to 10.4 hours). Disabled people aged under 45 use the internet more frequently, for 13.8 hours per week.
Disabled adults aged under 65 make a more narrow use of the internet, with fewer users using the internet for communication, leisure and transactions than all UK adults users under 65.
Over three quarters of disabled internet users under 65 say they can use email with confidence to contact friends and family, and nearly three quarters say they can visit websites to find out the latest news. Levels of competence for other internet tasks are lower, and overall, are lower than for all UK adults users under 65.
Just under half of disabled people aged under 65 (48%) know how the BBC website is mainly funded; matching the finding for all UK adults under 65 (49%). Around one quarter (23%) know the main way of funding for search engine websites, slightly lower than for all UK adults (28%).
Just under half (48%) of all disabled people under 65 with the internet at home say they are interested in, and confident about, blocking viruses/spam, which is lower than for all UK adults with the internet at home (58%).
Three-fifths of disabled adults aged under 65 say they have any concerns about the internet (61%); a similar figure to all UK adults under 65. Disabled adults (and all UK adults) are mostly concerned by content.
Mobile phone ownership among disabled people is somewhat lower (82%) than for all UK adults under 65 (90%), with people with hearing impairments less likely to own than people with either visual or mobility impairments.
Disabled people aged under 65 make and send similar levels of weekly calls and texts compared to all UK adults under 65.
The top three weekly uses made by disabled people aged under 65 match those for all UK adult users, with calls coming first (81%), texts second (70%), and looking back at stored text messages third (26%).
Over three-quarters of disabled people aged under 65 say they can do with confidence a variety of tasks relating to mobile phones, for example storing a new contact (88%); changing the ring-tone (79%); and listening back to voicemail messages (78%).
Some 44% of disabled people aged under 65 say they have any concerns about mobile phones. Concern is mostly linked to risks to health.
Sources of news
Disabled people aged under 65 use broadly similar sources of news as all UK adults, with just under two-thirds using TV the most (64%); 17% nominating newspapers, and 13% the radio. There are no significant differences by sub-group.
Disabled people aged under 65 are more likely to use just one source for news, at 28% compared to 22% of all adults under 65.
Overall, levels of trust and distrust in TV and radio amongst all adults and disabled people aged under 65 are very similar, at around three-quarters of the maximum potential. Levels of trust for news websites and newspapers are lower than for TV and radio, and slightly lower amongst disabled people, especially those aged 45-64.
Attitudes and preferences
Some 44% of disabled people aged under 65 say they would miss watching television the most, similar to all UK adults under 65 (42%). Listening to music is next for disabled people, with 17% saying they would miss it most (compared to 14% for all UK adults). Those with visual impairments are more likely to miss listening to radio and to music than those with mobility or hearing impairments.
One third of disabled people aged under 65 (34%) say they are interested in learning more about digital technologies (compared to a similar figure for all UK adults under 65 of 37%). One in five (18%) is interested in learning about using the internet and one in ten (11%) about creating a website. Interest beyond these media topics is low.
One quarter of disabled adults aged under 65 (25%) have experience of learning about any of these media topics (again dominated by using the internet (18%) and creating a website (8%)), similar to UK adults overall (at 26% with any experience).
Experience of learning is higher for disabled people aged under 45, at 33% compared to 19% of those aged 45-64. Those with mobility impairments are the least likely to have experience of learning about these media topics (9%), and are also less likely to be interested in learning (22%).Footnotes:
1.- The definition of disability used by the Disability Rights Commission is people who have ‘a disability or a long-term health condition that has an impact on their day to day lives’ ( DRC website www.drc.org.uk). According to the DRC, one-fifth of people of working age can be defined as disabled. This figure reflects the incidence of disabled people in our overall sample.
Age Discrimintion Law in the UK
PC - Political correctness
Time the British TV industry stopped navel gazing
Information overload: Switch off your mobile, iPod, and emails
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