How we are seen determines in part how we are treated: how we treat others is based on how we see them; such seeing comes from representation.
— Richard Dyer, The Matter of Images
Background and Rationale
Representation in the media can take many forms. We live in an image-filled culture, and on a daily basis we are surrounded by media representations on websites, on television, in feature films, in news reporting and in books.
Reporters, authors, videographers, advertisers, publishers and filmmakers use images, audio and written words to convey information about an event, story or issue. They usually face limitations of time, space, resources and other editorial constraints to prepare and present stories to the public. Therefore, depending on the story being told or the message being conveyed, it is often necessary to ‘re-present’ issues or events by referring to characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality, age or class. Inevitably, those working in the media must select the content to be presented to the public. This selection is often not void of subjectivity and sometimes leads to stereotypical or oversimplified representations, which can be used to label individuals and justify narrow beliefs or attitudes. This may or may not be the intention of the author or journalist/reporter. Sometimes it is the interpretation of the recipient (viewer, reader or listener). Where media and other information providers become an instrument of partisanship, conflict or discrimination, it is logical that the media should be accountable for their actions like any other social actor. However, as a platform for public debate, it is crucial that the media be allowed to present discussion and information without control of any party or government.
We also need to understand that media and other information providers work in a social context and that they are social actors within that social context. Media are influenced by society and in turn influence society. We need to look deeper into the specific national context within which particular media operate.
In an effort to be media and information literate, we need to examine media images or representations and analyze not only the image or media text itself, but also the context which surrounds the image and which we sometimes do not see. It is important to recognize that while the media have a lot of power to direct and challenge society, they also reflect society by providing the kinds of stories and representations we demand and accept.
Many media industries in various regions have developed voluntary diversity codes, meant to ensure that media industries demonstrate a commitment to content and initiatives that are inclusive and diverse. Many media industries also follow a code of ethics that prohibits the use of abusive or discriminatory material based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, physical ability or marital status.
Key questions in this module include: who benefits from the acceptance of inappropriate media representations and who loses? How do these images influence the way we see ourselves and others? How do they influence our knowledge and understanding of the world beyond our immediate experience?