According to Falah (305), the U.S.
media discourse about the Muslim and Arab people is majorly based on gender basis. Reports on current events from Palestine, Iraq, and other Arab countries show the ubiquity of female images in the Western media. The U.S. press has narrowly constructed and projected the Muslim women and their societal roles, for instance they have been portrayed as exotic, erotic and oppressed. Several authors have examined the relentless demonization of Islam by the Western media, which is often likened to the Nazis during the pre Second World War period.
Nevertheless, the same old question looms; what the Western media seeks to gain by portraying these people in the media in negativity? According to various media personalities, this act is fueled by the desire of Western audiences to be fed with negative news. Western media changes the perceptions of their targeted audiences and this in turn results to stereotypes being formed, as is been the case among many Western citizens. Falah (302) looks at the headlines, photos, and captions, all which directly reflect editorial decisions.
Against this background the paper attempts to probe the way in which the press and especially the print journalism help to produce and to reproduce specific ways of knowing the third world.
Depiction of the third world by the U.S. press
In today’s world a lot of what is in the media concerning third world countries and issues touching on women and men as a whole in these countries are more than often portrayed in negative light of what is really the case for them.
The Westerners are constantly being fed with negative opinions and deep-seated perceptions about the lives of people in third world countries. Consequently, it results to people forming their own perceptions even though they have very little, accurate and tangible information, this leads to stereotyping and prejudicing of women and men in third world countries. People’s perceptions and the resulting stereotyping are heavily hinged on the media role of shaping these opinions in today’s world. Importance must be accorded and insisted on critically examining any information obtained on issues to do with third world countries.
Mitchell (10) states that “outside the United States, everyone knows the U.S. is the most influential country in the world. Its economics, education, politics, technology, science, and culture, just to name a few areas, color the world’s every socio-economic fabric”. One has to strive to answer a number of questions within their subconscious so as to try and desist from stereotyping.
This includes issues such as: whether the west becomes more informed after being fed with this inconsequential information; or the consequences befalling the people being portrayed in this kind of information; and the roles local and national media should take up in countering this and shaping opinions. The media paints a picture of women in third world countries for the U.S public, as one of oppressed, workers whose place is the kitchen, poor, submissive, not able to take up leadership roles, subservient and much more. Men are not left behind; they are being portrayed as wife batterers, impotent due to alcoholism, indolent, drunkards and good for nothing people who don’t care for their wives and children (Hicks np). The big question here is; what led/leads to the portraying of the third world as is being done today and what picture is being portrayed to western audiences? A lot of these conclusions stem out of a misunderstanding of cultures of most third world people.
There are no concrete reasons on why stereotyping and prejudicing of women and men in third world countries in western media sources is constantly being practiced (Zucchino 10-13). Cultures and traditions such as those found in Africa and parts of Asia dictate the roles of women as that of housewives who take care of the home and grow crops with the help of their daughters. Education among girls is not a priority like that of boys in these types of cultures.
Media coverage has and is always comparing women in third world countries to those of the western world. The interest generated towards third world countries by western countries on the resource an untapped wealth is what drives media to pay negative attention towards the third world. Chavis (np) stated that the negative portrayal of the third world as seen today is as a result of “artificial territorial boundaries across communal lands, forced European acculturation, etc., were sanctioned by every institution in the societies (of Europe)”. The early media during “Darwinian era carriers on the tradition of stereotyping prejudicing, bias and disdain often are warp and woof of media coverage when Africa” and the third world “is the subject”(European Commission np). The third world is treated as full of hate and showing a desire to harm others rather than as a fundamental, universal part of the world. Western media goes ahead to show women and men in the third world as people who are valueless. Falah (304) notes that the media’s role as a “corporate, social and cultural institution needs to be analyzed in relation to other institutions such as those of the polity and economy.
” There exists according to the van Dijk, a more than direct link connecting “societal racism, elite ideology and production of news by journalists”. The process of news processing and production is “informed by and to a certain extent is the manifestation of racism at the macro level of society and state” (Falah 305). Headline structures, leads, organization of stories, style of writing, and overall selection of topics deemed newsworthy are issues controlled in some way by “the societal context of power relations.” More often than not powerful individuals and elites in the society, institutions and groups especially corporate giants in any given society touching on the economy, political and social aspects of life are able to influence and control media access which results to them being portrayed in the media. As a result “elite versions of the ‘facts’, their definitions of reality, will tend to prevail over those of other, non-dominant groups.
” A number of queries come to mind when looking at what the western media packages for their consumers: the way images of America, the West, the Third World the developing world, western culture, Asian culture, African culture, overpopulation, immigrants, and other historically marginalized people are portrayed; in what ways are gender, race, sexuality, and class set out in these depictions; the kinds of generalization being made about the object of a story; the stereotypes and negative or positive images of women in the Third World in discussions centering on “us”/”them,” “west/non-west,” and “self” (Falah 306). Western media organizations usually make use of various ways and methods of operation to purposely unload negative news, images and information when “reporting, communicating, or disseminating anything pertaining to Africa and the third world” (Saroop, 2010). Africa’s multicultural polyethnic, polyreligious, multipolitical, and mega economic dynamics and its immeasurable natural wealth which make it very vulnerable to the west, have been reduced to naught by the stroke of a western journalist’s pen. The lifestyles of Africans and the continent as a whole are constantly being painted as “a bastion of disease, savagery, animism, pestilence, war, famine, despotism, primitivism, poverty, and ubiquitous images of children, flies in their food and faces, their stomachs distended” (willenz 200). The question whether the western media paints women and men as independent and act on their own freewill or as helpless individuals relying on the west for aid and other handouts, does not clearly receive accurate information and facts to answer it. “American communicators have a serious obligation to make the American public more aware of the rest of the world and the influence it has on it. Americans will never understand the negative criticism that comes more and more from around the world unless they begin to see how life is really lived on the other side of the fence” (Sserwanga 8) . This can be attributed to the constant negativity in western media for consumption of Americans.
It is not helped in any way by including local media, as they do not have that kind of influence to create an impression on audiences. This can be due to the fact that they too are being put in one category as the rest of the third world peoples. These messages and pictures of women and men in third world countries are overtly powerful and subconscious, are beamed globally to television audiences, through print media, by use of radio services and other modern technological advances being embraced today. They give an impression to intended target audiences of something that is “not first-rate, perennially problematic unworthiness, deplorability, black, foreboding, loathing, sub humanity” (Sister Namibia 9).
In contrast to this, very little is said about the positivity of Africa and other third world countries. The Westerners are not aware of the third world’s importance to the rest of the world: its indispensability and significance to further development of the world; universal embracing of technology; “and the wealth of nations, derived from involuntary African largesse”. This is usually not commended or given the positive light it deserves in the media. Daily Observer (np) argues that “The amorphous news spin is America has to protect her strategic interests and national security”. What drives the negativity towards the third world men and women and Muslim women in particular? This can be deduced out of the fact that journalists lay emphasis on bad news, either from direction from their editors or employers, media owners such as: National Public Radio (NPR), the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press, New York Times, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, Frontline, CNN, or the BBC who insist on this so as to make money. The emphasis on bad news might also stem out of trying to satisfy their audiences’ desire for such kind of news (Business Wire 15; BBC np).
A case in point is that of the United States invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation by the U.S military. Western journalists did not focus on the positive gains the Iraqi leaders have achieved, but hide or downplay the truth and focus on the negatives. In some cases this does not work effectively for them as the public becomes discontent with the type of information being offered to them. It is unethical and against the code of conduct for reporters and journalists to keep away the truth with other intentions in mind; of either elevating certain powers over others, making third world countries feel inferior, using the media to punish enemies and much more. The case of Iraq, the western media is not justifiable to overlook the positive gains in that country.
It is their responsibility and duty to provide accurate, true, and reliable information to their target audiences (Smith-Spark 35; Gibbons np).
International vs. local media
Local media emphasizes on actual happenings and tries to portray the country they are in positively. Through the local media the locals are empowered to make their country a better place to live in and this is not only good for the media but also the local people. On the other hand, the international media tends to emphasize on the negative aspects of the country be it war, famine, civil wars, disease outbreaks, violence connected to elections just to mention but a few. An example is the post election violence that took place in Kenya in 2008, the international media such as: CNN, the BBC, Aljazeera stressed on only the areas where the violence was at its peak capturing the graphic captions of the killings of people and replaying the scenes over and over yet there were places that violence did not take place (Gettleman np). International media tries to get sympathy from the international community by over using the negative aspects of the country they are in. This in turn tends to make the locals lose their self-esteem due to the way they are portrayed internationally.
International media also tends to focus on certain third world countries and ignore others. Take for example the Rwanda 1994 genocide was not televised effectively to the western audiences that led to the international community to ignore the situation in Rwanda. If the international media had effectively portrayed the genocide the western audiences would have responded to the genocide and the causalities would not have been as high as they were.
Local media in the third world countries tend to look for inspiring stories to empower the third world men and women so as to develop the under developing countries further. Local media looks at the actual happenings that take place in the country; they tend to rely on factual information and emphasize on actual happenings in the third world countries. Journalist have wholly embraced the obligation entrusted to them and tehy6 take their seriously do it zealously for example John Allan Namu 2009 CNN African journalist of the year and Mohammed Ali who teamed up to fight social injustices committed to the Kenyan people. Through coming up with factual stories containing investigated facts that are credible, true, and timely: in this way the credibility of local reporters and journalists to rise among their targeted audiences (Piansay np).
The role played by media organizations in shaping of opinions of their audience depends on the content the media is reporting on and how the message is perceived. The media tends to induce perceptions in their audience for example if a television station portrays an election candidate in a wrong way the audience is more than not to believe the perception. This shows the power the media wields over their audiences.
The role of the media in shaping perceptions and opinions of the people gives them an upper hand on determining what to write, the stories to run in their publications, and pictures to put in newspapers and much more. Stereotyping has been promoted towards the third world by the third world men and women through the constant production of information that is not true or factual and lacking credibility.
Reporters and journalists have an obligation and a duty to provide true information and not hold anything back to serve their own interests and those of the elite of the society. In order for the West to be able to understand the third world and the negativity that is portrayed by their media organization every day, they have to see how and possibly experience the lives of people in the third world. Without this they will never truly get to understand and will only rely to the biased media to give them half truths and incomplete information. Local media should be given more emphasis as this is the only way the perceptions and opinions than are doing the round universally will be changed. The western media on the other hand should change their outlook on the third world and third world women and women. They should also not focus on the negative aspects of the third world, this may help to create and generate more cooperation in terms of industrial technological advancements, funding and subsidies from western developed countries. Third world countries would boost their confidence and be able to mingle with the developed countries.
Big international media corporations should also have interactions with local media in third world countries where they can share experiences and ways on how to portray the third world and advocate against stereotyping third world men and women.
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