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The Glasgow Media Group’s latest book, Bad News for Refugees, by Greg Philo, Emma Briant and Pauline Donald is a political, economic and environmental look at how migrants have been stigmatised in political rhetoric and media coverage. “This is an enormously important book that documents with meticulous scholarship the way in which immigrants have been stigmatised by the British media.
It offers a compelling analysis of what is omitted from media accounts, which voices are left unheard, how simplifications and stereotypes are generated, and the consequences of this prejudiced reporting for immigrant communities who feel themselves to be under constant attack.”
From Market Killing (eds. Greg Philo and David Miller, Longman, 2000)
A focus on 'the text' and issues of language and meaning now preoccupy post-modernist thought the result is that social processes in the real world cannot be described and analysed. There is little consideration in such work of the role of ideal or material interests and power. There is a silence in most media and cultural studies about the consequences of popular culture and the media. There are very few analyses of the content of the press or television and of the influence which these can have on public belief and understanding, and there is an absence of studies which address the real and often brutal relations of power which have shaped our cultural life.
For many academics in media and cultural studies, a series of theoretical dead-ends beckoned instead. We trace these by looking at the origins of post-modernist approaches in the work of theorists such as Lyotard and Baudrallard. We offer a critique of their work and show how it has influenced other academic studies. The encounter with philosophy and post-modern theory has left much cultural/communications studies and indeed many other areas of social science, struggling with the notion of small groups or individuals 'actively' constructing their own interpretations and the meaning of their world. People can apparently live in what is taken to be real on the basis of pre-existing beliefs, values, codes or competencies (rather as football supporters are alleged to 'see' only the fouls committed by the other side).
Within such a theoretical perspective there can be no assessments based on accuracy or truth, and no agreed evidence which can be shared or acknowledged between perspectives. The perspective appears in different areas of media and cultural studies including those on pleasure, identity, new feminist theory, consumption and in the theory of the 'active' audience. We review all of these areas of work and show how each in different ways neglects the crucial questions of outcomes. We note that to focus on how people interpret texts can of itself address questions about the influence of the media on ideology or belief. For example, there is very little work on the relationship between beliefs about the world and political conclusions drawn by the public or the relationship between such conclusions and the taking of political action.
There are a series of related questions which in our view should be central to media and cultural studies, including these issues:
With regard to the contribution which academics and journalists can make to analysing corporate and government activity, it should be our role to show the likely impact of different policies, to question their purpose and direction and the manner in which they are justified and 'sold' to wide populations. We argue for media and cultural studies which is critical and engaged with key public issues.
From Message Received (GUMG ed. Greg Philo, Longman, 1999)
A Sociology of Media Power (Jenny Kitzinger)
This chapter reviews some of the findings from research into media effects conducted at the Glasgow University Media Research Unit. Many of the terms widely used in media/cultural studies obscure vital processes in the operation of media power. Concepts such as 'polysemy', 'resistance' and 'the active audience' are often used to by-pass or even negate enquiry into the effects of cinema, press or televisual representations. Our work shows that the complex processes of reception and consumption mediate , but do not necessarily undermine , media power. Acknowledging that audiences can be 'active' does not mean that the media are ineffectual. Recognising the role of interpretation does not invalidate the concept of influence.
The Effective Media (Greg Philo and David Miller)
We are dubious of the arguments which have been advanced to suggest that television has no effect on viewer's behaviour. Many of the points that have been made could be applied with an equal lack of validity to any element of the socialisation process - for example the influence of peer groups or parents on behaviour. If we applied the arguments on TV influence to the relationship between parents and children they would look something like this:
Despite the widespread view that parents do influence how their children grow up, a number of theoretical problems have been raised with this crude 'effects' approach, in what is obviously a very complex and highly mediated area. Research results have been inconclusive. In laboratory conditions many children were observed to be given instructions by their parents and then not to do as they were told. In other tests, children were asked if they always obeyed their parents and replied, 'No way man' and, 'You must be joking'. It was therefore concluded that children were 'rejecting' and 'negotiating' parental messages.
We can see that when the 'anti-effects' arguments are applied to other areas of social life, they look extremely dubious. The inadequacy of laboratory experiments, or the fact that politicians have their own agendas, says nothing of itself about the nature of the socialisation process or the specific influence of either parents or media. Children can absorb patterns of behaviour, potential responses to situations, a sense of what is funny and what is fearful, and are often not aware of having done so. This may be true of how they relate to television as a socialising influence, but it is an issue which needs to be researched in its own right. Both parents and media have been used in political polemics as scapegoats for wider social problems. But this of itself says nothing of the actual influence of media or parents in the development of different types of behaviour.
Conclusions on Media Audiences and Message Reception (Greg Philo)
There has been some public debate on the issue that audiences allegedly cannot tell the difference between 'fact' and 'fiction'. Audiences can certainly identify with fictional characters and situations, and can use them to work through their own feelings of grief, fear or loss. This is not the same as saying they do not realise that actors are actors. Our own research showed that audiences distinguished clearly between the intended factual and fictional elements in a drama such as Casualty. Our audience groups saw the fictional elements as constructions. They dismissed some parts of the story as 'unrealistic' and used their own real-life experiences to do so. They knew there would be no time for romance and extended 'social' interaction between staff in a real A&E unit. Their descriptions of such units came from their own grim experiences of attending them. At the same time, however, audience members could also perceive that some parts of the programme were closely representative of real situations and could use information derived from fictional television to guide their own actions. This was the case in relation to medical information on paracetemol and overdose. They assumed (correctly) that this information, and these parts of the story-line, were both accurate and intended to be seen as such.
The debate on whether the public confuse fact and fiction is therefore something of a non-issue. Audiences can show a high level of ability to distinguish between what is fictional or factual in both 'factual' and 'fictional' accounts. This does not mean that these audiences are always correct in their judgements. Many of the beliefs that we because the audience was misled by media accounts, not because they were unable to distinguish between a soap opera and the 9 o'clock news.
From Getting the Message (GUMG ed. John Eldridge, Routledge, 1995)
News, Truth and Power (John Eldridge)
This chapter suggests that the media occupy space which is constantly being contested, which is subject to organisational and technological restructuring, to economic, cultural and poitical constraints, to commercial pressures and to changing professional practices.
The changing contours of this space can lead to different patterns of domination and agenda setting and to different degrees of openness and closure, in terms of access, patterns of ownership, available genres, types of discourse and range of opinions represented.
Media Research: Whose Agenda? (Howard H. Davis)
Howard Davis reminds us of the context within which the Glasgow University Media Group's analysis of television news took place in the 1970s. He references the relatively stable institutions and values of public broadcasting at that time against the technological, institutional and political changes that have taken place since then. This creates new problems for media professionals and new challenges for media research.
From Seeing and Believing: The Influence of Television (Greg Philo, Routledge, 1990)
This chapter explains the methodology and sample for the Seeing and Believing study. It also explains key techniques used by the Media Group, such as the news game and focus group methods.
Conclusions: News Content and Audience Belief
This chapter summaries the results of the study and explores issues of how audience beliefs can be affected by media coverage. It also shows how some audience groups resist messages and the conditions under which media accounts may be accepted or rejected.
Issues in News Content, Effects and 'Bias'
This chapter discusses theoretical debates on issues of audience reception and shows how the work of John Fiske, David Morley and others differs from the approach of the Media Group.
From Glasgow Media Group Reader, Volume 2. Industry, Economy, War and Politics (GUMG ed. Greg Philo, Routledge, 1995)
Political Advertising and Popular Belief
The growth of political advertising in the 1980's is examined alongside why the Labour Party was unable to contest the dominance of the Conservatives, especially in representations of key areas such as the economy.