How does the notion of stereotype help us understand black and ethnic representation in British media?

The United Kingdom as a multicultural society has had its fair share of criticisms since the post Second World War period. The British media – both print and electronic mediums – has also been criticized for its reluctance to discuss openly issues of race and ethnicity in its programmes. The advent of new mediums of communication too has not made a significant contribution toward racial conciliation in Britain. The tendency of the native British to maintain their unique cultural identity has had pervasive effects. In the political front, Britain is still holding on to Pound Sterling even as the rest of Europe is integrating economically and thereby becoming stronger. In the social realm, “the issue of racism has become a latent one, lurking behind media discussions and TV programmes such as the recent five-part “BBC White Season” which focused on what the BBC termed ‘the disappearing White Britain’, and the media’s examination of the 40th anniversary of the infamous speech by the controversial Tory politician, Enoch Powell, who spoke about ‘rivers of blood’ if immigration into the UK was not halted” (Biney, 2008). The rest of this report will present evidence supporting the aforementioned assertion, as well as explaining how the concept of stereotype helps in understanding black and ethnic representation in British media.

In spite of London gaining a reputation for its cosmopolitan demography, the issues of race and ethnicity have not been superseded. With the formation of the European Union and the attendant flux of immigrants from the Continent, British cosmopolitanism is met with an unprecedented challenge. Despite scholarship and research studies suggesting the contrary, the mainstream media seems bent on perpetrating xenophobic fears among the native population. The media portrays Eastern European workers in a particularly unfair way. For example, despite statistics from government agencies showing that “Britain has accommodated the huge influx with comparatively few real, as distinct from perceived problems–and crime has actually fallen in England and Wales by 9% in the past recorded year”, newspapers carry disproportionately high reports on petty crimes committed by Eastern European workers. It is true that the erstwhile communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe have low literacy levels and that they come to Britain in search of low-paying manual work (Biney, 2008). But the British media has unfairly extrapolated the low socio-economic profile of these ethnic groups to indicate criminal tendencies. Hence, the stereotypical image of Eastern European workers as dependent on government welfare and depleting available jobs for British citizens is simply not true (Biney, 2008).

A careful analysis of reportage of political events in British media throws light on the underlying stereotypical assumptions. In the February of 1994 Malaysian government made an announcement forbidding its internal agencies from signing contracts with British corporations. This ban applied only to government agencies, allowing commercial enterprises to continue their trading activity with British firms. Nevertheless, the ripple effect of this ban was bound to adversely affect many British firms in subsequent years. The British media was obviously supportive of its advertisers and hence it took up a biased editorial stance. While the media exaggerated the deficiencies of the Malaysian institutions and culture, it simply ignored the unethical practices of British companies. For example, the refusal of the British firms to accept the conditions of the ban meant that their representatives resorted to offering bribes to secure contracts for the lucrative Pergau Dam project. Although the ban was lifted in the September of the same year and things returned to business as usual, it did reaffirm the underlying hypocrisy and unfair stereotyping of other ethnic communities. In other words, the Pergau Dam Affair showed that “despite its own malaise, Britain has not abandoned notions of brown Muslim inferiority; that the British media tends to focus on Muslim poverty and fanaticism, but not on moderation and success” (Hack, 1994). A partial antidote may be to show that Britain remembers Malaysia’s past and respects its present ambitions, regardless of differences over political culture.

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