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Political Correctness in the Media Essay

Political correctness in the media refers to the use of appropriate words and ideas to minimize racism in all its hideous manifestations, in addition to sexism and offences against identity groups of all sorts. In other words, it is a “concept that one has to shape their statements (if not their opinions) according to a certain political dogma (“Political Correctness,” 2008). ” Hence, it is rude to say ‘nigger’ in an advertisement especially created for the African Americans even if a Caucasian Congressman uses the politically incorrect word in his home.

However, during periods of history when certain races, identity groups or the weaker sex must be looked down upon – according to policies created by the government to raise a race, identity group or gender over another, in the minds of the people – it is not considered politically incorrect by the media to refer to those looked down upon as rascals, despite the fact that the notion of political correctness had originated during World War I (Lind, 2000).

Given that political correctness must needs concern governmental policies at any given time, it is interesting to consider the fact that political correctness or incorrectness in the media has taken different forms according to governmental needs at different times. In the United States, racism in reporting against the African Americans seemed to have peaked during the 1950s. Perhaps the reason for the peak was that the whites and the blacks in America had shared a master-slave relationship in the past.

The Civil Rights Movement had called for changing the status quo. The demand for equal rights for the blacks was met with resistance, however. This is the reason why an article published in The Birmingham Post-Herald in 1955 quotes a white sheriff thus: “…We haven’t mixed so far down here and we don’t intend to (“10 Jurors Picked as Till Trial Opens,” 1955). ” The sheriff was, of course, describing the relations of the white race with the black race. The above mentioned news article was actually a report on a trial.

All of the jury members selected for the trial were white men. Eight of the men were farmers and one of them was a laborer. There were “eight Negro reporters” present at the trial, but all of them were “segregated at a separate table (“10 Jurors Picked as Till Trial Opens”). ” Considering that the theory of racism is based on the assumption that a race can be superior to another race for any number of reasons, the news report of the 1950s describes blatant racism.

So, even though the blacks had worked as laborers for the whites in the past, for the reason that the blacks had served the whites as slaves, they could not be members of the jury even if one of the jury members was a white laborer. Contrary to the stance of the whites with respect to the blacks described in the above mentioned article, a news article published by The San Francisco News in 1942 describes the value of the Japanese Americans to the economy of the United States.

The author of the article, “Jap Ban to Force Farm Adjustments,” states that the internment of the Japanese Americans would adversely affect the agricultural produce of California. The article refers to the Japanese Americans as “[f]ast and efficient workers (“Jap Ban to Force Farm Adjustments,” 1942). ” Even though the work of the Japanese Americans on Californian farms had required “the most arduous form of ‘stoop labor,’” the article mentions that the white farmers would be able to handle it, but not as well as the Japanese American workers (“Jap Ban to Force Farm Adjustments”).

Stoop labor is defined as “[b]ack-bending manual work (“Stoop Labor,” 2008). ” If the news article published in 1942 had clearly stated that the white farmers will not be able to replace the Japanese Americans on the plantations because the latter were engaged in stoop labor which the white farmers simply would not engage in; it would have been obvious that the reporting is racist. However, this was not the case. Rather, the Japanese Americans are lauded for their efficiency in the news report, as some of them were capable of tending to forty to fifty gardens at a time (“Jap Ban to Force Farm Adjustments”).

Even though the Japanese Americans had been interned during World War II, the whites did not seem to look down upon them or consider them inferior. On the other hand, the blacks were obviously considered inferior because they had served the whites as slaves. These differences of perceptions are made clear by the news reports. Even so, racism against the African Americans is considered a totally taboo subject in the media in the beginning of the twenty first century. The reason for the taboo, too, is obvious: the African have a history of fighting racism in the United States.

The government of the United States no longer wants to harass them through its policies and the media. As a matter of fact, the taboo is accompanied by policies such as affirmative action, simply for the fact that racism against the Africans of the U. S. is met with ample resistance on the part of the Africans themselves, as well as their friends among the Caucasians of America. Seeing that the United States government would like the country to maintain a semblance of a civilized nation, racism against African Americans does not make sense any longer.

The ‘Islamists’ are targeted nowadays. All the same, trends in racism reporting as described above reveal that this too would change one day, somehow. Political correctness or incorrectness in the media is undoubtedly related to political framing. As mentioned previously, it is the policymaker that decides what the media would eventually reveal to the public. Political communicators are skilled at framing the debates over controversial issues through an emphasis on policy goals that deserve the highest priority, according to themselves rather than the people they communicate with.

Such rhetoric affects political attitudes by influencing the importance that individuals place on competing issues. Frames do not only affect opinions on the issues, but they also influence the judgments of the participants in the communication process with regards to the relative importance of competing values. Thus, political persuaders shape public opinion through the framing of their policy goals and choices (Nelson, 2004). Politicians attempt to control public perception through the use of words.

Thus an encyclopedia has defined framing as “a process of selective control over the individual’s perception of media, public, or private communication, in particular the meanings attributed to words or phrases. Framing defines how an element of rhetoric is packaged so as to allow certain interpretations and rule out others (“Framing,” 2008). ” Moreover, media frames may be created by the mass media as well as specific political and social movements or organizations.

As shown through the several examples mentioned already, the media works alongside political and social movements to control the perceptions of the public at large through the communication theory of framing. Hence, in recent years the media was frequently heard discussing the ‘war on terror,’ seeing as the politicians had coined the phrase and used it regularly to advise the public about their policies concerning the issue. Another important example of framing in this context was the popularization of the term, ‘escalation,’ to describe an increase in troop levels in war torn Iraq.

The term, ‘escalation’ implied that the United States was deliberately heightening the scope of the conflict in a manner that was provocative (“Framing”). Spielvogel (2005) points out that both George W. Bush and John Kerry, during the 2004 presidential campaign, had relied upon the moral framing of the ‘war on terrorism’ and the situation in Iraq as a battle between ‘good and evil’ in their day to day political discourse. Moreover, President Bush had employed this rhetorical frame “to politically and morally cloak the war in Iraq under a larger war on terror (Spielvogel). ”

Is war politically correct or incorrect? It depends on governmental policies at any given time. Now that the U. S. is going through an economic recession, perhaps war will become a taboo subject in the media and ‘nonviolence’ would reign. All the same, if the U. S. government continues to perceive all Muslims as the enemies of the United States – the media would continue referring to ‘Islamists’ the way it does at present. Even though stereotyping is by itself a taboo subject, advanced degrees in mass communication are not helping journalists and advertisers to be honest in their understanding of people and cultures.

Given the responsibility to relay truthful information to the public; journalists, advertisers and all distributors of entertainment and news across different mediums such as television, newspapers, radio, Internet, etc. should have known that all people and cultures cannot be appreciated through stereotypes. Moreover, through mass usage of stereotypes, the media creates a mass culture, the representatives of which consider it abnormal to step outside the stereotypes. According to the Media Awareness Network: “The pressure put on women through ads, television, film and new media to be sexually attractive—and sexually active—is profound.

The National Eating Disorders Association reports that one out of four TV commercials send some kind of ‘attractiveness message,’ telling viewers what is and is not attractive (“Media Stereotyping,” 2007). ” Thus, the media happens to contribute to the mental illnesses suffered by an increasing number of people in our world. Although this form of stereotyping in the media may not have anything to do with political pressure, or political correctness and/or incorrectness, the fact that the media has stereotypes for women is accompanied by the truth that the U. S. government has never been headed by a woman!

The Media Awareness Network explains another reason for stereotyping before outlining other problems associated with stereotypes: Media stereotypes are inevitable, especially in the advertising, entertainment and news industries, which need as wide an audience as possible to quickly understand information. Stereotypes act like codes that give audiences a quick, common understanding of a person or group of people—usually relating to their class, ethnicity or race, gender, sexual orientation, ocial role or occupation.

But stereotypes can be problematic. They can: reduce a wide range of differences in people to simplistic categorizations; transform assumptions about particular groups of people into “realities”; be used to justify the position of those in power; and perpetuate social prejudice and inequality (“Media Stereotyping”). Although the reason for stereotyping as described above is clear, the main reason for it continues to be understood as governmental policies. Of course, stereotyping is another form of political incorrectness in the media.

Then again, there are those who opine that political correctness is a confusing notion, disallowing intelligent debates from changing our world for the better (“PC thinking ‘is harming society,’” 2006). In other words, by trying to be politically correct or incorrect, the media is veiling the face of reality. Even so, the media is considered an important educator of society as a whole. Furthermore, the media has the power to shape culture by introducing positive changes. It is a shame, therefore, that people must consider educating the media so as to do away with falsehoods that it imparts due to political pressure.

Undoubtedly, political correctness and incorrectness must necessarily concern governmental policies at any given time. Whereas the government benefits by the strength of the media through its declaration of certain words or ideas as politically correct or incorrect at any given time – it is the public at large that suffers because it has been taught lies by the media. By perpetuating social prejudice, the media – through governmental notions of political correctness and incorrectness at any given time – may even shoulder responsibility for bloody wars around the world.


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