Channel 4 report
Channel 4 report
As previously discussed on this blog, semiotic is the study of the various signs and symbols that convey meaning in forms of media. In this blog post, I will be applying semiotics to analyse the messages within a printed advertisement.
Above is an advertisement for Crisis Relief Singapore, a charitable, christian organisation. The campaign that the advert is a part of takes aim at online ‘slacktivism’ .
The first thing that is obvious about the image is that it features a child with a missing leg. The fact that the leg is missing tells us that the child was possibly a victim of war. The most likely cause is a landmine which is a common cause of limb loss in warzones. The fact that the leg stump is freshly bandaged and the stain on the bandage indicates that this is a recent injury. This implies that the war in which the leg was lost could still be going on.
The next aspect of the image is that it’s in black and white. The use of black and white photography is considered to be artistic. However, it is also used to convey unhappy situations. The lack of colour indicates a lack of joy or happiness. this is why it is often used by charities to convey their subjects desperate situations and to evoke empathy.
Surrounding the child are several hands giving the thumbs up signal. This is a striking image that contrasts heavily with the image of the injured child. The thumbs up signal is one that indicates approval in common parlance. However, in the context of the injured child, it seems in very poor taste.
The text of the advert, ‘Liking isn’t helping’ is presented very subtly. This is to bring as much attention to the image as possible. The stunning image of the hands giving the thumbs up to the injured child draws people in. It is only when they focus on the image that the text becomes clear. The font of the text gives the effect of a typewriter. Such imagery evokes thoughts of war as many documents from World War 1 and 2 were typed on typewriters.
The intention of the phrase ‘liking isn’t helping’ is to bring to attention the fact that social media campaigns that invite people to ‘like and share’ a post to increase awareness of an issue, don’t actually mean much if you don’t actually go out and do something to help.
Semiotics is the study of how meaning is created and communicated. In a way, we are all semiologists because we are all constantly decoding signs and symbols on an unconscious level.
For instance, take the following image;
There is a significant chance that you would identify this image as a heart. However, the image bares little resemblance to an actual heart.
The difference between the two images is understandable when you consider that the origin of the heart symbol is not, in fact based of the heart at all. In fact, the symbol may have been based off of the shape of the seedpod of the Silphium plant, which was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a form of birth control. It may have been this association with love and sex that popularised the shape as a symbol of love.
This is a good example of another model of semiotics, Barthes’ three levels of signification. Barthes came up with three levels of interpretation that signs can go through. The first level is that of denotation. When it was first discovered, the image of the Silphium seedpod represented simply itself.
As it’s properties became known, the image and shape took on a meaning related to sex and birth control. This is Barthes second level, connotation. Although, in the ancient city of Cyrene, the symbol could potentially have represented wealth as the city had become so wealthy from the Silphium trade that they put the symbol on their money.
Barthes’ third level is that of myth. In the middle ages, the symbol took on its current meaning, thanks, in part to Christianity. The symbol was appropriated to represent the love of Jesus Christ and it was incorporated into many pieces of art from that era.
On the off chance you weren’t aware of the symbol’s meaning, it could be interpreted through its use. For instance, the symbol on its own may not carry any particular meaning but, in the context of an image like this;
The meaning becomes more clear. If, however, I replaced the heart symbol with something else, say, a hamburger, the sentence makes no sense. This is an example of De Saussur’s paradigmatic and syntagmatic model of semiotics.
If we take the sentence, ‘I love you’, each individual word is interchangeable with any other word. Each word is a paradigm within the sentence’s syntagm. Changing one word would change the sentence’s meaning. Indeed, on a smaller scale, each letter in a word has a paradigmatic relationship within the sentence’s syntagm. Changing the o in love to an i changes the word’s entire meaning. However, the sentence I live you makes no sense and the meaning is lost
It is inherent within human nature to seek out meaning in life. To seek out information in order to make sense of the world. Throughout history, it has often fallen to religious institutions to provide these answers. However, today the church doesn’t hold as much influence as it once did. This creates a vacuum where people seek out different figures of authority to interpret the world for them.
It is into this vacuum that the media steps in. Setting aside the churches and shrines of the religion, we worship nightly at the altar of news media and are guided by its word. And, just like religious institutions, news corporations are run, not by all-knowing deities, but by people. People with agendas and biases and conflicts of interest. It is almost impossible today to find a news report that isn’t guided in some way, by the mediator’s own personal beliefs, either consciously or subconsciously.
This leads us to conclude that the news media is inherently untrustworthy and does not offer us a pure view of the world’s events. this is what is known as the Marxist or Hegemonic Model. On the other hand, there is a belief that, while news media is susceptible to bias, the most powerful factor in what gets reported by a majority of the media outlets is the fact that these beliefs are already widely held and therefore reporting the information in this way is giving the audience what they want. This is what is known as the Pluralist Model
in the Hegemonic Model, if news media is seen as a purveyor of knowledge and wisdom, and its message is being tainted by personal bias, what becomes of the people who are guided by that knowledge? Otherwise, in the Pluralist Model, if the dominant idea held at the time is inherently disruptive or harmful to a certain extent, is the onus on the media outlet to defy this belief, even if it could drive away their audience?
Back when TV news consisted of a half-hour-long digest of the day’s events, media outlets were a much more discerning about what they reported on. In 1965, Galtung and Ruge developed a list of factors that influenced whether or not a story was published. These largely fall into three categories;
Impact: How big is the story and how out of the ordinary are the events? How sudden was the event and are there any negative effects?
Audience Identification: Does the event impact the viewer in any way? Has it happened to people from their own country? If not, has it happened to an elite power in the world or a well-known figure, such as a celebrity?
Pragmatics of Media Coverage: How quick are the media to report on the story? Does the story build on something that is already in the public consciousness? How does the story fit in with the rest of the broadcast? Does the story need to be replaced with something more relevant?
Today, in the modern, 24-hour news cycle, news broadcasters have an abundance of time to fill and struggle to keep viewers’ attention. This can be seen in the clip above. The reporter is clearly fed up with reporting on, what is essentially, nothing. However, his bosses have identified this story as something that the public wants to know about and so, he has to stay.
Owenspencer-thomas.com. (2017). News Values – Owen Spencer-Thomas. [online] Available at: http://www.owenspencer-thomas.com/journalism/newsvalues.
For this week’s class, we had to analyse the content of the above interview to determine whether or not there is any bias on the interviewer’s part.
Is the interviewer maintaining a stance of ‘formal neutrality’ or can we see some form of bias?
I think that, for the most part, Paxman maintains a stance of formal neutrality. His questions simply ask for Howard’s comment on what is already out there. The only place where I feel his true opinions come through is when he uses the phrase ‘wouldn’t a reasonable person conclude
How are the questions being answered by the interviewee(regarding language being used, is it conventional)?
At the start of the interview, I feel that he comes across as slightly defensive. Right away, he veers off from answering the question onto a statement that none of this came from his campaign. On the other hand, he also starts off very well in that he chooses his words very carefully and seems well-rehearsed but not necessarily to the point that he seems disingenuous. He is experienced in public speaking.
Once Paxman begins laying into him, though, Howard’s composure begins to slip. His tone of voice shifts to a more intense tone and he struggles to maintain control of the interview.
Has the interviewee answered the specific question that has been asked?
Howard does answer most of the questions put to him but, when Paxman lures him into the trap regarding making false statements, he begins to deflect the questions and when Paxman repeats the question about threatening to overrule Derek Lewis, he continually reframes the question to say what he was not entitled to do and not what he actually did.
What approach is the interviewee using, if any, to avoid providing an answer to a specific question?
Howard reframes the question to be about what he was or was not entitled to do and not about what he did do as Paxman was asking.
Is the interviewer allowing this to happen (violation) or are they pushing for an answer to a question?
Paxman repeats the question about sixteen times with Howard refusing to answer. However, by refusing to answer the question directly, he has answered. It becomes obvious to the viewer that Howard did indeed threaten to overrule Lewis.
Can we see the use of language within the interview being influenced by the perceived social context of the ‘target audience’?
This interview was originally broadcast on BBCs Newsnight programme. The target audience for this show is well educated and aware of the political landscape. The language used is clear and, to an extent, formal.
As part of my Media Discourse and Analysis module, I need to watch and discuss a piece of news and analyse it’s preferred meaning. To do this, I will use the ‘circuit of culture’ model of media analysis. This consists of five aspects; Representation, Identity, Production, Consumption and Regulation.
The piece I have chosen to analyse is BBC Newsnight’s report detailing the impact of tightening border controls across Europe in response to the Refugee Crisis.
The footage is narrated throughout The piece opens with footage of a crowd of refugees chanting in protest outside of a metal fence. The footage is shot from the other side of the fence giving the impression that these people are outsiders looking to get in.
Next, there is a clip featuring an interview with Andrew Bett, Director of the Refugee Study Centre in Oxford, where he describes how certain routes have been closed off to refugees.
Then there is a graphic comparing the numbers of migrants in 2015 (1,000,000) to the first ten months of 2016 (341,000). The map then focuses on the Greek/Balkan route which the narrator calls the ‘main route’ and states the number that has crossed this route since the route closed (200,000). The narrator then points out the other routes used using drawn on arrows on the map.
Next, we see crowded ships full of refugees, highlighting the sheer number of people this affects. We then cut to a video conference interview with Leonard Doyle of the International Organization for Migration, who describes the legal issues that the refugees can encounter, which include being exploited for cheap labour.
The last section of the report features criticisms of Europe’s response to the crisis, with 6,243 having been successfully relocated within Europe, falling far short of the promised 160.000 figure.
The report was produced by the BBC which is Britain’s state-funded broadcaster.
The language used throughout the report serves to dissociate the viewer from the human impact of the crisis. What is immediately apparent is the BBCs use of the word ‘migrant’ to describe these people. The BBC has come under criticism for the use of this term instead of the term ‘refugee’, which is the preferred term in use by the UNHCR.
The footage used of ‘migrants’ seen behind police patrolled wire fences, creates a barrier between them and the viewer. The narrator makes a reference to the migrant issue being ‘successfully contained’. This phrasing brings to mind the kind of language used to describe the effects of a natural disaster, such as a wildfire, rather than when dealing with actual people.
The segment featuring the map and the routes used by refugees brings to mind a post-game analysis of a football match. I feel that this somehow trivialises the issue and perhaps the use of smoother graphics would be more appropriate.
The final segment featuring the criticisms of Europe’s response to the crisis could be seen as a pro-Brexit piece, painting Europe as a poorly-run organisation who doesn’t keep its promises.
The video was uploaded to BBC Newsnight’s official Youtube channel on October 25th, 2016. Newsnight is the BBCs top current affairs programme and is broadcast every weeknight, typically at 10.30p.m.
The BBC would be under the regulation of the national broadcasting standards agency, Ofcom and their own governing body, the BBC Trust.
BBC – Governance framework – BBC Trust. (2017). [online] Bbc.co.uk. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/governance_framework.html [Accessed 20 Feb. 2017].
BBC regulation. (2017). [online] Ofcom. Available at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/ofcom-and-the-bbc [Accessed 20 Feb. 2017].
Du Gay, P., Hall, S., Janes, L., Madsen, A.K., Mackay, H. and Negus, K., 2013. Doing cultural studies: The story of the Sony Walkman. Sage.
Refugees, U. (2017). UNHCR viewpoint: ‘Refugee’ or ‘migrant’ – Which is right?. [online] UNHCR. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/55df0e556.html [Accessed 20 Feb. 2017].
Request BBC use the correct term Refugee Crisis instead of Migrant Crisis. (2017). [online] Change.org. Available at: https://www.change.org/p/request-bbc-use-the-correct-term-refugee-crisis-instead-of-migrant-crisis [Accessed 20 Feb. 2017].
What’s happening with the migrant crisis? – BBC Newsnight. (2017). [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuTMs23H-mo [Accessed 20 Feb. 2017].
If I were to excuse myself from our conversation and turn to blow my nose into a handkerchief, odds are you probably won’t think twice about it. However, according to some sources, this would be considered the height of rudeness in Japan.
The reasons behind this difference in acceptance is down to the cultural discourse. Asia has a history of disease that can be spread through saliva and mucus (SARS, Bird flu, etc.) so keeping a handkerchief full of snot in your pocket is a very bad idea. In these countries, they always use disposable tissues. They also tend to wear face masks to prevent the spread of disease.
Within the context of media, discourse refers to any of the factors which effect how a product is created and developed. How a media outlet reports on an event depends on many different factors. If a report on a natural disaster mentions some political issue that the affected country was facing, we have to ask why that was mentioned. Is it relevant to the disaster what was going on in the country’s government, perhaps through some state funding certain precautions could have been taken. Or, is the outlet painting the country as a victim of an oppressive regime in need of outside help.
According to Google, the definition of reality is “the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.” This definition speaks to the topic of our class. How do we define reality? How do we know that what we see with our own eyes is what is really happening? Some scientists have even debated the notion that our entire universe is a computer simulation.
On a much smaller scale, the media is what stands between us and the rest of the world. In this hyper-connected world, our perception of the As such, it is their duty to present the world as it is and not to
According to Boorstin (1963), how the media presents us with information can be categorised into three types of events.
Genuine events: These are events that would happen whether the media reported on them or not. For instance, traffic accidents and natural disasters are genuine events.
Media events: These are events that have been interpreted and re-presented to the audience in a way that incites a certain response in the viewer. For instance, natural disasters are genuine events but how the disaster is framed by news outlets are media events.
Pseudo events: These are events that have been orchestrated by the media for the purpose of promotion. For instance, press conferences are organised through media organisations with the intent to gain press coverage for an event or product.
Astronomy, S. (2016). Is the Universe a Simulation? Scientists Debate. [online] Space.com. Available at: http://www.space.com/32543-universe-a-simulation-asimov-debate.html.
Boorstin, D. (1963). The image, or, What happened to the American dream. 1st ed. Harmodsworth: Penguin.
Garber, M. (2016). How Americans Put Reality on Life Support. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/12/the-image-in-the-age-of-pseudo-reality/509135/.