Monday 2 February 2015

Ethical and Legal Constraints in Media

Ethical Issues in the Media


The representation of gender in the media industry is a huge topic of much debate in modern society. Over the years, gender relations have changed, and the media industry itself has developed from a small entertainment/information outlet to a huge multinational industry that deeply affects the development of society. For example, while fifty years ago, very strict gender roles were in place (the woman is always the housekeeper, she does not work, as she stays at home to look after the children and clean the house. The man on the other hand, works as the breadwinner for the family, going to work and returning home to a meal cooked by his wife), these roles have been broken, with the rates of female workers and stay-at-home dads increasing to a more equal level. However, many people may argue that in the media, women are often still portrayed as tools, or entertainment, to help men throughout their lives.

Most people agree that within the media, representation of everyone is very important. However, despite the changes that society has undergone, there are similarities in how women are portrayed now, in comparison to fifty years ago. For example, women are commonly sexualised in the media in order to appeal to men. Laura Mulvey's essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), uses the term, "male gaze" to refer to the theory that the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual cisgender male. For example, scenes of a film may be focused on the attractive parts of a woman's body, such as her breasts, rather than her intellectual contribution to the film.

The media also sets unreachable standards for women, which heavily influence the way society sees them. For example, the majority of women's magazines (such as Cosmopolitan) feature attractive, skinny, tanned women on the front pages, which isolates women who may not fit this stereotype, such as larger, curvier, or paler women. Therefore, it fails to represent all types of women. Sometimes, films and TV shows try to change this pattern by featuring characters that don't fit the stereotype, such as Fat Amy in the 2012 film Pitch Perfect, though characters like this are commonly there for comic relief, and are therefore not represented very realistically.

However, an example of the media successfully representing gender is Dove's recent Real Beauty advertisements, which successfully represent women of all body types and races, encouraging the message that beauty should be "redefined." Though in recent times the representation of women has been improved, it is still not equal to men.

Religious Beliefs

Similarly to the representation of gender, the representation of religious beliefs is also fairly one-sided. As Christianity is the main religion in Western culture, other common religions like Islam,
Hinduism, or Judaism are rarely or (in the case of Muslims) negatively represented. This is an issue because not only are a percentage of the audience being unrepresented, but also because this affects the views and opinions of other demographics (e.g. Christians and Atheists who do not share their beliefs) towards other religions, which can lead to false assumptions and racism.

An example of Muslims being heavily misrepresented in the media is the recent reports on the Charlie Hebdo attack in France. After Islamic extremist gunned down 12 people in response to an offensive Muhummed cartoon printed in Charlie Hebdo magazine, the media was quick to paint Muslims as terrorists, a stereotype that is already common in Western society due to the representation of Arabic people. This led to many racist comments from people all over Europe, including Rupert Murdoch, who tweeted, "Maybe most Moslems [Muslims] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible." Due to the focus the media has on the negative impact of Islam, positive developments from Muslims are often ignored. For example, in 2012 a 19 year old female Egyptian physics student invented a new propulsion method to accelerate space probes and satellites using quantum physics and chemical reactions. This was an important discovery for science, however unfortunately few people have heard of it as it was never reported on Western news channels. This shows that while Muslim people do make genuine, newsworthy contributions to society, not enough people would be interested to hear about it, and instead the media reports more negative news, such as the events in the Islamic state, which encourages the negative views many people have about Muslims.

In Western entertainment media, almost all religions except Christianity are unrepresented. Rarely does a film feature a character that is Hindi, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or other, unless the religion is a main theme in the film such as in 2002's Bend It Like Beckham. Therefore, minorities in Britain are often viewed negatively by other people. It is very important for the media to change this, as without proper representation of other groups of people, racism will continue to be present in society, as the media is heavily responsible for influences most of society's way of thinking.

Linguistic Usage

The usage of language within the media is very important due to the fact that many people's own idiolect is influenced by what they are surrounded by. For example, groups of friends may speak using similar language to each other, and a small child may copy an adults phrases. Therefore, it is important for the media to be cautious of the language it uses, and who that language is exposed to.
This means that, a TV show that is aimed at adults, and features swearing or other forms of negative language cannot be shown at a time when young children would likely be watching TV (approximately pre-9pm, which is known as the "watershed"). Linguistic use is also important in the representation of people too. For example, a teenager can be represented as dim or immature by using slang language (which is often looked down on by older generations).


Media accessibility refers to the idea that the media should be easily accessible for everyone. In recent years this has become much easier to achieve, due to the many forms that the media comes in, the development of technology and the reduction in price of said technology. Media accessibility is increased in a number of ways, including closed captioning, described video, on-air signing, mobile and web accessibility.

Closed captioning (CC) is primarily used for deaf and/or hard of hearing people. Broadcasters are required to provide all of their content with captions, which people can turn on themselves if needed. Captioning is possible with all types of programming, however on live shows the text is likely to lag behind, but researchers are working on ways to improve the services provided.

Described video (or Audio Description) is a service developed for the blind and partially sighted community. The purpose of this service is to describe in detail what is happening in the programme, so that those who are unable to see are still able to enjoy films, TV programmes, and more.

On-air signing is when a sign language interpreter appears on screen beside the film/TV programme, and uses sign language to visually tell a deaf person what is being said in the video. This can be used instead of captioning.

The development of new hardware and technology has also helped accessibility, for example new smartphones allow people to access applications and web content on the go. Mobile accessibility also includes tablets, TV's and many more devices. Also due to the improvements in technology, it is easier to make websites more functional for people with special needs. A website must be well-designed and developed to allow all people equal access to information. This includes not only deaf or blind people, but also people who are unable to use their hands, people with difficulty reading, people with no access/ability to use a keyboard or mouse, and people who have a small screen such as a mobile device. This has led to the introduction of speech and text browsers, magnification tools to make reading small text easier, and separate "mobile versions" of websites to make them more accessible.


Professional Body Codes of Practice

The BBC's code of practice sets out the guidelines that the BBC works by, and it is agreed between the BBC and Ofcom. The guidelines describe the BBC's role as the UK's main public service broadcaster, with the purpose of helping to stimulate and support the development of the independent production sector. This sector must remain competitive and thriving, in the interest of the UK audience. The code ensures that relations between the BBC and independent producers remain fair and transparent, allowing for professional work with fewer conflicts. The code also holds details of the plans for resolving any issues and disputes that may arise, as well as the arrangements for reviewing and monitoring the Code with Ofcom.
The code states the amount of editorial control the BBC has over all BBC programmes, including online entertainment (the BBC has final editorial control). It also states the rights that the BBC has to its multiplatform content, which allows the BBC full control over all online, on-demand, and interactive services relating to BBC programmes. Programme prices are also detailed in the code, stating the factors relating to the price the BBC is willing to pay for a programme (expected budget, value of the programme to the schedule, level of third party investment, production fee, development funding). This is important for programme producers to understand, as when pitching a TV show to the BBC, the producer can be aware of what the BBC is expecting and what they are willing to pay for.

The code also has a section on equal opportunities/ethical standards, relating to the Race Relations Act 1976. The code states that the BBC is an "equal opportunity employer," meaning the BBC will always ensure that all independent producers work with regard to the Equal Opportunities code, so that discrimination does not occur during recruitment of employees.

It is important for people in the media industry to understand the Codes of Practice of professional bodies within the industry, as the codes not only affect how the body works internally, but also how it works with other companies. The BBC's Codes of Practice can have a large affect on the producer of a TV programme, as they detail how the BBC is legally allowed to work with independent companies.


Legal Content

Broadcasting Act 1990

The Broadcasting Act was developed in order to place rules upon broadcasting companies. The act led to the development of another analogue TV channel (Five) and three independent radio stations. There were also rules set in place on cross-media ownership, to stop one individual/company from owning too much. For example, national newspaper owners cannot hold more than a 20% stake in a TV company. However, an individual or company can own more than the rules say if it is an international company; for example, Rupert Murdoch usurps this rule because Sky is defined as a non-UK service.

With the introduction of the Broadcasting Act 1990,  the Independent Television Commission because a "light touch" regulator. Also, the Broadcasting Standards Council (set up in 1988) was given statutory status, and the Radio Authority was set up to award licences for the new radio stations. Additionally, Channel 4 was no longer connected to ITV, as they were given permission to sell their own advertising.


Obscene Publications Act 

The Obscene Publications Act is an act intended to control the publication of material that has the potential to offend or corrupt the audience, such as pornography or graphic violence. The act covers all forms of media that can be accessed by members of the public. The Act of 1959 was a revision of Lord Campbell's Act of 1857, which was heavily criticized for being too strict, and many felt that it compelled authors to falsify social realities in order to avoid violating the law. The 1959 Act is much less strict, as it states that a person cannot be convicted if their publication was obscene in the interests of science, literature, art, or education (for example, 1996's Crash was considered obscene by many critics, however it was not prosecuted because the BBFC understood that the film was not meant to be taken literally, and instead was a metaphor for the link between sex and risk). The Act also states that an experts opinion on the merits of a publication can be considered valid evidence for or against a publication's case, and the creator may speak in defence of their work, whether they have been summoned to court or not.

As the media industry has developed, the Obscene Publications Act has been amended to accommodate new developments and creations. In 1964, the Obscene Publications Act was amended again, in order to affect the wholesaler or anyone using the publication of an obscene piece of work for their own personal gain. Then in 1977, it was amended again to accommodate films and videos. If the film can be deemed morally wrong, it is a violation of the Obscene Publications Act, and therefore the BBFC would not be allowed to be released in the UK. However, the film must be judged as a whole, rather than on just one scene. Since film was accommodated for under the act, no film that had been approved by the BBFC has been prosecuted under the Act.


Race Relations Act 1976

The Race Relations Act is the the law that protects people from racial discrimination in most situations. It covers discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality, colour, and ethnic/national origin. In the media industry, this applies to discrimination in the form of refusing to hire someone based on their race, and the harassment of people on grounds of their race or ethnic/national origins through print, video, audio, or any other form of media. In 2000, the Act was amended to include a duty on public bodies to promote race equality, while showing the effectiveness of procedures to prevent race discrimination. The media has an important role in this, as it is heavily influential on the public, therefore deeply affecting their views and opinions of other people. The Act encourages the employment of people of colour, as well as the representation of minorities in the media, particularly in film and TV.

The adoption of the Race Relations Act led to the development of the Commission for Racial Equality (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) which seeks to ensure that the Act is followed, by challenging discrimination and protecting and promoting human rights. This body and the Act is important in the media industry in order to ensure that discrimination is not present, allowing for everyone to enjoy the media without harm or offence being caused to them, and also to ensure that the media does not encourage negative behaviour from members of the public.


Copyright and Intellectual Property Law

Copyright is a very important law to be aware of within the media industry. Copyright law covers all creative products, including music and song lyrics, manuscripts, computer programs, documents, leaflets, newsletters and articles, plays, dance routines, recordings, photography, paintings and sculptures, architecture, maps, logos, magazines, broadcasts, and programmes. It is illegal to copy these works without the permission of the creator, most commonly with a form of payment. To illegally copy a form of media is considered piracy (for example, downloading music or films off the internet). Intellectual property refers to work that was created by and belongs to someone.

An idea cannot be copyrighted. Therefore, while you can copy someone else's idea, you cannot copy it word for word, as this is copyright infringement. Whenever creating a new media project, producers must be fully aware of their work to ensure that it is not infringing upon anyone else's copyright claims. If you infringe upon copyright law, one of the most common things to happen first is you receive a message from the original creator asking you to remove/stop use of the material. For more serious cases of copyright infringement, the perpetrator could receive a fine of up to £50,000 for each infringed work, or even be taken to prison.


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