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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

Representing ?Race?. Racisms, Ethnicities and Media
John Downing and Charles Husband

London: Sage Publications, 2005, 241 pp, PB, ISBN 0-7619-6912-8

A comprehensive literature review and a good starting point for scholars interested in formulating policy recommendations, Downing and Husband?s new book on the representation of race and ethnicity in the media manages to render ? and to remind us of ? the complex interaction between media and racism. For those interested in peace and conflict issues, the book might provide a good starting point in understanding the complicated web of relations and structures which constructs mass media and its role within contemporary society in relation to race and ethnicity. However, this work is not based on original research and does not offer any new theoretical or empirical takes on the problematic.

In my opinion, the greatest strength of this book stems from its capacity to unpack the issue of race/ ethnicity representation in the media on various interdependent levels: media content, the political economy of media (internal organization and professional culture, interdependencies with other sectors) and media reception. The book is divided into nine chapters: after briefly introducing the reader to the various definitions and perspectives on race, ethnicity and media (chapters 1 and 2), the readers are invited to reflect upon the relationship between media, ethnic/racial hatred and various types of violence (direct and indirect).

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 deal respectively with extreme right media, media in open conflicts (with interesting summaries of ?classic? case studies on Northern Ireland, ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda) and indigenous media (with a brief overview of Australian Aboriginal and Saami media). The thread uniting these different settings is that of violence: while extreme right media allegedly represents only a minority of radicals, perpetrating indirect (or instigating to) violence towards minority groups, the authors expose the complex relationship between radicals, wider conservative forces and international media, all creating and normalizing a universe of racist expectations. This process becomes visible in open conflicts, when media gets entangled in supporting direct violence ? by being constrained through state or internal policies and by voluntarily adhering to the increasingly radicalized norms. Last, but not least, structural violence is an essential dimension in considering the emergence and development of indigenous media. As the authors point out, indigenity poses threats to the logic of the nation-state, by challenging the alleged ?intrinsic axis? nation-territory rights. Consequently, the development of indigenous media is faced with eclectic forms of structural violence: within a revenue-oriented paradigm, it becomes constrained by the need of receiving state funding while at the same time being subject to state policies and to a wider social capacity to recognize diversity and address racial inequality.

The last chapters (6, 7, 8 and 9) attempt to provide a basis for future research on policy recommendations for media representation of race and ethnicity. The authors expose the complicated internal organization of media institutions, in which owners, organizational culture, legal framework and economic concerns melt into one another, contributing to the difficulty of coming up with ?perfect? solutions for redressing inequality and bias. The concept of institutional racism becomes useful ? yet dangerous ? for understanding media?s capacity to replicate or to challenge racism: while it provides a frame for identifying strategies and mechanisms of redressing social injustice, it simultaneously provides an ?excuse? for an ?impersonal? structural racism, removing responsibility from individual shoulders. Media ethics and internal regulations, the legal regulatory framework and the organizational cultures of media institutions are important points of pressure for redressing racism and inequality, yet it is important to understand that neither would automatically ensure a fair representation and participation of minorities. Rather, change should be envisaged as an array of actions undertaken by various actors, from state to individuals, pressuring on the various nodes of the network, on a long-term basis.

Delia Despina Dumitrica, Ph.D. Student in Communications, University of Calgary

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