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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


FOURIE, Pieter J. The media's "image" of society: A semiotic perspective. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.4, pp.570-583. ISSN 2224-7912.

The media as a "mirror" and as an "image" of society is often blamed for many of the wrongs in society. This is a general illustration and confirmation of the centrality and power of the media in contemporary society. The purpose of this article is to investigate in more depth, and from a semiotic perspective, the nature of media representation. The question asked and answered is: What is the media's "image" of society and how is it communicated? The discussion of how and what kind of "image" the media provides of society, is set against the background of a brief discussion of the nature of postmodern society and of the postmodern media landscape. Key features of postmodern society are highlighted, emphasising those affecting the practice and functioning of the media in society. These features include the changed nature of the public in postmodern society, the changed nature of the public sphere, and the media as part of and a creator of the public sphere. Emphasis is on the development of information and communication technology (ICT) in postmodern society and how ICT has created a conversed and digitised media landscape. The characteristics of this landscape are briefly described, such as the provision of various media platforms, the multimedia approach, the synthesis between language, sound and image, the media user's ability to produce content, increased access, etcetera. It is argued that in postmodern society ICT has contributed to the move from mass communication to network communication. The intrinsic nature of network communication determines some of the main stylistic features of media (networked) representations. With this as background, it is then argued that the media's "image" of society is a structured representation. Media representation is then described as an ideological and a stereotyped representation. It is shown how the media produces ideological and stereotyped representations through three processes of meaning articulation: the selection of the subject, the treatment of the subject by means of professional codes, and the presentation and dissemination of the subject through technology-driven channels. It is argued that the ideology and philosophy of liberal democracy underlies the South African media's representations of the South African society (and South African politics), giving rise to the inherent tension between government and media. Stereotyping is explained as the default style of media representation. How are media representations communicated? To answer this question, the article returns to the distinction between mass communication and network communication. It is argued that media representation is communicated mainly through network communication and that network communication can be characterised by interactivity. In the article it is then argued that interactivity, and all it comprises in terms of communication between the media maker and the media user, determines the style of contemporary media representations. Stylistic characteristics such as the reactive, opinionated, ritualistic, fragmentary, intertextual and repetitive style of media representation are dealt with. The article concludes that the so-called "mirror" and "image" of the media are and can never be an objective balanced portrayal of something, someone, or society. From the perspective of media semiotics, media images are always and inherently ideological and stereotyped created and structured representations. As such, media representations are also always an abstraction of reality. Reference is made to Jean Baudrillard's (1983; 1985) view that media representation is only a simulacrum of social reality. In conclusion, it is argued that whilst the semiotic way in which the media produce meaning is fixed, it should be kept in mind that mediated meaning production is always based on human choices. Media communicators should therefore be more aware of the importance and significance of their choices (in the processes of meaning production) and how their choices affect the portrayal and "image" of society. An increased semiotic awareness amongst media communicators and increased media literacy amongst media users, are emphasised. Given the fact that the media are one of the most important structures in society, it is also argued that as far as media regulation is concerned, media regulation should take diversity of media as its point of departure. Only through diversity of media and the intertextuality created through such diversity can the media begin to provide a fuller and more contextualised "image" of society.

Palavras-chave : ideological representation; interactivity; mass communication; media representation; media semiotics; network communication; postmodern media; postmodern media landscape; representation; stereotyped representation.

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