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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Tai

MEDIA MISREPRESENTATION

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

An open conversation with video journalist, Tania Safi.

An Introduction to Media Misrepresentation


The progression of social media and society’s current events have laid parallel to a diversity we celebrate as humanity, raising glasses to the salutation of equal opportunities and shared stories among the human race. Whether it be religious, racial, or neurotypical differences, people have begun accepting each other for the content of their character, looking beyond the historically standing barriers of black and white. But beneath the surface of progression and civil justice, the truth remains that not all stories have been told the same, subconsciously reshaping what society deems as morally right or acceptable in exercise. Media misrepresentation has become prevalent in almost everything we consume, yet few people understand these stories written behind closed doors. This article in collaboration with one of the media’s most outspoken queer Arab journalists, Tania Safi, opens a door to the media’s darker side. Safi is well-recognized in a movement fighting against Media Misrepresentation in the Middle East through her documentary series, Shway Shway, in which platforms humanitarian workers and NGOs from their hometown in Lebanon in hopes of shifting mainstream lenses and stereotypes of the MENA region to a positive and authentic light.


What is Media Misrepresentation?


Media misrepresentation is a term coined to describe inaccurate and socially detrimental portrayals of communities through all sorts of media such as books, television shows, and films. Oftentimes having inadequate media coverage or none at all, heavily stigmatized communities like the queer, differently-abled, or Arab communities are often left to battle a slow progression of media sensitivity and diversity.


Though it seems like inclusion isn’t a problem in the media we consume, media misrepresentation much exists in disguise to cover up wrong intentions. Tokenism is one of the most common types of media misrepresentation, referring to the inclusion of people from underrepresented groups for the sole sake of a superficially inclusive appearance. Not only is tokenism prevalent in the workforce where companies hire workers of minority communities to warrant a claim of company equality, but the media also stands as one of the leading hotspots for tokenism. Movie directors oftentimes cast actors to portray LGBTQ+ characters for no other reason than that of pure symbolic effect. Besides tokenism lies another common form of media misrepresentation: stereotyping. Stereotyping recurrently appears in the media when certain behaviors are assumed of a character solely based on their religious, ethnic, sexual, gender, or racial identity. One of the most common forms of which exists when films portray Arab characters as terrorists or gay characters as lustful or sexually provocative. Of similar intentions, typecasting exist in media industries when actors are repeatedly assigned to portray characters based on their cultural identity that subjectively aligns with common stereotypes. For example, actors of racial backgrounds that are stereotypically non-English-speaking are oftentimes expected to portray characters in exaggerated accents, regardless of the actor's personal upbringing or lingual capabilities, or the culture’s true characteristics.


What is so Dangerous about Media Misrepresentation?

Media misrepresentation might seem insignificant within the scope of our community but its impacts unknowingly dominate our decisions and beliefs in our day-to-day life. Through some of her personal experiences with inadequate media representation of her community, Tania Safi explains the unseen impacts of media misrepresentation and how it affects our ability to maintain fair and logical judgments. She explains that “without accurate and fair media representations, we subconsciously form misunderstandings on certain groups of people, identities, religions, you name it.” Comparing these preconceived notions of people like that of advertisement and how “whether you’re consciously aware of seeing an advertisement or not, advertising affects your perceptions of what you need and want in life”, the effects inadequate media coverage not only warp our grip of reality but also comes to manipulate our moral and political judgments.


The benefits of fair media representation aren’t limited to the communities being portrayed but instead creates a principled mindset for all characters in society. With accurate portrayals of different cultures and backgrounds, the media holds the power of expanding our notion of normality, allowing us to form healthy impressions of people beyond superficial assumptions. Additionally, an entire renaissance of rich stories of art and literature can be birthed from new perceptions of the human race along with a new community of artists finally getting the recognition they deserve.


Without us knowing, inaccurate representation of marginalized groups stands as one of the largest blockades to joined progress when it comes to revolution and the building of a fairer and safer future. When it comes to media misrepresentation, it isn’t just the small figures of society that are impeding silenced stories to be heard, but instead oftentimes traces to the larger positions of government. With Singapore’s LGBTQ+ community fighting for equality over the span of decades yet not being able to create a Singapore based on a pledged “justice and equality”, the factors that have obstructed a revolution of equality come down to media misrepresentation of Singapore’s LGBTQ identities. Like many other progressive social topics, change in affirmation of marriage equality and the embrace of diverse sexualities and gender expressions comes down to the opinions of Singapore’s older generations. Being less exposed to rising movements that shift away from conventionalism and new ways of thinking, the sole media outlet Singaporean seniors tend to become what’s shown on the TV screens. Along with outdated constitutions that encourage media censorship when it comes to positive portrayals of gay characters, LGBTQ identities have been dramatically distorted in monstrous and irrevocable ways, shifting the true image of queer identities in the eyes of Singapore’s older generations. With fair media representation, true judgment can be left to humanity’s founding basis of moral ground.


How can we Solve the Problem of Media Misrepresentation?

As consumers of media information, the burden of self-awareness and fact-checking lies in nobody else but us. By educating ourselves and obtaining information from multiple sources, we can make better judgments and distinguish media misrepresentation within the media outlets we take.


Tania Safi founded a documentary series, Shway Shway, to showcase the NGOs fighting against injustice in her hometown, Lebanon, as they hope to break the heavily negative media portrayals and stereotypes of the MENA region. She realizes the inequality of mainstream media as barely any international news outlets broadcast the bright side of the Middle East and oftentimes only focuses on the flaws and social issues of the region. As a video journalist of over 10 years, Safi showcases the importance of storytelling in efforts of breaking media misrepresentation. “It takes a critical mind and a big heart”, they explain, "critical in the sense that you’re aware of boundaries, truth, and integrity. A big heart in the sense that you need to feel like every story deserves exactly the same amount of energy and drive, and that there are a lot of stories out there that should be on your list!” Not only does she share the importance of storytelling, Safi teaches the world to be on ground for the right reasons, to “respect that trusts that you earn with someone”, that “you need to be in this for the right reasons”.


For More Information


Everything About Media Misrepresentation:

Singapore’s Gay Media Censorship and a Movement for Change: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-singapore-lgbt-entertainment-idUSKBN1WV1EO


References


Tawil, Yasmina. “What Exactly is Media Misrepresentation Anyway?”, Arab Film & Media Institute, https://arabfilminstitute.org/what-exactly-is-media-representation-anyway/. Accessed March 29 2020.

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