A new global “media ecology” is currently emerging, with political and economic powers in non-Western parts of the world, such as India and China, playing a more substantive and independent role in the global media sphere (Khorana 2012, p.39).
Despite this shift from traditional geo-political powers in the West, a neo-Orientalist framing in Western mainstream media continues to exist (Khorana 2012, p.40). This is reflected in the familiar racial undertones in Western media in which foreign native cultures are essentialised through age-old parochial stereotypes (Khorana 2012, p.40). This can be attributed to the deeply ethnocentric assumptions held by society at large, which are manifested in all facets of life. In an educational context, for example, ethnocentrism is evident in the way international students are perceived as weak, helpless and in deficit (Marginson 2012, p.5). Such stereotypes are often perpetuated in films, as revealed in the musical comedy movie Pitch Perfect whereby the Asian characters are represented as submissive and meek, as well as cold and non-assimilating (Chang 2013).
The Australian media’s reporting of the Indian media’s coverage of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne epitomises this neo-Orientalist framework (Khorana 2012, p.39). Australian accounts focused on the use of graphic imagery rather than factual knowledge in Indian television networks, who arguably invoked a “Bollywoodisation” of news rather than engaging in an informed debate (Khorana 2012, p.45). Khorana argues that such criticisms of Indian media reflect an underlying neo-Orientalist discourse in which India is perceived as inferior, with lower standards of factual truth-seeking and literacy (2012, p.45) and a less rational view of the world (2012, p.44).
A reaction to this underlying media, and political, discourse was evident in the foreign media coverage of the racial riots in Ferguson, Missouri, USA, where Russian and Iranian media printed scornful remarks about the police responses to the protests (Piven 2014). This reporting was subjected to similar criticism to that directed at the Australian coverage of the Indian racial attacks in Melbourne, albeit a form of “Occidentalism” in which there is a focus on negative representations of the Western world (Buruma & Margalit 2014).
US media coverage of the Ferguson riots was also subject to criticism, with claims that it was “superficial, sensational and lacking context…feeding well-worn stereotypes and narratives” (Youngblood 2014). This challenges one of the premises of the neo-Orientalist framework, which suggests that Western journalism outlets uphold the “fourth estate” function of media (Khorana 2011, p.44). At the same time, it also indicates the way news is particular to each country – unlikely to share the same frame of reference due to its “domestication” according to the historical, cultural and political sensibilities of audiences (Clausen 2004, p.27).
With the growth in media power accruing outside the West, the challenge will be for these new media capitals not to mimic Western media but to position themselves as global players, developing a cosmopolitan orientation by overcoming difference and diversity while reviving serious journalism free from the implicit cultural stereotypes evident in existing media discourse.
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