Mass Media in Aotearoa: An Obstacle to Cultural Competence

By Nairn, Raymond; Barnes, Angela Moewaka et al. | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Mass Media in Aotearoa: An Obstacle to Cultural Competence


Nairn, Raymond, Barnes, Angela Moewaka, Rankine, Jenny, Borell, Belinda, Abel, Sue, McCreanor, Tim, New Zealand Journal of Psychology


Studies of mass media news materials show that the dominant culture is not recognised as a culture and that its role in shaping society is thereby naturalised. In marked contrast, portrayals of indigenous peoples and minority ethnic groups present individuals as (negatively) different and their culture is trivialised. This article describes how these patterns sabotage psychology practitioners' efforts to develop and maintain cultural competence.

"Systems that are established by the newcomers [settlers] then ensure this redistribution continues until colonization is explicitly acknowledged and addressed" (Cram, 2009, p.210)

Building on the findings of our studies of New Zealand media (Moewaka Barnes et al., 2005; Rankine et al., 2008) and the HRC funded project "Media, health and wellbeing in Aotearoa" (Gregory et al., 2011); this article aims to encourage psychologists to see and act on the implications of identified media practices for efforts to develop and sustain cultural competence. We outline the HRC study, briefly review relevant international media research, before describing how mass media routinely mask and normalise Pakeha culture. We show how the disparaging portrayals of Maori appear to justify the fragmented representations of Maori culture in the mass media and conclude with a discussion of how these practices threaten or undermine efforts to develop and sustain culturally competent practice.

For "Media, health and wellbeing in Aotearoa" the authors collected a three-week, representative sample of New Zealand news media - print (metropolitan, regional and local newspapers), radio (RNZ, Radio Live, ZB network), and television (TVNZ, TV3, Prime, and MTS) that was analysed for content and themes. Those analyses were supplemented by focus group discussions about New Zealand media with Maori and non-Maori groups and interviews with journalists and media managers that were analysed thematically. The aim of the project was to explore the mass media treatment of Maori in national life, and to assess the impact of negative discourses about Maori on Maori wellbeing and on Maori/Pakeha relations.

Mass media in modern societies

As the storytellers of our society, mass media are simultaneously products and reproducers of the dominant culture (Silverstone, 2007). Across factual and fictional genres, mass media routinely construct the world within which all, practitioners and clients, live. That construction, shaped by and utilising cultural and discursive resources developed by the dominant culture, owes much to the homogenous society imagined in the 19th century rush of nation-building (Anderson, 1991). Analysing media the authors, like other researchers (Barclay & Liu, 2003; Chamberlain & Hodgetts, 2008; Smith & Abel, 2008) assume that discourse--language in use--is both shaped by and, concurrently, gives meaning and structure to people's social and experiential worlds. Consequently, we all, always, live in a cultural world (Black & Huygens, 2007; McHoul & Rapley, 2001), because the world we experience, know, and understand is framed within and depends upon the regnant culture. In this "mediated environment" (Chamberlain & Hodgetts, 2008, p.1109), the mass media, by focusing on the deviant, the marginal, and the novel, routinely implicate and thereby re-affirm and re-imagine dominant understandings of what is normal (Ericson, Baranek & Chan, 1987, 1991; Kress & van Leeuwen, 1998). Effectively, mass media stories naturalise the real world as imagined by the dominant, culture-defining group (Black & Huygens, 2007); yet, and this of particular importance for practitioners, the mass media are the primary basis of our knowledge about citizens whom we do not know personally. This was trenchantly expressed by Hartley, "The only real (sic), contact with others is, paradoxically, symbolic (sic), and rendered in the form of stories, both factual and fictional, in the electronic and print media" (1996, p. …

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