Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Misrepresentation of Muslims and Islamophobic Public Discourses in Recent Romanian Media Narratives

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Misrepresentation of Muslims and Islamophobic Public Discourses in Recent Romanian Media Narratives

Article excerpt

Introductory arguments

Donald Matheson convincingly argued1 that media discourses are not simple mirrors of our society, they also build our social understanding, they create social meanings. Thus we can use the media texts and their choice of language in order to understand the formation of our identities, of social and cultural values2. The main research premise of this paper is that by overviewing media representations and media discourses we can have access to the mechanisms that generate specific views in an otherwise extremely complex social and political dynamics. The framework of analysis is provided by media discourse analysis, with a particular attention for the way in which public opinion leaders and politicians use media attention and how their public interventions lead to a subsequent formation of social identity.

In order to proceed with an analysis of media representations, the first conceptual set that has provided insights into the meaning formation processes through the media is the interpretative practice used in cultural studies. As Stuart Hall elaborated the standard model3 of interpretative approach in his classical study on media consumption practices, we must understand our cultural representations as part of a more complex structure of formation of meanings. The language in the media and generally the discourses are continuously charged with signification, through a process that can be described as encoding and decoding. The general model proposed by Hall is based on an oppositional and structural interdependence between the "power positions" of those ideas that are represented in the media. Thus, a discourse which naturally serves a political purpose is encoded and later, through consumption, is decoded and then takes shape as a dominant political perspective. As Hall pointed out, this relationship becomes more meaningful when using exceptional situations, with a high emotional impact or a crisis situation, since they provide an oppositional context.

The second major concept used in this paper derives from Hall's assumptions and is based on the principle that media discourse analysis can also provide access to the ideological dimension of media representations. By using an extremely "hot" topic (in this case the terrorist attacks of radical Islamists) the way in which public discourses are selected, prioritized and distributed can be an indicator for the formation of political attitudes (Islamophobia).

Thus, the assumption is that the production of discourses and the accumulation of specific meanings become relevant for the dominant political understanding, and that this process is taking shape in the media, through its visible manifestations in language selection.

The methodology of the research

This paper is designed as a case study using media discourses that are representing Islam and Islamism in the Romanian public sphere. The research was developed in two stages, with the first part dedicated to identifying a relevant corpus of texts and signification producers - that is choosing those media discourses that were pertinent. In order to achieve this task, the technique was to identify the most prominent producers of social meaning and to select a variety of sources for the corpus of analysis. By consequence, the most meaningful discursive instances were considered first to be the news published by the "traditional" media. Next the selection of social media discourses was done considering their visibility into the national press. The second level of selection was to choose representative communication "producers", in the sense that they had to be both visible and influential opinion makers. Here, two types of public figures were considered to be relevant: politicians and public intellectuals.

Without being a quantitative media analysis, the method proposed here is qualitative and is based on the classical method of critical discourse analysis (CDA). As pointed out by authors like Fairclough or Wodak, the role of a critical discourse analysis is not simply discursive, it must be understood as part of a wider and critical evaluation of social practices. …

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