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Essay: Divided Britain

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Drawing from relevant theory and using contemporary examples, assess the extent to which marketing communications and advertising contributes to migrants living in the UK having little or no voice.

Introduction

Despite the introduction of equality acts and initiatives to challenge discrimination, protect individuals from unfair treatment and promote a fair and more equal society, far-reaching racial inequality remains entrenched in British culture and society (Equality and Human Rights Commision, 2016). Mass media is arguably the most prevalent form of communication in modern society. It can be defined as any form of communication that is intended to reach a mass audience in a short period of time (Collins, 2016).

We live in a social world that is “mediated” through a very complex and intricate system. Mainstream media acts as a channel for voice for some groups in society & arguably as a silencer for others. This point is reinforced by Dutta who states that the marginalisation of groups within society is “fostered through logics of communication that limit the communicative opportunities for participation and voice.” (Dutta 2012, p.6)

Couldry states that “media enables social, political & economic practices to be coordinated over large scales.” (Couldry, 2013, p. 25) It is important to note that advertising and marketing communications are forms of mass communication and therefore fall under the definition of “mass media” or “mainstream media”. This includes but is not limited to communications in magazines, newspapers, television, radio, OOH & the internet etc.

In this essay I intend to assess the extent to which the advertising and marketing communication output of a mediated culture, contributes to migrants living in the UK having little or no voice.

Voicelessness

Voice reflects the need to be seen and heard and is a principal dimension of human existence (Couldry, 2010). Marginalised groups in neo-liberal society often experience a level of social marginality and this usually affects the extent to which these groups voices are heard. Peter Leonard (1984, p. 180) defines social marginality as \’being outside the mainstream of productive activity and/or social reproductive activity’

Bourdieu defines social capital as “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.” (Bourdieu 1992: 119 Cited by Gauntlett 2000) Those with limited social capital often experience social marginalisation which acts as a limiter to the voice(s) of those within the margins of society.

So what does it mean to be voiceless?

The volume of one’s voice is heavily linked to the perceived power of the individual. The extent to which voices are heard and in turn amplified is heavily reliant on the social capital and social equity of the individual and the social group they find themselves within. For example, a foreign migrant living in the UK who was born in another country will have significantly less social connections in comparison with a British national. Consequently those with less connections experience lower levels of social capital and social equity which often results in their voices either being stifled or going completely unheard by the majority of society.

This is further reinforced in a Guardian article about the importance of marginalised voices being heard in the mainstream. “Communities with little social capital are excluded from the corridors of power and often to not have access to the right \”connectors\” who can get their views across.” (Confino, 2010)

The extent to which the media, specifically marketing communications perpetuates this is arguable. However the power it has to influence the masses is undeniable and the wider implications this has on the representation and marginalisation of minority groups in society suggests that there is more at stake in our relationship with the media than some would like to believe. In the words of Couldry (2010, p1)

“We are experiencing a contemporary crisis of voice, across political, economic and cultural domains that has been growing for at least three decades.”

Voiceless Group: Migrants living in the UK

There has been extensive research into the representations of ethnic minorities in British media and the subject is characterised by its complexity. The UK population was 13.1% foreign-born and 8.5% non-British citizens in 2014 (Fullfact, 2016). This is a significant proportion of the “British” population and one that is often stigmatised and misrepresented in the media. (See Appendix 1)

Migration has been an issue of debate in political and media discourse long before the referendum. However there is no denying the subject of immigration has become more prevalent in western media following the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the middle-east.

The way in which immigration is represented, socially framed & depicted in the British media has a knock on effect on the way some members of the British public perceive migrants and in turn existing ethnic minority groups in the UK. This can often result in the stigmatization and marginalisation of these groups which in turn has an impact on the extent to which their voice is heard by the rest of society.

For example in 2015 the former PM David Cameron described the refugees fleeing persecution in some of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters in the middle east as a “swarm” headed for Britain (Buchanan, 2015). This dehumanising description of human beings as something more akin to insects came from the leader of Britain at a time of great social unease and was distributed through a multitude of media channels.

This is a clear indication of the extent to which the media can play a role in the marginalisation of minority groups, migrants in particular.

Marketing Communications: Negative implications of Media for Minority Groups Voice

The UK’s Brexit vote has highlighted existing divisions in UK society and provided a legitimization for those with hateful views. Race is the most commonly recorded motivation for hate crime in England and Wales, at 82 per cent of recorded motivations (Equality & Human Rights Commision, 2016). Studies of racist violence in the UK from the past suggest that individual perpetrators operate within families and communities that implicitly endorse racialized prejudice and ethnic hatred (Sibbitt, 1997).

So to what extent does marketing communications play a role in this?

Anthony and Cortese (2007) state that “The depiction of ethnic and gender relations in advertising subtly colours our understanding of status arrangements and social boundaries.” This suggests that although it is often unintentional adverts reflect cultural values, belief systems and social norms. With this in mind it is important to consider particular advertisements that depict social minorities (in this instance migrants living in the UK) in a negative way and the implications these communications can have on the way in which the wider “majority” of society perceive these minority groups.

During the Brexit campaign both sides used scaremongering and fear tactics as a means of persuading and swaying public opinion in their respective favours. The leave campaign repeatedly used immigration as a leverage point to rile up it’s supporters (See Appendix 2 & 3) This highlights the normalisation of hateful discourse towards both migrants outside and inside the UK in the media which has been amplified by marketing communications. The effectiveness of such tactics were clearly reflected in the outcome of the referendum which saw 51% of the British population voting to leave the European Union.

However advertising featuring hateful messaging towards migrants in the UK isn’t something that has suddenly appeared a particular advertising campaign commissioned by the Home Office in 2013 specifically targeted racially mixed areas with billboards telling illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest” (See Appendix 4). Adverts such as these have made the lives of migrants living in the UK increasingly difficult on a social level and no doubt contributed to the reluctance (for some) to vocalise opinions on the media discourse that surrounds immigration and migrants.

This phenomena is known as a “spiral of silence” a phrase coined by Noelle-Neumann (1984). The concept of minority groups concealing their views from the majority as a result of social pressure isn’t a new one, take Nazi Germany for example. Marketing communications along with a variety of other contributing factors, certainly play a significant role in perpetuating the spiral of silence for those in minority groups.

Politicians and journalists have played a key role in the label “migrant” becoming a catch-all term for ‘other’ in British society. The stigma that surrounds this label can be directly attributed to the discourse that has been used to speak about it in the media. Politicians and journalists have used the term “migrant” to refer to refugees, Muslims, Eastern Europeans and Black Africans in Calais (Oyekanmi, 2016). This is a clear example of British mainstream media directly contributing to the othering and misrepresentation of migrant groups living in the UK and outside of it.

The negative implications the media can have on migrants living in the UK are further demonstrated in the post brexit spike in hate crime studies which indicated “that in the 38 days after the referendum there were more than 2,300 recorded race-hate offences in London, compared with 1,400 in the 38 days before the vote.”(Weaver, 2016) The fact that hate crime increased post brexit, highlights the effect that marketing communications can not only have a detrimental impact on the voice(s) of migrants living in the UK, but also on their safety.

Marketing Communications: Positive implications of Media for Minority Groups Voice

On the other hand there are instances where media, more specifically marketing communications has had positive implications for the voices of migrants living in the UK. For example a member of the British public took out a full page ad in the metro to counter the fear mongering tactics that were being implemented by both sides of the referendum campaign. (See appendix 5) The ad’s simple copy read “Why can’t we cope with a 0.5%/yr rise in population? Too many migrants or failure of government?” and gave voice to a large proportion of the population who were dissatisfied with the unethical tactics being used by the government, migrants included.

As history has taught us, using migrants as a political scapegoat is dangerous (Hollifield, 1992). Although immigration still remains a prominent political issue adverts like these, untainted by bias give people a moment to reflect on the way our government is using mass media to ultimately divert the public’s attention from the real issues we face as a society.

Marketing Communications for the Voiceless from the Voiceless

Migrant led initiatives combating the threat media poses to migrant voice in the UK and focusing on the way migrants are being represented across large parts of the media have been established.

Migrant Voice UK is “working to strengthen the voice, participation and representation of migrants in the media in order to encourage a more balanced, well-informed and inclusive debate on migration in Britain.” (Migrantvoice, 2016)

Furthermore the ‘I am an Immigrant’ advertising campaign was a crowdfunded communications campaign created by Movement Against Xenophobia (Crowdfunder, 2015) that focused on celebrating UK migrants and their contributions to society as opposed to stereotyping and often vilifying them.

These examples demonstrate the duality of the role that media is playing in our society, in that it is often limiting the voices of migrants but also providing a platform for members from migrant communities, especially those whose voices are not usually heard, to express their views on the issues affecting their lives in the UK.

Digital Media: Implications for Minority Groups Voice

Media performs a crucial role in the representation of ethnic minorities in the public sphere but can also affirm social & cultural diversity. The rise of digital media has been somewhat of a double edged sword for minority groups. On one hand it has acted as a facilitator of voice for minority groups. It provided a plethora of new channels to disseminate information through, and thus has been increasingly utilised by minority groups who feel misrepresented or whose voices are not being heard by the majority (Guzzetti and Lesley, 2015).

However it could also be argued that digital media has also provided a platform for for those with hateful views to share their views and opinions and in turn discourage minority groups from voicing their own opinions, the obdurate anonymity that digital based communications can provide individuals with “a sense of impunity and freedom from being held accountable for inappropriate online behaviour” (Hardaker, 2010, p. 215) that would otherwise be condemned in mainstream society.

Conclusion

To conclude mainstream media, more specifically marketing communication does contribute to large sections of the UK population having little or no voice. Advertising and marketing communications are incredibly powerful social forces. They can be used to perpetuate the stigmatisation and stereotyping of marginalised groups. In contrast they can be used to counter stigmatisation and challenge stereotypes.

The examples used throughout this essay highlight that marketing communications and advertising can help to provide voice for marginalised groups living in the UK. Similarly it can also act as a limiter and can have a significantly detrimental impact on the voices of minority groups as examples some of the examples have indicated.

As advertisers and marketers we must be aware of the role we play in affecting public opinion through communications. The impact of unfair representation of minority groups is made clear in some of the examples mentioned in this essay and in turn the dangers this can impose, not just on voice, but on minority groups safety as well. If this isn’t a clear indication of the impact we as advertisers and in turn communicators can have on the voices and lives of individuals in marginalised groups then one must question what is?

We have a responsibility to ensure the marginalisation of migrants in the UK isn’t perpetuated through marketing and advertising communications and must always challenge the stereotypes we are fed as a society to ensure the fair representation of marginalised groups.

8.1.2017

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