The Media and Cultural Production


P. Eric Louw

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    There was a time when media production issues were central concerns within media and communication studies. It has been argued, with some justification, that this led to something of an over-emphasis being placed on the encoding dimension of the communicative process (that is, too great a focus on communicators and the medium/media), which caused the role of decoders (recipients and audiences) to be undervalued. These criticisms were to precipitate a focus-shift towards the ‘active reader’. However, once the decoding dimension and ‘active audience’ became the ‘trendy’ concerns of communication studies, something of a paradigm flip-flop occurred – and not only did the issues of encoding, media production, media ownership and ‘ideology’ etc. tend to fall off the media studies agenda, they actually came to be dismissed as ‘dated’ (which perhaps confers some validity on Kuhn's hypothesis that paradigm shifts are accompanied by the active de-legitimation of earlier work). Ultimately, the turn away from ‘encoding’ towards ‘decoding’ simply generated another lopsided understanding of the communication process – instead of over-emphasized encoding, decoding was now overemphasized.

    This book wishes to place encoding issues back on to the communication and media studies agenda because this author believes that understanding communication as a ‘total process’ should involve a concern with both encoding and decoding. Hence this book sets out to revisit the work of those who have previously concerned themselves with media production issues. More specifically, this book attempts to re-activate a number of ‘media production themes’ in a way that makes this work accessible to undergraduates, an objective of this book being to produce an undergraduate text which brings together in one volume a wide range of communication studies work on media production.

    Further, the book aims to introduce undergraduates to the relationship between cultural production and power – to explore how the socially powerful attempt to use the media to maintain their positions of dominance over others. It is about introducing undergraduates to an exploration of cultural and media production via the issue of power relationships. As a result, the book explores the role the media can play in the process of creating, maintaining and shifting power relations, as well as the role that the wider struggle for social power has on media practices, production and consumption. In this regard, a central theme in the book is that the socially powerful attempt to use the media in their exercise of power precisely because the media does have the capacity to ‘manipulate’ us. This is not to argue that the media are all-powerful, or that we are necessarily always manipulated, or that the socially powerful always get their way. Rather, this author sees the media as possessing the ‘potential to influence’ in a rather more diffuse way. In this regard, the book draws heavily upon Bernard Cohen's notion of agenda-setting – that is Cohen's conceptualization that the media ‘may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about’ (1963: 13). This agenda-setting logic provides a useful fulcrum for exploring how the media may ‘limit’ what we perceive, but still allows for the conceptualization of an ‘active audience’ which is able to engage with what is on offer. Yet, as Cohen's logic suggests, the media has the capacity to manipulate us even if we are ‘active readers’. Hence the need to pay attention to media production.

    I would like to thank Trish Andrews for her useful suggestions on Chapter 1, and Rose Louw for sub-editing the book. Thanks also to James Davidson and Julia Hall of Sage for ‘guiding’ me to the idea of writing such a book in the first place.


    ABAAustralian Broadcasting Authority
    ABCAustralian Broadcasting Corporation
    ARDArbeitsgemeinschaft der Offentilich-Rechtlichen Rundfumkanstalten Deutschland
    BBCBritish Broadcasting Corporation
    CBCCanadian Broadcasting Corporation
    CEOChief executive officer
    CIACentral Intelligence Agency (USA)
    CNCLCommission for Communications and Liberties (France)
    CRCTCanadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
    EUEuropean Union
    FARCRevolutionary Armed Force of Columbia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia)
    FCCFederal Communications Commission (USA)
    IBAIndependent Broadcasting Authority (South Africa)
    IMFInternational Monetary Fund
    ITCIndependent Television Commission (UK)
    MITIMinistry of International Trade and Industry (Japan)
    NATONorth Atlantic Treaty Organization
    NGONon-Governmental Organization
    NHKNippon Hosa Kyokai (Japan)
    NWIONew World Information Order
    NWONew World Order
    OECDOrganization for Economic Corporation and Development
    PACPolitical action committee
    PRPublic relations
    PRsPublic relations professionals
    PSBPublic service broadcasting
    SABCSouth African Broadcasting Corporation
    WTOWorld Trade Organization
    WWWWorld Wide Web
    ZDFZweites Deutsches Fernesehen (Germany)
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