Racism and the Press

Teun A. van Dijk

This book undoubtedly represents the most theoretically and methodologically sophisticated and comprehensive cross-national comparative study of racism within the press to date (although, curiously, both Singer's and Scanlon's earlier works on specific race-press relationships in Canada are neglected).

Van Dijk begins by providing readers with an explanation of the operational procedures undertaken to study racism in the press, a fairly thorough review and analysis of earlier social-scientific work on that relationship, and a full outline of the critical, multidisciplinary, anti-racist, theoretical discourse framework to be applied. The author then proceeds to apply this analytical approach to identify, assess and evaluate all features of the race-press relationship: headlines; subjects and topics; news schemata, argumentation and editorials; quotations and sources; meanings and ideologies; and style and rhetoric. He concludes by putting together the fundamental rudiments of what a critical theory of the reproduction of news about ethnic affairs or "events" might look like, by summarizing the main findings in light of acknowledged differences between newspapers and differences between countries, and by making meaningful suggestions for future race-press studies. The book ends with an interesting Appendix with guidelines on race reporting developed by the National Union of Journalists and a detailed reference section complete with author and subject indexes.

Undeniably, one of the strongest features of this book is its meticulous and systematic empirical approach to the study of race-press relations, effectively differentiating it from a plethora of previous studies, most of which were small-scale and oftentimes speculative and incomplete. In doing so, van Dijk compellingly establishes new, complex, dynamic and higher standards by which future race-press relations studies must be both conducted and evaluated. A second positive feature of this book is the multidisciplinary, critical approach relentlessly applied to the study of racism in the press, touching upon race relations, mass media studies, discourse analysis (van Dijk is a professor of discourse studies at the University of Amsterdam), socio-political analysis, cognitive psychology, and sociology--to name but a few. This complex theoretical approach allows van Dijk to focus heavily on aspects of the race-press relationship typically circumvented or lightly glossed over by previous studies, with few exceptions.

This second strength of van Dijk's study leads with force and profundity directly into what must be considered the book's major contribution to the field, that is, a deeply detailed and well-organized first-time attempt to combine an analysis of both the micro- and macro-levels of this relationship. Such an attempt at applying a micro-macro analytical approach is largely (but, understandably, not entirely) successful at revealing multiple and complex relations: between the structural and psychological dimensions of ethnic representations within the press; between the micro- and macro-levels of social organization; between the "material" and "cognitive-ideological" dimensions of social structures and strategies; and between the reproduction of forms of discourse and communication (context) and the reproduction of actual beliefs, attitudes, ideologies, and, in general, discourses about ethnic group interactions and relations (text). Although van Dijk is admittedly much more oriented towards incorporating "text" into "context" within the book, he demonstrates a straight-forward openness about and recognition of independent mechanisms of the reproduction of racism in the press at the level of raw everyday interactions between ethnic groups. It is at that level that the structure of ethnic dominance and inequality first begins and later develops into structures of prejudice and racism in the press and enters and hardens within other institutions of society.

If there is any weakness in this book, then, it is that the micro-macro connection in race-press relations is not explored or developed as fully as it could have been. As van Dijk himself points out early in Chapter 1: "However, owing to space limitations this study focuses on the analysis of the structures and contents of news reports themselves, and only occasionally relates these with their cognitive, societal, political, or cultural contexts" (p. 5). Still, this is a rather humble statement coming from a scholar who has succeeded much more than this statement might imply (and much more than most if not all others in the field) in forging a new path in the study of racism in the press which followers will necessarily be forced to take into account in their own studies of race-press relations. Surely, no scholar in this area can afford to neglect this path-finding work and still lay claim to scientific integrity.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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