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Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for September, 2012

An Out’rage’ous Newsweek Cover?

Posted by prof e on September 18, 2012

Newsweek magazine was once a leader in the news weekly genre. But that was a long time ago and Newsweek is now struggling to attract readers. One technique they’ve employed is the sensational cover photo and headline. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “The conservative Daily Telegraph called it a ” sickening piece of shock journalism that cheapens a once great magazine” and compared it to the anti-Muslim film that sparked the protests.”

This YouTube video captures some of the outrage directed at Newsweek and other journalists.


In response to criticism about their cover, Newsweek invited the public to chime in with their own take on the events recently unfolding in Islamic nations around the globe. They invited people to post to Twitter using the hashtag #muslimrage which was quickly hijacked by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. You can find a collections of some of the tweets, and images of Muslim Rage at Gawker.

This mocking response to a serious issue demonstrates the challenges facing media companies who give up control to their readers/viewers/users. Listen to this NPR story about the Twitter backlash.

Yesterday’s LA Times points to a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine in which the author suggested,

that the increased democratization brought by the 2011 Arab uprisings and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter helped break down the barriers between cultures and tamp down the cycles of outrage compared to the previous protests over Danish cartoons in 2006 that left hundreds dead.

It may be too soon to tell if democracy and social media will have a lasting positive effect on relationships that have taken centuries to grow apart.


Posted in 1st amendment, journalism, magazine, media effects, politics | 12 Comments »

Arab Spring Gives Way to the Arab Fall

Posted by prof e on September 12, 2012

On the anniversary of 9/11, rioting in Cairo and the murder of Libyan ambassador John Christopher Stevens, and several others, at the US consulate in Benghazi is a stark reminder that we still don’t understand the complex nature of middle-eastern politics and Islamic extremism. In the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “how could this happen in a country we helped liberate and in a city we helped to save from destruction.” It is becoming increasingly clear that the overthrow of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi brought new freedom, but also instability, to the region.

There are several connections to mass media in this story. First, much has been made of the role of social media in bringing democracy to Northern Africa and the Middle East. Second, news reports say that a YouTube video criticizing Mohammed was the initial spark that ignited the riots. The two-hour YouTube video, produced and written by Sam Bacile, a California real estate developer, was made for $5 million. A 13-minute trailer/excerpt can be seen here. According to reports, the film portrays the prophet Mohammed as, “a fraud, a pedophile and a womanizer.” Muslims do not allow the portrayal of Mohammed in any form, but are particularly intolerant of depictions that are perceived as an insult. Afghanistan blocked YouTube today in an attempt to prevent access to the controversial video.

While freedom of speech and freedom of expression are highly valued in American culture, much of the world does not share our appreciation for speech that sometimes offends segments of the audience. In this country individuals can safely criticize government entities and religious institutions without fear of reprisal. But that is not the case in many countries and cultures dominated by totalitarian rulers or oppressive religious factions.

While Americans hold their noses and “tolerate” protests by Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist “Church”, the response has not been so generous in other contexts. Take, for example, the case of Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker who made Submission, a movie that many Muslims found offensive. After the movie was shown on Dutch public television, Van Gogh was killed by a “Muslim extremist.” The killer shot Van Gogh eight time, stabbed him, and attempted to decapitate him. When a Danish newspaper published caricatures of the prophet in 2005, it sparked riots in many Muslim countries.

Because we are in an election season, the news also took a political twist. According to a report by the BBC,

Mitt Romney, Mr Obama’s Republican challenger in the forthcoming presidential election, criticized the US administration’s response to the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo, saying it had appeared to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks”.

Religious freedom, freedom of speech, and tolerance for opposing views are values not to be taken lightly. And when they appear to be in conflict with each other, the stakes are even higher.

Posted in 1st amendment, new media, politics, social media | 21 Comments »

Bleeping and Blurring on Network TV

Posted by prof e on September 6, 2012

Regulating indecency on broadcast TV is a tricky business. First of all, the American public does not agree on what is or isn’t indecent. Differences of geography, background, religiosity, and age account for much of the variance…but even then it is difficult to find commonality on what is or isn’t appropriate for prime time TV when children may be in the audience. Another complicating factor is that the networks are competing with basic and premium cable/satellite TV programming which is not subject to the same regulatory scrutiny as over-the-air TV networks. To further confuse the issue, the increase in IPTV and smart TVs that stream video content over the internet makes the distinction of broadcast TV’s more restrictive content policies appear less and less relevant.

Despite–or perhaps because of–the confusion, the controversy is not going away. A study by the media watchdog group Parents Television Council revealed a significant increase in the number of instances of pixelated “full-frontal nudity” on network TV. According the PTC, there was one instance in the 2010-2011 season and 64 in the most recent season. Use of pixelation allows the networks to avoid prosecution by the FCC while implying nudity for comedic or dramatic effect.

According to a quote in the LA Times, PTC President Tim Winter said,

pixilated flesh is “unfortunate, unnecessary and offensive to the family audience” and that it happened more often in 7 to 9 p.m. shows, when kids could be watching, than in those airing after 10 p.m. Nor did the shows’ ratings always warn parents of sensitive content.

Because of the sensitive nature of these issues and the difficulty of making the right decision during the initial filming or taping, occasionally special effects are used in post production to modify the frames that might cross the line. According the same article in the LA Times,

John Gross, a veteran visual effects supervisor at L.A.-based Eden FX, said he and other effects executives are often asked to add pixels or shadow parts of actors’ bodies so network shows will pass muster with censors. They also draw clothes back on so that programs can be sold to international markets more modest than the U.S.

The FCC’s polities on indecent language are also under scrutiny. Currently the courts are wrestling with the proper interpretation of regulatory policies that prohibit “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” Radio stations carrying the Howard Stern Show racked up about $2.5 million in FCC fines before Stern moved from broadcast radio to Sirius XM satellite radio, which is exempt from FCC indecency policies. After several awards show incidents, it is now common policy on live radio and TV to have a short delay which allows a censor to hit a switch to mute the sound or picture in the event of an unscripted moment of vulgarity or profanity.

This practice has become so commonplace that Jimmy Kimmel has a reoccurring segment called “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship” in which he “bleeps and blurs” video clips to give the appearance of vulgarity and indecency when in fact nothing of the sort had taken place. But viewers are easily persuaded to fill in the gaps by imagining the worst. The same phenomenon is happening with the pixelation of full-frontal nudity. Even though the actors are wearing flesh-colored undergarments, the pixelated image encourages the viewer to assume or imagine that the actor is indeed nude in the scene.

So here’s the question: where does offense over indecency happen? Is it in the word or image presented,  in the mind of the audience member, or, somewhere in between?

Posted in 1st amendment, media industry, regulation, tv | 36 Comments »