Towards a deconstruction of the ideology on immigration in the free press through words and images

AutorMaría Martínez Lirola
Cargo del AutorUniversidad de Alicante

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Nowadays, immigration is regarded in Europe as one of the main social problems, a view spread by the media because they support the power of the white majority that can be considered the elite of Europe, as van Dijk (2007: 26) points out:

Si el racismo se aprende y se reproduce, en gran medida, a través del discurso dominante, y si ese discurso es accesible solo a las élites simbólicas, como políticos, periodistas, escritores, profesores, académicos (blancos), debemos concluir que la fuente más importante del racismo contemporáneo son las élites simbólicas blancas1(van Dijk, 2007: 26).

Discourse constructs and reproduces the social realities of the world we live in because it has a social and a cognitive dimension. Moreover, discourse reproduces ideology and power relations in society. Consequently, discourse can contribute to the creation of hope and peace and allow different ethnic groups to live in a peaceful way in society. The fact that the white elites control discourse means that their words and ideas create important differences in how both minorities and the main group are represented. In this way, a dichotomy between We-They is established, which contributes to the racism of the elite (van Dijk, 2006; van Dijk, 2008; van Dijk, 2009). In this sense, I

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agree with Bañón (2007: 45) in that: «La valoración no positiva de los inmigrantes se ha convertido en el marco axiológico fundamental para todos los que, desde las élites políticas o socioeconómicas españolas, participan en el debate social sobre los procesos migratorios».2Although discursive racism in the Spanish media tends to be moderate, especially if we focus on the progressive press (van Dijk, 2003: 39), the media contribute to the construction of racism in our society through the creation and transmission of a determined ideology in the texts on immigration they offer (Bañón, 1996 and 2002). That ideology is characterized by presenting immigrants as a section of the population which is very different to the majority group, normally with negative characteristics, and this presentation favours attitudes of rejection and marginalization, which is far from promoting discourses of peace (see Martínez Lirola, 2006).

Mass media have the power to give credibility to a specific image of immigrants and to persuade readers to believe that the image created is real. Teun van Dijk (1999) explains that when talking about immigration, the following ideological square is found: (1) intensify the positive representation of ourselves; (2) intensify the negative information about them; (3) mitigate the positive information about them and (4) mitigate the negative information about us.

Ideology is understood as the whole system of values and beliefs of an individual or a group inside a certain society, the system of ideas of any group or social class, in van Dijk et al.’s words (2004: 17): «We therefore propose that ideologies are the foundation of these social representations of a group. They are the mental structures that provide fundamental principles, the axioms, of more specific social attitudes and other beliefs (‘group knowledge’) of groups».

Moreover, ideology makes reference to the systematic framework of social comprehension (Macdonald, 2003: 28; Thompson, 1990: 7). Fairclough, (1992: 87) offers a very clear definition of ideology:

I shall understand ideologies to be significations/constructions of reality (the physical world, social relations, social identities), which are built into various dimensions of the forms/meanings of discursive practices, and which contribute to the production, reproduction or transformation of relations of domination (Fairclough, 1992: 87).

In general, ideologies are very important in terms of legitimizing the power that dominant groups exert in societies when presenting certain ideas as socially shared (Martínez Lirola, 2010). Consequently, the racist ideology that will be explored in this paper always shows the attitudes related to immigration when

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dealing with this social reality with negative characteristics. In this sense, van Dijk’s definition of ideology is quite clear (2005: 17): «una ideología es el fundamento de las representaciones sociales compartidas por un grupo social».3When referring to the racism that appears in the media, it is necessary to make reference to the texts in which that racism is shown, whose main characteristic is usually the combination of written text and image. Baldry (2000), Kress (2003), Kress and van Leeuwen (2001) and Unsworth (2008) highlight the multimodal character of societies nowadays where meanings are expressed through a combination of different semiotic resources, i.e., what predominates are images, gestures, and sounds accompanying language. For this reason, it is necessary to investigate how meanings and power are joined together in these texts. Therefore, this article has as a main aim to go more deeply into the relationship between power, ideology and the main cultural issues in multimodal texts (Martínez Lirola, 2010). This type of texts places the emphasis on modes of representation that are not written, and in particular there is a supremacy of the visual mode, in order to attract the readers’ attention (Crespo and Martínez Lirola, 2010; Martínez Lirola, 2008; Martínez Lirola, 2009; Martínez Lirola and Crespo, in press).

There is always a relationship between the language used in texts, the images that sometimes accompany written texts, and the power that appears behind each text. Each text is produced with a view to achieving certain ends, and these are connected with the social context in which each text is produced, in Kress’ words:

Because of the constant unity of language and other social matters, language is entwined in social power in a number of ways: it indexes power, expresses power, and language is involved wherever there is contention over and challenge to power. Power does not derive from language, but language may be used to challenge power, to subvert it, and to alter distribution of power in the short or in the longer term (Kress, 1989: 52).

This study intends to go more deeply into the ideology on immigration that is transmitted by the free press. For this reason, the study will describe the main verbal and visual characteristics that appear in these texts, and the effect that they have on readers. The description will concentrate on two multimodal texts that deal with immigration from Metro and Qué, two free newspapers published in Alicante in June 2008. The framework of this paper is socio-semiotic, in which there is a clear relationship between the texts analysed and the context in which they are framed. In this way, it is possible to understand the social context and the ideology that frames these texts when examining them precisely.

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There is a close relationship between the different choices that create each text and the ideology they want to transmit (Alonso, 2010; Crespo, 2008; Chovanec, 2007; Martínez Lirola, 2006; Martínez Lirola, 2010). In other words, each choice tries to highlight a certain attitude, which is related to the social role of the newspaper, with its political position and with the purpose of building a certain type of readership (Economou, 2006: 212-213).

In order to study the relationships enumerated in the previous paragraph, the theoretical frameworks used in this article will be Kress and van Leeuwen’s Visual Grammar (2006) and Michael Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) (Halliday, 1994; Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004). Both frameworks will be useful in terms of establishing a relationship between each visual and each grammatical choice in the texts and of revealing the ideology that is hidden behind them.

Following Kress and van Leeuwen (2006: 177), there are three main types of composition in multimodal texts: «Information value» the place in which elements are located, for example, from left to right, from the top to the bottom or from the centre to the margins, can add a determined value.

- ‘Salience’: the different elements of a composition try to catch the readers’ attention, for example, appearing in the first or in the second place, the size of an element, the colour contrast or sharpness. «Framing»: the presence or absence of frames that connect or disconnect elements meaning that they go or do not go together.

Paying attention to these three types of composition, the main elements in the analysis of a multimodal text are the following: the page layout, the headings...

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