Sunday, 01 March 2015 00:00

How to counter power imbalance – European youth in the media

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Photo: Esther Vargas; Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

 Young journalists at work 


In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, not only Europe but the whole world was suddenly reawakened to the power of the media in shaping views and forming opinions. Newspapers and magazines as carriers of new information have the privilege (and curse) to stir emotions. This is all the more true for media that are intended for a youthful audience. E&M author Petya Yankova tells us more about a project she participated in, which focused on how European media represent certain social groups and depict young Europeans as well as on the engagement of young people in Europe with the media.


The main responsibility of the media is to provide a full and impartial overview which is only possible through the diversity of its producers painting a picture as multifaceted and therefore as complete as possible. However, this does not seem to be the case for European media, which is why in 2013 the European Union and the Council of Europe joined forces to develop and implement a training programme for journalists, educators and media managers aimed at improving media quality by promoting an inclusive intercultural approach to news production: Media in Europe for Diversity Inclusiveness (MEDIANE). It offers journalists the chance to pair up with counterparts from another European country and develop a common output on the theme of diversity in media training and literacy, media production and journalism practice.


MEDIANE originated from independent research by multiple sources which revealed deplorable under-representation of certain social groups in European media. Women, immigrants, the LGBT community, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities rarely receive their due attention on European news channels, although, statistically, they make up a huge proportion of the population. For example, a 2010 study by the Global Media Monitoring Project has shown that only 24% of the news items in Europe feature women, although they make up half the continent’s population.


info grafich mediane
Photo credit: Global Media Monitoring Project


Similarly, young people are often overlooked in the news, or worse, stereotyped in relation to themes such as entertainment, unemployment and criminality. In Bulgaria, for instance, the media often depict young people as passive, rude, intolerant, and only occasionally as creative. Recognizing similar sentiments in the British press, the London-based Youth Media Agency has started a campaign advocating "fair press for children & young people" under the hashtag #PressChange4Youth in order to overcome negative generalisations. These are not isolated cases, but form part of a bigger, pervasive trend of unfair depictions of young people in European media, which, unfortunately, has not yet been documented or studied in detail.


The portrayal of young people is, however, only one side of the coin and looking at the wider picture necessarily involves considering young people as producers as well as in the role of the audience. How often do people under 30 appear as experts in political or economic analyses on screen or in print? A report by the European Youth Forum (EYF) aptly summarises the problem: "Age (particularly 18-24) is considered, perceived and experienced as a discrimination ground per se. Ageism does not concern only senior workers, but also juniors. This ground intersects, adds to and multiplies many other grounds which, jointly with structural and institutional barriers, prevent many young people from enjoying equal opportunities and substantive equality".


Taking this observation as a starting point, I paired up with Lida Aslanidou, a freelance London-based journalist and together, as participants in the MEDIANE programme, we formulated a research project examining young people’s attitude towards various media productions, their portrayal and involvement in news. The 2014 video project focuses on Bulgaria and the United Kingdom in investigating youth’s engagement with European media. With field research in Sofia, London and Cambridge, the documentary is intended to throw light on several aspects of the ambiguous relation between young people and European media. Investigating why people between 18 and 30 make such a limited appearance in the news is one of the threads running through the research project as well as gathering opinions about how young people contribute to and participate in media production. The portrayal of young people was widely agreed on as predominantly negative by the participants in the research project.


"On the whole, I would say the portrayal of young people is more probably more negative than it was 25 years ago", comments Anna McKane, former president of the European Journalism Training Association and Director of Journalism Studies at City University London. Dr. Nico Drok from the Windesheim Media Research Centre in the Netherlands exemplifies the trend by citing a study he conducted with his students. With the objective of identifying when young people appear on the news, the team discovered that Monday was the most likely day for this to happen. "The reason was that in the weekend they got drunk, there were fights, all negative things…young people are often portrayed as trouble or in trouble, so as people who are making trouble or people who are victims of trouble".




The participants interviewed shared their concern that young people are not trusted enough to enter the media scene. Young journalists in particular complained they were given little freedom in pursuing topics they consider worth exploring. Some observed that senior colleagues limited their choices by imposing strictly defined themes to work on, while others revealed their articles were rejected by established media outlets. The reason for the refusal to publish: the author’s name is unknown in the field. Additional factors such as manipulated media and the lack of feedback from the youthful audience further aggravate the problem of young people’s limited participation in Bulgarian and British media.


The exchange project is informed by a number of background studies. In the autumn of 2013, the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria) published the results of an extensive media survey among young people in South Eastern Europe. According to this survey’s findings, the 15-30 age group is clearly under-represented in news stories. Lower levels of engagement seem to be the result of a profound discrepancy between what young people consider useful news information and what senior journalists imagine young people are interested in, the AEJ-Bulgaria survey concludes.


The 15-30 age group is clearly under-represented in news stories. Lower levels of engagement seem to be the result of a profound discrepancy between what young people consider useful news information and what senior journalists imagine young people are interested in.


A few months later, the European Association of Viewers' Interests (EAVI) released a report on media and young citizens' engagement in the European Union which showed some overlap with the results of the survey conducted in South Eastern Europe. One of the recurrent findings is that although young people use social networks as primary sources of information, they are very critical and do not perceive news received through these channels as sufficiently credible. This is juxtaposed with media literacy publications by the European observatory EMEDUS which further framed this MEDIANE research with respect to country-specific media education including training in media literacy, literature, languages as well as information and communications technology. These are prerequisites for bringing up a readership of knowledgeable independent thinkers who evaluate the information they receive. Discrimination against young people and youth unemployment as discussed in surveys conducted respectively by the EYF and the European Youth Parliament were also consulted in the working process to investigate the situation of young journalists or journalism students who wish to enter the media scene in both Bulgaria and the UK.

Our MEDIANE research project took place during the rise of the No Hate Speech Movement, which also targets young Europeans. Identifying hate speech in online media, denouncing those who initiate and spread it and promoting active participation and citizenship are the main goals of the Council of Europe’s youth campaign for respect to human rights online and as such have a direct connection to the research project on the engagement of young people with European media. Some of the premises for the MEDIANE study came from the initial discussions which the No Hate Speech Movement website hosted. Considering media literacy education and its direct impact on the readership’s intolerance towards intentionally manipulated news representation was one such idea inspired by the campaign.


The MEDIANE box  

This particular project is one of a number of exchanges completed as part of the MEDIANE programme. All findings in the form of case studies, media reports and training tools are available on the Council of Europe's homepage.

In order to ensure long-lasting effects in the European media scene, the programme concluded with the release of the MEDIANE box: a practical tool for journalists, trainers and media managers alike. By means of a simple test with hints and tips for including more diversity on all levels of news production, the box enhances self-learning by reflection on one's own work. The test could also be used in training, for example as part of a media literacy lesson. The MEDIANE box does not strictly follow the pattern of wrong and right answers with a percentage building up to be measured against a scale. Instead, the questions are intended to provoke the person taking the test to examine his or her own assumptions and implicit decisions in the process of researching and preparing a media product.

It is hoped that this instrument will enhance the conceptualisation of discrimination as a pervasive hindrance which surfaces in recruitment, assignments, quality of production, and many other areas of media work. More information about the MEDIANE programme is available in this brochure.

                       Photo: Rabble.ca; Licence: CC BY 2.0


Last modified on Monday, 02 March 2015 20:21
Petya Yankova

Petya Yankova is an English Literature graduate and passionate traveller. Besides being a regular contributor to E&M, books, plane/train tickets and foreign languages are her thing.

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