MINORITY GROUPS ON LITHUANIAN NATIONAL TV: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
This project will analyze the representations of minority groups (ethnic and sexual minorities) on Lithuanian national television. My analysis promises both to trace the major trends in telemedia practices which affect the portrayals of minority groups and to provide policy recommendation for adequate representations of minority groups on television.
Because of its free flow into the private world of the home, television occupies a privileged place in the empire of communications. In Lithuania it has annexed older forms of cultural literacy (i. e. written media -- books, newspapers, magazines, etc.) and has become a potent force in shaping our interpretations of social reality, including those of ethnicity and sexuality. As a public forum for the exchange of information and discussion of ethnic and sexual issues, TV, and mass media in general, not only entertains but also educates.
Unfortunately, Lithuanian television has not succeeded in carrying education of tolerant and difference-sensitive society with substantial degree of success. A look at TV programming on ethnic and sexual minorities presents a sad picture. Not only is visibility of minority communities generally low, but when they do appear on TV they are presented as majorities perceive them, not as they perceive themselves. Thus, the issue of minority representations on TV is a pressing problem in Lithuania.
Besides cable and satellite TV, there are four national TV channels of which only one, LRT, is funded and controlled by the state. Commercial TV stations (LNK, TV3, Baltijos Televizija), saturated with international entertainment commodities and nationally produced imitations of popular American or European shows, pay negligible attention to minority issues. Only LRT and the local Vilnius channel 11K regularly broadcast programs for ethnic minorities (mostly Russians and Poles). Channel 11K telecasts news in Russian and Polish, and LRT has daily news in Russian. Other ethnic minorities living in Lithuania, such as Belorussians, Ukrainians, Jews, Latvians, Tatars and Gypsies, are largely ignored.
Cultural material of ethnic and national minorities tends to be either under-represented or represented in predominantly xenophobic terms (particularly in talk shows and sitcoms). Ethnic and national minorities are portrayed in stereotyped and often demeaning ways as outsiders and underdogs. It can be argued that Lithuanian television, which is continuously structured in monocultural terms, reinforces the dominant and misguided vision of Lithuanian society as unified and homogeneous.
Sexual minorities (gays, lesbians, transgender) have been traditionally underrepresented in television. Although not invisible in print media, these minority groups have been excluded from TV programming. Their portrayals have been limited to simplistic stereotypes of deviants (talk shows and sitcoms). There are no programs of special interest to sexual minority groups in Lithuania.
To conclude, minority groups either remain relatively invisible in TV programming or are portrayed in the stereotyped roles of strangers, deviants and psychotics. Reductionism in the popular culture that oversimplifies situations and stereotypes characters renders the complexity of minority identities invisible and unimportant. Instead of highlighting the ways in which those minority communities are different from other mainstream communities and demonstrating how they contribute to Lithuanian society, TV commonly presents a version of Lithuanian society that is monocultural and predominantly male and heterosexual. Thus, TV audiences are consistently fed distorted messages and over-simplified issues.
Scarcity of the representations of minority groups and their reductionism
are, first of all, due to the economic and commercial imperatives of TV
broadcasters. The need to satisfy economic imperatives and the desire to
play a civic role inevitably raise tensions among TV professionals. In
most cases, however, public service ideals are marginalized in favor of
profit. As commercial imperatives challenge and undermine any social objectives,
the range of representations and perspectives offered to audience constantly
Economic imperatives alone, however, cannot explain inadequate representations of minority groups on TV. The problem is related to broader impressions within the public sphere in Lithuania. Television reflects discourses prevalent in the public sphere, which favors silence and omissions regarding minority issues. Minority groups and individuals who dare participate in the public sphere and demonstrate their difference are inevitably stigmatized and disadvantaged. While the exclusion of cultural differences continues to characterize mass media, the multicultural and pluralistic public sphere should celebrate differences and should be engaged with the lived experiences of minority groups.
The government policies towards minority groups are sporadic and insufficient. The government has recognized the importance of the rights of ethnic minorities by establishing the Department for Ethnic and National Minorities at the Lithuanian Parliament. The Department supports minority cultures, designs and executes national policy towards ethnic minorities and co-operates with minority organizations. However, the Department has not initiated concrete policy toward the problem of minority groups and their representations in mass media.
The rights of sexual minorities are monitored by the recently established Governmental Agency for Equal Rights of Women and Men. The issues of sexual and gender discrimination and harassment are at the center of its activity. A nongovernmental agency, the League of Gays of Lithuania, deals with similar issues. Another agency, the Committee on Human Rights at the Lithuanian Parliament, also works at improving the situation of national, ethnic and sexual minorities in Lithuania.
While both the governmental agencies and public interests groups have attempted to manage ethnic and cultural diversity through policies which promote the participation of minorities in public life, they have failed to implement a coordinated and comprehensive policy dealing with mass media and minority groups. Policies specifically regarding the media laws and promoting an adequate minority representation in mass media have not been developed.
THEORY, METHOD AND STRATEGY
Little critical attention has been directed to the problem of minority groups in mass media. Both governmental agencies and public interest groups have paid meager attention to the issue of minority groups in TV programming. Scholars and policy makers have failed to examine systematically the processes of representation of minority groups in mass media.
My project will fill this gap. In the first stage of my research, I shall examine governmental decrees and laws concerning ethnic and sexual minorities. Here I shall work closely with the Department for Ethnic and National Minorities and the Agency for Equal Rights of Women and Men. In the second stage, focusing on the questions about the power and adequacy of media-constructed representations, I shall analyze representations of minority groups on national TV channels. In this stage, I shall consider prevailing social trends by examining media control, ownership, standardization and manipulation in Lithuania and explore the issues of multiculturalism and diversity in mass media. My study will also cover interviews with TV media practitioners about minority issues.
In the third stage of my project, I shall work with the representatives of ethnic and sexual minority groups to answer the following questions: What are the attitudes of those communities toward their representations in mass media? How do members of those communities draw on particular sets of assumptions and expectations about their representations and portrayals on TV? I shall conduct the focus group discussions during which I expect the representatives of minority groups to articulate a range of responses to mass media representations of themselves. The discussions will allow me to illuminate the expectations of minority groups.
The concluding stage of my project will consist of summarizing my research and creating policy recommendations regarding minority groups on TV. I shall attempt to answer how policies and actions of the Lithuanian government and interest groups could influence media behavior toward minorities. I shall outline measures and practices necessary in order to expand and improve the portrayals of minorities on TV. To provide a forum to discuss these questions and concerns, I hope to organize a conference on media and minority issues.
My project requires both empirical media-centered research and analytical research that integrate quantitative and qualitative methodologies. My study seeks to develop a nonreductionist and theoretically encompassing framework that can simultaneously accommodate different levels of analysis and their interrelation. This is not a simple task, since mass media studies in Lithuania are at their most rudimentary stage. I expect that my research not only will provide policy recommendations on the role of TV in minority representation and integration but also will enable future media scholarship in Lithuania.
Television, mass media in general, plays active formative role in society: it provides us with tools for understanding ourselves and the social world, and these tools form integrated aspects of our everyday life. That is why the representations of minorities on TV and the potential impact of those representations on viewers are issues of critical importance to Lithuanian society.
To form multicultural society and multicultural public sphere, we need an ongoing research on mass media which would serve as a barometer of change. Extensive mass media instruments and varied cultural expressions are essential for a balanced pluralistic society. Persons, public interest groups and governmental agencies need to think systematically about strength and inadequacies of mass media, its contexts, institutions as well as to find ways to influence media policies and practices. We also have to prepare knowledgeable and conscious participants in mass media.
Exploring possible avenues for governmental regulation or self-regulation of mass media, we have to give full consideration to the educational, informational, cultural, economic, moral and entertainment needs of the diverse Lithuanian public. Mass media professionals should be alerted to the potential harm which may result from under-representation or stereotyped representation of minority groups. Only extensive research regarding the impact of these representations can assess effects and explore ways to mitigate them.
Television can play an educative and civic role by giving visibility
to marginalized communities and groups. Its responsibility is to serve
minority groups and to represent their cultures and agendas, interests
and identities. TV is one of the important agents which can determine whether
society recognizes the value of ethnic, cultural and sexual diversity or
falls back on old stereotypes and prejudice; whether it strives to increase
mutual understanding or is content to allow hostility to persist.
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