Journal of Media Studies, Vol 29, No 1 (2014)

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“Readings” of Britishness and community cohesion in BBC News Online during 2001 race riots

Hassen Zriba


The race riots of 2001 in some British cities remarked aconsiderable lack of inter-ethnic harmony. The violence thatplagued cities like Bradford, Oldham and Burnley wasofficially read as symptomatic of the fragility and absenceof common core values. One central norm was the belief ina common national identity (Britishness). A number of localand national race-related reports were produced tochampion the hegemonic official discourses that "theabsence of community cohesion is basically the end productof the absence of a shared British national identity". Basedon the British cultural critic Stuart Hall's Reception theory,this article postulates that an influential news agency likeBBC News Online is expected to decode and then encodethe official discourses of community cohesion andBritishness in tune with the mainstream version. However,my critical and interpretative analysis of some electronicallyproduced articles of BBC yielded some interesting findings.BBC News Online, despite its "official-ness" did not readofficial hegemonic discourse in an absolute preferred way.There are important nuances in its readings. Such nuancesreveal that audiences (in this study BBC News Online istreated as an audience to official discourses) are not passiveconsumers of hegemonies. They have their own choices andconstraints which shape their decoding of and re-encodingof their world realities. The basic target of this article is toshow the way BBC News Online reproduced, if any, thedominant discourses of social cohesion as a guarantee ofBritishness and vice-versa.


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