We have all at one time or another depended upon media, whether it be pictures or text, TV or magazines, YouTube or books to understand the truth of a situation. The media often shapes our values and beliefs almost as much as our parents do, as it acts as a public sphere for all opinions and ideas and reflects the hegemonic nature of society. However as much as we’d like to believe that these opinions are more than just representations of events, as I have learnt through studying a particular media issue, it is necessary to understand the difference between a representation and the truth, which is the different between how the media perceives an issue and how the event actually plays out.
While studying how the media and its myriad authors portray the current issue of Asian workers welfare, health and rights I have come to understand this difference between truth and perceived truth. As I have searched through reports, newspaper articles, YouTube videos, blogs and many other types of media it has become evident that accounts of working conditions, workers statements, commentators on the subject, and petitions polls are all swayed according to a basis of values or beliefs, which means that none of them can reflect the absolute truth of the situation.
Early in my study of this issue I found that there was a distinct difference between what workers are willing to say when asked to comment on their working conditions and what we expect them to say. This difference may be due to manipulation based on an ideological compass that we cannot understand, as we are used to freedom of speech and expression, which is not a reality for workers in China, where comments I focused on came from. There was a difference between the personal reflections of the workers, and the conditions being reported on by Western media such as on petition sites, newspaper sites and news sites on the internet.
Even before we had discussed the media issue of moral panic in the Introduction to Communications and Media Studies subject, it had become evident that there is a great deal of moral panic surrounding the issue of workers’ rights in Asia but not a lot of realistic action, support and understanding of the real situation at hand. It seemed that consumers who planned to boycott Apple in my case study of the technology company were conveniently ignorant of the fact that Foxconn, the company who was being scrutinized by petition and newspaper websites, not only produced Apple products but manufactured a huge range of other electronics commissioned by companies such as Dell, Lenovo, IBM, Sharp, Sony, Motorola and Asus. The fact is, many individuals jumped at the chance to sign a petition or champion the cause against Apple with very little grasp of the subtle intricacies of Chinese political and company control, which a range of companies other than Apple take advantage of, so the question is, should we not be challenging more than just one Western company first? The focus on Apple’s supply chain fails to raise awareness of the much larger problem of substandard working conditions in Asian factories, especially considering Apple is taking measures to improve the factories where their products are manufactured and periodically produce reports detailing working conditions and supply chain initiatives. Whereas, other companies such as Samsung and Hewlett-Packard merely give a short press release giving little to no detail of their supply chain standards or no comment at all to queries from journalists.
By researching the way the media as a whole, whether it be through newspapers, websites, videos, or a range of other media, represents the issue of Eastern Asian workers health, welfare and rights, it has become apparent to me that there are a range of problems that obscure the truth of their daily lives, such as a case of moral panic that sweeps across Western media, an ideologically based perception of the issue, or a high level control in Eastern media. It all depends upon our interpretation of the representations of this truth, influencing how we perceive the issue.