Week 10: Discourse

Macken-Horarik, M. “The Children Overboard Affair” Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 26.2 (2003), 1-16

 Today, everyone ‘knows’ that media journalists lie to us. Everyone ‘knows’ that politicians lie to us. Yet the two social bodies are highly trusted and hence greatly affect our social values, beliefs and morals. But sometimes, that trust is manipulated to turn our society for political reasons. Alan Jones did this with his inflammatory remarks about the homogenised demographic of Muslim men. The Cronulla Riots shortly followed.

Using Kress & van Leeuwen’s works as a basis for her analysis of media discourse, Macken-Horarik (MK) aims to address the “analytical challenges of multimodal texts as they contribute to production of racial anxiety about asylum seekers.” Specifically, she is analysing the media actions surrounding the 2001 Children Overboard Affair.  

She primarily highlights the use of the concept, multimodal metalanguage, by politicians and journalists during the media blowout of the scandal. Multimodal grammar enables writes to “create meaning through interacting communicative resources such as the visual…and layout.”

Specifically, she refers to the use of visual-text articles in the media, where the visual image would be the foundation of the text. Using a Daily Telegraph front page extract as the highlighted example of this relationship, MK highlights the issues of its multimodal usage in the Children’s Overboard Affair. The by-line of the article indicates to the visual image as “proof” or visual ‘evidence’ of children being thrown overboard by asylum seekers.

Quoting van Leeuwen on the visual-text collaborative media usage, “words provide the facts…that ‘need to be said in so many words,” images provide interpretations…and do so…by suggestion…by appealing to barely conscious, half-forgotten knowledge.”

 In assessing the use of multimodal grammar in the manipulation of images, facts, events and text, the impact of such misuse is profound; the consequences of the actions of Governmental figures and the media coverage that followed had a significant negative impact on our society’s beliefs and values, with societal resentment against “illegal” immigrants still echoes to this today, as highlighted by the recent examples of the intense media focus on the more recent asylum seekers.


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