Encoding – Decoding: Active Audience Theory


Encoding-Decoding is an active audience theory developed by Stuart Hall which examines the relationship between a text and its audience.

Encoding is the process by which a text is constructed by its producers.

Decoding is the process by which the audience reads, understands and interprets a text.

Hall states that texts are polysemic, meaning they may be read differently by different people, depending on their identity, cultural knowledge and opinions.

This clip of a BBC news feature discusses the case of a teenage homosexual from Iran, seeking asylum in the UK based on claims that he would be murdered if he returned home due to the country’s homophobic attitudes and laws. When watching the clip, think about the audience theory of Encoding-Decoding – What would the preferred, negotiated and oppositional readings of this story be, taking into consideration the way the BBC present the story – i.e. the preferred reading – and what types of audience groups would take each particular reading?

The story as represented by the BBC, and the politics of the issue itself, would affect a range of people in various ways, all contributing to their particular reading of this news feature. Consider the following audience groups when thinking about your answer:

  • Homosexual people.
  • Heterosexual people.
  • Those classed as homophobic.
  • The British caucasian population.
  • Iranian people living in the UK.
  • British Catholics.
  • The British Muslim population.
  • British Athiests.

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