• Uncategorized

Introduction to Communication and Media Encoding and Decoding Media Objects

Introductionto Communication and Media: Encoding and Decoding Media Objects


Introductionto Communication and Media: Encoding and Decoding Media Objects

Stuarthall developed the encoding and decoding model of media communicationin 1973. The model provides a theoretical perspective on how mediaitems and messages are created, disseminated, and interpreted. As acultural theorist, Stuart’s model was ingrained in culture but hashad major influence on media communication. In contrast to theinitial media communication models where the sender transmits amessage through a medium to a receiver who interprets the message andfeedback is limited, the encoding/decoding model argues thataudiences play active roles in decoding the messages (Stuart, 1973).Therefore, encoding/decoding represented an expansion of, and aparadigm shift from the simple traditional modes of communication.The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the difference betweenencoding and decoding of a media object, specifically the televisionseries 24.

Descriptionof the media object


24is an American television series that starts Keifer Sutherland asJack Bauer, an agent with the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit(CTU). The series was created by Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow andproduced for American television network Fox Network. The series hasa combined total of 204 episodes across nine seasons. The firstseason premiered on November 6, 2001 and the series finale broadcastreleased on May 24, 2010 at the close of the eighth season. However,after a four-year break, the series was renewed for a ninth seasonwith only 12 episodes which was a shift from the traditional 24episodes that each season from 1-8 had. Jack Bauer is a proficientCTU agent who is always running against the clock in an attempt tothwart numerous terrorist plots, and often fails to abide by therules but instead uses an ‘end justifies the means’ approach. Theseries uses split-screen and real-time storytelling techniques whereeach season represents a day in the life of Jack Bauer and eachepisode depicts an hour within that day.


24is an action and political thriller and a crime and serial dramastarring the highly skilled agent Jack Bauer who works for theAmerican Counter Terrorist Unit. Together with other CTU members,Jack is constantly trying to prevent or stop terrorists’ attemptssuch as bioterrorism, cyber-attacks, detonation of weapons of massdestruction, high profile assassination attempts, and conspiraciessuch as corporate and government corruption. Although he oftenviolates the rules and regulations in an attempt to accomplish hisobjective, Jack is a fan-favorite who is loved by many for hisefficiency in thwarting the attacks which he wouldn’t be able tohad he not broke some of the rules. The series is intense, actionpacked and captivating. Although blamed by some people for justifyingtorture and the misuse of government authority, 24 is a classic thathas won innumerable awards and received critical acclaim over itsnine seasons. In addition, the TV series has become a part of thepopular culture of America with actors such as Jack Bauer and DavidPalmer gaining iconic statuses as television characters.


Encodingrefers to the entire process through which a media object isconceptually designed, cast, directed, written, marketed, or aired. The encoding process entails how the media object is designed andproduced so that it can be perceived in a particular way by theaudience. For the television series 24,the choice of the streaming media coupled with the accompanyingadverts and commercials indicate that there are no accidents in itsprogramming. The production, circulation, and use of the series pointtowards a carefully choreographed process with an intention to passacross specific messages. The producers of the series want people toidentify with the struggles that agents go through on a day to daybasis as they fight crime. In addition, the series aims to createinsight into various forms of terrorist activities, both internal andexternal, that pose a threat to the American people.

Theencoding process starts with the identification of society’sdominant ideologies, values, and beliefs. For instance, free and fairelections are portrayed in president Palmer’s presidential run.Also, patriotism is presented throughout the series highlighting thepopular beliefs of the American people that citizens should act inways that are beneficial and lead to the accomplishment of thegreater good for the country. For example, in season five, PresidentCharles Logan is involved in a conspiracy to acquire nerve gas so asto protect US oil interests. Therefore, the agendas, images,evidence, personnel choices, names, and locations all feed theaudience popular beliefs i.e. majority of terrorist threats in theseries come from middle eastern countries and Russia, which, inreality, is the dominant belief among Americans. The critical praiseand acclaim that the show has received from audiences over the yearsmeans that the encoding process was a success.


Decodingrefers to how the audience understand and interpret media messagesbased on individual culture, economic status, and experiences. Simplyput, the decoding process is how individuals obtain, absorb,understand, and use the information in the media. 24is a fascinating series that reinforces the popular hegemonicpositions. As Jack Bauer goes about his duty, which is to stopterrorists, he puts his family and close friends under constantthreat. This made me perceive life in the security agencies as beingdangerous since in increases risk to one’s family and friends.Also, season one starts off with Jack as a family man, but as he goeson with his job and many people close to him are murdered, he turnsinto a ruthless character who kills or tortures everyone he thinkshas connections with criminals. Hence, the popular notions that suchjobs change people for the worse and there is never a good ending arealso reinforced within me through the series.

Inaddition, some elements of the television series 24led me adopt an oppositional view. This means that I consumed andinteracted with some of the messages being passed across in a mannerthat was not intended by the encoder. Therefore, as a result ofpersonal social views and perspectives on dominant codes, I didunderstand the meanings of some messages but ended up not sharing itand eventually rejecting the message. For example, the portrayal ofMuslims, and those affiliated to the Muslim religion, as being behindmajority of the attempted terrorists’ attacks on the US. Fromlaunching stolen missiles attack on America to detonating a nuclearbomb in a Los Angeles suburb, Muslims have been represented withinthe series as heartless wrongdoers. However, I personally believethat this is not the case. No religion should be associated withterrorism. Instead, those found guilty of such acts should be heldpersonally accountable. As a result of this understanding, I rejectedsuch messages since it leads to unfair hate propagation on the basisof religion.

Furthermore,I adopted a negotiated position on some of the messages from thetelevision series. For instance, the series portrays widespreadcorruption and conspiracies within corporate and government circleswith the aim of influencing the audience to share in this perception.However, despite the fact that I agree with the dominant message thatcorruption and conspiracies exists within organizations andgovernment institutions, I am not willing to completely agree withthe levels of conspiracies as encoded by the showrunners. Therefore,instead of completely rejecting or accepting the encoded message, Iacquired partial acceptance where the message is understood but onlyparticular parts are assimilated while the rest is rejected.

Thedifference between encoding and decoding

Encodingrefers to ways through which a person or an entity structures anddesigns messages and information so it can be effectively passedacross to the receiver. Decoding, on the other hand, is the processthrough which the receiver of the information understands andassimilates the encoded message. In media, for instance, televisionshows and movies are used to pass messages across. Various means areused to pass messages to the audience in the television series 24.However, despite a successful encoding process, decoding a message isa skill that requires individuals to watch and listen carefully forbetter understanding. In addition, past experiences, personal views,beliefs and culture can also affect the decoding process as thereceiver tries to connect the message with what he/she already knows.Therefore, there often exists differences between encoding anddecoding. This means that there is a variation between what thesender encoded and what the receiver decoded. In media, thisdifference in encoding and decoding means that each member in theaudience will have their own interpretation of what is being passedacross through the media objects. Each person will understand andassimilate the message in a different way from the rest. Thus, whilesome people might actually decode the message exactly the way it wasencoded, others will derive contrary meanings from the same messagesometimes leading to misunderstanding or even distortion of theinitial message.


Hall,S. (1973). Encodingand Decoding in the Television Discourse.University of Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies.Web. Retrieved fromhttp://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/history/cccs/stencilled-occasional-papers/1to8and11to24and38to48/SOP07.pdf