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Photographs always assert a certain amount of influential power in portraying messages. The interpretation of each individual is rather different from each other due to their cultural background (Walsh 2006). For instance, what might been see as offensive to a society might not be the same for other communities. Schriver (1997) points out that it is hard to apply meaning to signs without cultural knowledge. This leads to photo manipulation by the editors in order to make the photographs more appealing to a targeted audience according to their cultural frame of reference.

Figure 1: FHM in Malaysia


Figure 2: FHM magazine in Australia


The photographs of the model look much more conservative for the Malaysian cover because of their culture background with Islamic religion. As for the Australia cover, people over there are generally more open about their body image and thus, more revealing photographs are selected and amplified certain revealing body parts to cater the Australia audiences. Therefore, photo manipulation based on different context governs the meaning-making process for the audience (Halliday & Hasan 1985).

If photojournalism is used correctly, it may help to bring in more readers and boost up the sales of the magazine. But, what would happen if a photograph was edited or falsely represented in such a way that offense the government? Reaves (1989) construes that miscommunication would occur when image manipulation is abused. Most of the media agencies are subjected to licensing and have some relationship with the government. Hence, if the media did not depict photographs that are in favor by the government, the authorities might ban it from the public.

Figure 3: Portrayal of Jesus smoking in Makkal Osai


In Malaysia, Makkal Osai is famous for its portrayal of Jesus smoking. The government had temporarily shut down that newspaper due to the depiction is considered as an insult to Christianity. From this, it could be argued that visuals do have a great impact in conveying the message intended by the document designers.


Halliday, M.A.K & Hasan, R 1985, ‘Chapter 1: Context of situation’ in Language, context and text: aspects of language in social semiotics, Deakin University Press, Waurn Ponds.

Reaves, S 1989, ‘Digital alteration of photographs in magazines: An examination of the Ethics’, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Schriver, KA 1997, Dynamics in document design, Wiley Computer Pub, New York.

Walsh, M 2006, The ‘textual shift’: Examining the reading process with print, visual and multimodal texts’, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 24 – 37.


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