Media controlMedia freedom is seen as central to the construction of democratic societies. Media is inevitably influenced by internal factors and external constraints.
Internal factorsjournalists’ social backgrounds can influence what and how the media reports.
External constraintsThese include economic, political and legal considerations. For example:
- Economic: The libertarian/consumer choice model exaggerates the power of the consumer and ignores the influence of the media owners and advertisers. Power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few global players due to convergence and globalization. The media become the suppliers of audiences for advertisers rather than public service.
- Political: The role of the media as a source of political and ideological influence is widely recognised. Authoritarian government Media is used to maintain social order and liberal governments use it to present information in particular ways in order to influence public perceptions.
- Regulation: most state control is exerted through laws (e.g. Official Secrets Act, Obscene Publications Act, and civil laws governing copyright, privacy, libel etc). There are also voluntary codes of conductregulated by bodies such as the Press Council of India and NBA.
Theoretical perspectivesEarly perspectives feared the development of the mass society as a threat to the established order and education system(and elite rule) and to the standards of the established . Ultimately the dominant paradigm that emerged was a more positive one, although this has been subject to critique with the emergence of alternative paradigms, from feminist, critical theoretical and Marxist positions.
The dominant paradigmThe dominant paradigm perceived society as liberal, democratic and orderly and viewed the mass media as contributing to that.
- Functionalists believed mass media was central to the socialisation, integration and maintenance of social consensus, and
- pluralists emphasised its role in liberating individuals and communities by providing information and opening opportunities to stimulate debates and share beliefs within a heterogeneous popular culture.
Alternative paradigmsThere are a number of approaches which challenge the (perceived) conservatism of the dominant paradigm within which understandings of the mass media have evolved. For example:
- Marxist perspectives (e.g. Adorno, Althusser) invariably argue that the media produces a false and one-dimensional consciousness among the working-classes. Also Media suppressing their revolutionary potential and perpetuating the world-view of a powerful elite. More liberal Marxists recognise that there are spaces of resistance and the potential for sub-cultural practices to develop.
- The Glasgow Media Group highlight persistent bias in media content and imbalances in reporting
- Postmodernist Mark Postman (1987) proposes that the constant quest for amusement/entertainment is replacing more demanding forms of engagement (such as reading) and sees this pattern as a threat to political and cultural forms.
- Feminists highlight the ways in which the mass media represented women from a male perspective (as a objects, as housewives and more recently have shown how this has changed in response to the feminist critique and women’s changing social roles.
The power of the mediaThere is more opinion than evidence to show the media’s potential to influence attitudes and behaviour, whether that is in an economic, political, moral or social sense. For example,
- Economic influence: Vast amounts are spent on advertising by companies believing that the media can influence consumer choice.
- Political influence: In some societies access to broadcasting during election times is controlled. There have been some quite memorable media campaigns by political parties, although research suggests media campaigns do little more than reinforce existing attitudes. The media has the potential to set the agenda for political discussion e.g. by emphasising a particular aspect of policy and may thus persuade uncommitted voters.
- Moral and social influences: Since the 1990s forms of screen violence (of cartoons, video games, films and online content) was linked to a perceived increase in children’s violence and in young people’s attitudes (e.g. extreme pornography impacting on their attitudes towards women).
Media effectsThere are a number of different models of media effects, some of which are shown below. It is important to remember that these are not mutually exclusive, but represent different perspectives that may be applied to the study of media effects.
- Early ideas tended to emphasise the power of the media to change attitudes and behaviour (the hypodermic syringe model) whereas the subsequent response argued at the other extreme for a no effects model.
- The long term effects model draws attention to how different cultural communities interpret media creations, and to the role of the media in reinforcing (negative) attitudes towards particular groups.
- This latter point illustrates the role of the media in creating moral panics (i.e. another effect). Research in this aspect of media effects shows how the media can focus on particular phenomena (e.g. teen knife crime) presenting an exaggerated view and sensitising the audience to the issue.
- A final area of media affects research focuses on ‘the active audience’ which returns to the issue of how audiences use and interpret the media and by using ethnographic methods reveals the diverse and fragmented ways in which people do make sense of what they see or hear in the media.