Mass Media POSC 121 Braunwarth
Ideal Media Functions in Democracies • Provide accounts to the public of political events • Contribute to the enactment of policy • Guard against the abuse of governmental power
Alienated From Reality • 99.5% of homes w/ electricity have TVs • 95% watch some TV every day • Ave Home: TV on 8 hrs/day • Ave Adult: watches 5 hrs/day • By age 6: more time watching TV than will speak to father for rest of your life
Importance of Television • “Television news is news that matters” • This is the primary source of political information in the U.S. • For 60% -70% of the population it is the sole source • Shapes the public’s conception of political life in pervasive ways • Primary source of political information • Incredible power to shape public thinking • Are a number of “gatekeeping” concerns that determine what will become news
Mediated Reality • People are increasingly alienated from a direct experience of reality • Especially social and political reality • Live in a mediated reality • Social and Political reality are social constructions which become the objective reality of political action • Almost entirely occurs through the mass media
Information and a Democratic Citizenry • Why important for Political Information? • In order for democracy to function well masses require access to both accurate information as well as some context of the larger social forces within which this information makes sense
The Business of the News • News is a business, a big business. • The demands and limitations that arise from the drive to make money have a major effect on the content of the news. • The subtle ways that business imperatives shape content are very important to the construction of our mediated political reality. • What are they selling? • Not space, but you - the audience • If you wanted to maximize the audience for a news broadcast, what would the news look like?
Commercial Concerns • Lengthy explanations of the complexity of politics or visuals and sound bites? • Government at work or scandal and negativity? • Enlightening or Entertaining? • Event-Driven spontaneous news with good pictures or more substantive political analysis? • The news is going to be Sensational, Superficial, and Controversial • In sum, the Spectacle > the Substance of politics
Ownership and Control • In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our “free” media; free from what? • Free from government control • But not free from the requirements of the market • News marketplace today is shaped by what will maximize an audience • Ratings are the ultimate in democracy; people get what they want • Is this the same as the public interest? • Gives people what they want to hear, not what they need to know • Marketing the News drives news to the lowest common denominator
Homogenized Content Jefferson wrote that he would rather live in a country with lots of newspapers and no government than a country with government but no newspapers, why? Fear of concentrated power and a lack of diversity
Homogenized News • Market forces have lead to an increased consolidation of news media outlets • Facilitated by weakening of FCC rules • Leads to less diversity and more homogenization • Don’t hear a variety of perspectives • Exacerbated by “pack journalism” so no one gets “scooped” or stands alone
Homogenized Content • This decreases diversity in the mainstream news • Present essentially the same information in an effort to non-partisan and objective • In order to compete for the largest audience, are you going to challenge viewers’ understandings or give the information that confirms their possible erroneous expectations and stereotypes?
John Stuart Mill • Government is needed to create the conditions that enable people to create happiness and avoid pain • Preference is given to the pleasures of the cultivated mind over base animal appetites • Liberty is key: the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over another…is to prevent harm to others • Critical of racism and sexism • Advocated worker protections and control • Also concerned about the tyranny of tastes and opinions
John Stuart Mill: On Conformity, Individuality, and Liberty • Mill worries about the tyranny of public opinion • For J.S. Mill, very important to be exposed to a variety of opinions and a diversity of ideas • “Marketplace of Ideas” • What would Mill think of our “free” private news media?
Private “Free” Media • Does the mass media contribute to or short-circuit the democratic process? • Do we have the information necessary to make well-informed decisions? • How does our discussion of the mass news media relate to the course theme of power v. freedom?
“News Media and Democracy” (ch. 9 reader) • Do “news spectators” get accurate contextualized information? • It turns out the news is central to the creation of a narrow, stereotyped political reality. • Do news stories change specific beliefs? • It may not change specific beliefs but it will tell you what to think about (agenda setting) and how to think about it (Iyengar and Kinder). Examples? What’s the big issue now?
“News Media and Democracy” • Similarly, the media’s emphasis on episodic framing leads spectators to attribute blame and responsibility on individual actors rather than larger social forces (Iyengar). Examples? • The media tends to cover the strategy of political actors rather than the substance of policy. How does this make news spectators feel? • Manipulated and, consequently, cynical • Also, because it is so fragmented and superficial it is very difficult to learn meaningful political relationships (Bennett).
The Media Makes Us Stupid? • A study given soon after we invaded Iraq asked if respondents agreed to any of three statements: • Saddam Hussein has been directly linked with the 09/11/01 attacks • Weapons of Mass Destruction have been found in Iraq • World Opinion Favored the U.S. led Invasion of Iraq • Which are true? • All are “egregious misperceptions”
All Americans NPR/PBS Fox CBS ABC NBC CNN Print 60% 23% 80% 71% 61% 55% 55% 47% Who agreed with at least one statement?
Homogenized Content • What about Cyberspace? The “Information Superhighway? • Will it foster democratic communication and information sharing? • Or, will it go the way of other media: toward corporate concentration and control? • While both are occurring, the latter seems to be predominate
Norm of Objectivity • Don’t want to appear biased • So present “both” sides of an issue • 3rd perspectives are excluded • Gives equal weight to minor perspectives • Limit to “Objective” Sources • Other/non-elite sources excluded • Bias toward the perspectives of the elite • Gives greater power to official sources to construct/”spin” public opinion • Don’t want to appear bias so won’t point out efforts to manipulate
Norm of Objectivity • In elections, hear about strategy and the “horse race”, not candidates’ positions • Don’t hear a variety of perspectives • Do we have all the information necessary to make good decisions? • Enough to develop emotions but not well-informed opinions
Media Bias • There are many who claim that the mass news media is biased toward either the left or the right • One of the problems with claims based on observation is that observation is based on one’s own perspective • Like planetary motion, a theory of media bias should be based on logic and facts
Elite Bias • What facts would support the argument that the news is biased toward the views of the corporate and economic elite? • If those who controlled the media (owners and advertisers) were members of the economic elite • Is this the case? • Why would the views of the owners and advertisers affect the news? • Any accepted theory of human nature
Elite Bias What kind of evidence would dispute this argument? • If we found messages critical of the elite perspective • Do we find these? • Reporters may be liberal but work in an environment controlled by corporate conservatives and perform accordingly
Elite Bias • In short, a few number of large corporations own almost all mass news media outlets • If not outright bias toward the worldview of the corporate and economic elite, it would be odd to find messages critical of this position on these media • This is further unsurprising as this world view is widely shared by the population • Not a bias toward either party but a bias toward both mainstream parties
Elite Bias • We might find criticism of specific companies if it meets the demand for spectacle: plane crashes, tobacco, etc. • The lack of criticism of a corporate perspective would not affect the news media’s emphasis on spectacle and sensation