Mass Media

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  • Created on: 12-06-15 18:44

Concentration of Ownership

Bagdikian argues that by 2004, media ownership in the USA was concentrated in 7 corporations: 

  • Time Warner
  • Disney
  • News Corp
  • Sony
  • Bertelsmass of Germany
  • Viacom 
  • General Electric NBC 

Many of these companies have now started to move into cybermedia, which until recently were dominated by 4 major companies: Microsoft, Apple, Google and Yahoo. We are now seeing concentration in terms of ownership of internet companies, as the traditional media companies compete with cybermedia organisations to control social networking sites, which are extremely lucrative in terms of advertising revenue. For example, Microsoft now owns a significant stake in Facebook, and Google has bought into Youtube. 

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Pluralist theory of Media Ownership & Control

Pluralists argue that media owners are objective, responsible and impartial facilitators of the political process of democracy. 

Power lies with the consumer or audience rather than with owners, because they have freedom of choice - they exercise the right to buy or not to buy.

Concentration of ownership is essentially economic rather than political or ideological: it is aimed at the maximisation of audience size in order to reduce costs and to attract advertising revenue. The globalisation of the meda and the conglomerates that have resulted from this are also attempts at finding new audiences in order to increase profits, not some sort of cultural imperialism. 

The power of media owners is restricted by state or government controls - for example, in some societies, owners are not allowed to own too much media or different types of media. 

Editors would never allow owners to compromise their independence. Journalists have too much integrity to be biased regularly in favour of one particular perpective.

Audiences do not passively accept what is being fed to them. Audiences are selective and often critical of media content. 

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Marxist theory of Media Ownership & Control

Marxists suggest that the capitalist class uses 'ideology' to make sure that the working class accept capitalism and do not threaten its stability by using its cultural power to dominate institutions such as the education system, religion and the mass media.

These agencies aim to convince people of the benefits of capitalism, so working-class people experience 'false class consciousness': they come to believe that capitalism is a fair system which benefits us all equally.

The main function of the media is to convince the general public that ruling-class ideology is 'truth' and 'fact'.

Miliband: the role of the media is to shape how we think about the world we live in.

The media is happy to transmit ruling-class ideology because media owners are part of the ruling capitalist class and have a vested interest in it not being criticised or dismantled. 

Tunstall & Palmer suggest that 'regulatory favours' are the norm: newspapers owned by a conglomerate will directly support a government or even withhold information from the general public in return for governments failing to enforce media regulation

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Glasgow University Media Group

The GUMG suggests that media content does support the interests of those who run the capitalist system but this is an accidental byproduct of the social backgrounds of journalists and broadcasters - overwhelmingly white, middle-class and male.

Journalists and broadcasters tend to believe in consensus views and ideas, which are generally unthreatening and which, they believe, appeal to the majority of their viewers. 

This journalistic desire not to rock the boat is mianly motivated by profit.

Curran argues that unemployment has grown considerably among journalists and there is an increasing tendency for media employers to take on staff on temporary contracts. Compliancy with the ethos of the owner is therefore more likely to secure a journalist a permanent position. 

The media present us with a fairly narrow agenda for discussion - in this way, ordinary members of the public never really question the workings of capitalist society. 

Agenda setting therefore results in 'cultural hegemony' with the basic principles of capitalism - private enterprise, profit, the 'free market' and the rights of property ownership - being presented by the media as 'normal' and 'natural'. 

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The Fallacy of Choice

Barnett & Weymour argue that the quality of TV has been undermined by commerical pressures. The main aim of all TV companies, including the BBC, is to achieve the largest possible audience - commericial TV needs to attract the maximum advertising revenue whilst the BBC needs to justify their licence fee. 

Large audiences are achieved by targeting content based primarily on entertainment

Barnett & Weymour: such decisions have had a hegemonic cultural effect - education, information and news have been increasingly sidelined. 

They compared TV schedules in 1978, 1988 & 1998, and argued that evidence suggests that TV in the UK has been significantly dumbed down

They conclude that despite hundreds of TV channels, we do not have more choice, just more of the same thing. 

Curran argues that there is little choice for audiences in the print media. There is no radical alternative to the mainstream newspapers, and the press has failed to reflect the growing diversity of public opinion on issues such as the abolition of monarchy. 

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CONCLUSIONS: Ownership & Control

Pluralist theories of media ownership and concentration seem increasingly out of touch with the modern global world. As a theory, it has failed to acknowledge that journalistic or editorial integrity no longer has a great deal of influence in the global marketplace.

Marxists are guilty of over-simplifying the relationship of owners both within the media world and with the political elite. Marxist conclusinos about the ideological motives of media owners can also be questioned. 

The GUMG is righ to stress that the way the media is organised and journalists are recruited has resulted in the cultural hegemony of capitalist values and ways of seeing the world.

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Defining the New Media

The term new media generally refers to 2 trends that have occured over the past 30 years:

  • The evolution of existing media delivery systems
    • 10 years ago there were 5 terrestrial TV channels - today, people are increasingly buying digital, HD, flat-screen TVs and receiving hundreds of TV and radio channels.
    • These new TV sets offer the consumer a greater set of services, including sending emails, paying bills, shopping and game-playing 
  • The emergence of new delivery technologies 
    • The most innovative technology that has appeared in the last 20 years is the internet/worldwide web
    • In the past 5 years, we have seen the emergence of even newer technology that has improved society's access to the internet - for example, the introduction of high-capacity broadband wireless networks
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The Digital Revolution & Convergence

Digitalisation resulted in the realisation that different ways of presenting a variety of types of information could all be combined into a single delivery system or media. This is known as CONVERGENCE. For example, mobile phones.

Technological convergence has also produced economic and social convergence. 

Jenkins argues that convergence involves both a change in the way media are produced and a change in the way media are consumed. He argues that convergence is, therefore, both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process

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Jenkins argues that interactivity has been brought about by convergence. He suggests that interactivity and convergence have produced a 'participatory culture' where media producers and consumers no longer occupy separate roles - they are now participants who interact with each other according to a new set of rules which are constantly evolving. 

This has produced more control at the user end compared with the past.

Jenkins - interactivity has also produced a 'collective intelligence' because consuming new media tends to be a collective process. He claims that such collective intelligence can be seen as an alternative source of media power to that of media owners. 

Boyle notes that we have evolved from a system of supply-led TV, available free to the whole population, to a demand-led TV, organised around the idea that the viewers of subscribers should decide what they want to watch and when.

We are no longer restrained by TV schedules - the development of Sky+ and Freeview are good examples of how consumers are encouraged to take an active role in the construction of their own TV schedules. We can now pause live TV, interact with shows (e.g. using the 'red button' to choose which tennis match to watch on Sky Sports). If we miss a programe, we can catch up online

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A Generational Divide

Boyle: there has always been a generational divide in media use since the emergence of youth cultures in the 1950s - e.g. the authorities were extremely unhappy with pop music 

Adult anxieites about the media reamin much he same, but the media environment in which these anxieties are expressed has become bigger because there is a larger selection of gadgets, websites and social-networking services available to young people today. 

Some cultural commentators worry about he influence of easily accessed *********** sites on the internet, and new forms of bullying: cyberbulling.

Boyle notes that the key difference in the media that young people use is that it is also a 'now' media - it is significantly different from previous media because of its immediacy and accessibility

However, Boyle points out that we must not exaggerate these generational differeneces. An Ofcom survey in 2006 indicates that patterns of media consumption are changing. The 16-24 year old age group spent more time online compared with the 25+ age group - it sent more text messages and it watched less TV. However, 40% of adults use networking sites such as Facebook, whilst the average age of the online gamer is 33.

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A Class Divide

The poor are excluded from the superinformation highway because they lack the material resources to plug into this new media revolution - they are a digital underclass who cannot afford to keep up with the middle-class technological elite.

80% of the richest bracket of households in the UK have internet access - only 11% of the poorest.

Boyle notes that about 40% of homes did not have digital TV in 2005.

The poor are excluded because they cannot afford digital technology, computers and wireless broadband.

Consequently, a digital divide has opened up between those who have access to this new technoogy and those who are financially and culturally cut adrift

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A Gender Divide

Girls aged 12-15 are more likely than boys to have a mobile phone, use the internet, listen to the radio and read newspapers or magazines

Only when it comes to playing computer and console games do boys overtake girls. 

Almost all children between 12-15 with the internet at home said they were 'confident' with surfing the web and did so on average for 8 hours per week. However, girls are more likely than boys to use the web as a communication tool.

Li & Kirkup: Men were more likely than women to use email or chat rooms, men played more computer games, men were more self-confident about their computer skills and were more likely to express the opinion that using computers was a male activity and skill. 

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A Global Divide

On the whole, the USA and Western Europe generate most of the content of the worldwide web.

This dominance is reinforced by the fact that an estimated 85% of the web is written in English despite less than 10% of the world's population speaking that language.

Seaton points out that the economic and social inequalities of the off-line world mirror the online word. The 6% of the world who regularly use the net are mainly affluent Westerners - they consume websites mainly produced in the Western world and mainly communicate in a language most of the world does not understand. 

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Debates about New Media

According to Curran and Seaton, two perspectives dominate the debate about the new media int he UK: 

  • The 'NEOPHILIACS' are optimistic about the spread and influence of new media technologies, which they see as offering consumers more choice and the opportunity to participate more interactively and effectively in the democratic process
  • The 'CULTURAL PESSIMISTS' suggest that new media are not really that new, that interactivity is an illusion because owernship of new media is still overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of powerful corporations, and that new media content has generally led to a decline in the quality of popular culture
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The Neophiliac Perspective

Neophiliacs argue that new media is beneficial to society for several reasons: 

  • Increased Consumer Choice
    • There are now hundreds of entertainment and news channels on TV which allow people to se the same events from different angles 
    • The competition between media institutions will result in more quality media output 
    • People can choose from a number of media delivery systems 
  • An E-Commerce Revolution
    • E-tailers like Amazon have been great economic successes and actually undermine high-street sales of books and music 
    • This e-commerce trend has resulted in more choice to consumers because it increases competition, leads to lower prices and puts consumers in control as they can compare prices from a huge range of products and services 
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The Neophiliac Perspective (2)


  • Revitalising Democracy 
    • New media technologies offer opportunities for people to acquire information required to play an active role in democratic societies, and to make politicans more accountable to the people (e.g. General Election 2015, Ed Milliband on Twitter)
    • The internet is a means of communicating information that the giant corporations who own and control the world's traditional media are unlikely to want to report 
    • The internet can revitalise democracy because it gives a voice to those people who would otherwise go unheard
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The Cultural Pessimist Perspective

Cultural pessimists believe that this revolution in new media technology has been exagerated by neophiliacs. There are a number of strands to their argument: 

  • 'Not-so-New' Media
    • Cornford & Robins: 'old' technology, like TV and phone landlines, are integral to the use of new media like computer game consoles (e.g. Xbox) and broadband and wireless connections to the internet 
    • Interactivity is not new because people have written to newspapers and phoned in to radio and TV for years - the only thing that is new about new media is its speed 
  • Domination by Media Conglomerates 
    • Cultural pessimists point to the role of the transnational media conglomerates in the development and control of the new media 
    • Jenkins: new media has developed as a result of investment by the big media corporations - cross-media ownership that began in the 1980s was the first phase of media concentration and technological convergence
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The Cultural Pessimist Perspective (2)

  • Commercialisation 
    • The internet is now extremely commercialised. Cornford & Robins: these new technologies may produce more choice for the consumer, but there are also side effects. Many companies that sell products/services on th internet engage in consumer surveillance - e.g. in the form of cookies. 
    • Marxists: the commercialisation of the internet and other new media encourages materialismconsumerism and false needs, furthering capitalist domination and control
  • Reinforcing Elite Power
    • Jenkins: not all the participants in the new media are created equal. Corporations still exert greater power than any individual consumer or even aggregates of consumers 
    • Political elite power-holders have constructed sophisticated and elaborate websites to make sure their view of the world dominates the internet. Media technologies are mainly strengthening the power of the existing elites rather than promoting alternative ideas, free speech or democracy 
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The Cultural Pessimist Perspective (3)

  • Decline in Quality of Popular Culture 
    • Harvey suggests that digital TV may have dramatically increased the number of channels for viewers to choose from, but this has led to a dumbing-down of popular culture as TV companies fill these channels with cheap imported materials. TV culture transmits a 'candy floss culture' that speaks to everyone in general and no one in particular 
    • We do not have more choice, just more of the same thing
  • Lack of Regulation
    • It is argued that new media, particularly the internet, is in need of state regulation 
    • All points of view are represented but it is argued that easy access to *********** and homophobic, racist sites is taking free speech too far 
    • However, some commentators believe that the irresponsible use of the internet is a price worth paying for the free expression and exchange of information that it provides 
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While neophiliacs are very upbeat about the future role of new media technologies, cultural pessimists remind us that we need to be cautious about how the new media may be employed. 

Both perspectives probably exaggerate how far the media is being transformed.

The last 20 years have seen both continuity and evolutionary rather than revolutionary change.

Television is still the most popular medium and the print media, despite fears that it was going to be replaced by the internet, still sells extremely well.

A small number of media companies are still very much in control of both traditional and new media. 

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Postmodernist sociologists argue that the rapid expansion in media technologies in the last decade has led to postmodern societies becoming 'media saturated'.

The media and the popular culture that they generate now shape our identities and lifestyles much more than traditional influences such as family, community, social class, gender, ethnicity.

The media has changed and shaped our consumption patterns by making us more aware of the diversity of choices that exist in the postmodern world. 

The globalisation of media means that we now have more globalised cultural influences available to us in terms of lifestyle choices and consumption

The media now inform us that the consumption of images, logos and brands for their own sake - conspicious consumption - should be a central aspect of our identites. 

Many people feel that they no longer belong to real communiites - the proto-communities of internet chat-rooms, blogging and online fantasy gaming, and the imagined communities of TV soap operas are increasingly replacing the role of neighbours and extended kin in our lives. 

We no longer look to meta-narratives to explain the world - all points of view have some relevance.

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Critique of Postmodernism

Postmodernists have been criticised for exaggerating the degree of social change. Evidence indicates thatmany people see social class, ethnicity, family, nation and religion as still having a profound influence over their lives and identities. 

Media influence is important, but it is not the determining factor in most people's lifestyle choices.

Postmodernists tend to ignore the fact that a substantial number of people are unable to make consumption choices because of inequalities brought about by traditional influences such as unemployment, poverty, racial discrimination and patriarchy

Traditional forms of inequality remain a crucial influence, as acces to the internet, digital television and so on is denied to many people in the UK. 

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Globalisation of Media

In relation to the mass media, globalisation takes a number of forms:  

  • Ownership of Mass Media
    • Media companies are no longer restricted by national boundaries 
    • Most Western countries have relaxed ownership control - as a result, media moguls, such as Rupert Murdoch, and media conglomerates, such as Time Warner, own hundreds of media companies spread throughout the world
  • Satellite Television 
    • You can sit in a hotel anywhere in the world and watch programmes you are familiar with, on channels like Sky, Fox, CNN
  • The Internet 
    • We can access information and entertainment in most parts of the world 
    • However, China forbids access of its citizens to some parts of the worldwide web, especially sites that it believes support the pro-democracy movement in China, because the Chinese authorities believe access to such information is politically dangerous 
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Globalisation of Media (2)


  • Advertising 
    • This occurs on a global scale, and particular brands have become global as a result - such as Coca-ColaMcDonalds and Levis
    • Coca-Cola is now the most widely known (and used) consumer product in the world


  • Entertainment 
    • The world's population engages with much of the same popular culture - the same films (mainly Hollywood produced), same TV programmes (e.g. Friends), same music (e.g. Beyonce, Coldplay)
    • Sport has been globalised through global media events like the Olympic Games and the World Cup 
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Possible Consequences of Globalisation

Marxists argue that globalisation restricts choice because transnational media companies and their owners, such as Rupert Murdoch, have too much power. Marxists are particularly concerned that local media and cultures may be replaced by a global culture. 

Kellner suggests that this global media culture is about sameness and that it erases individuality, specificity and difference

Putnam argues that one of the side effects of a global culture organised around television and the internet is civic disengagement - people are no longer willing to get involved in their communities. 

However, postmodernists argue that globalisation is good for both the developed and developing worlds because it offers their citizens more choices and opportunities.

Postmodernists argue argue that local cultures are not swallowed up by global media culture - rather, local culture adapts to global culture

Cohen & Kennedy: cultural pessimists underestimate the strength of local cultures. People appropriate elements of global culture, and mix and match with elements of local culture. 

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Selection & Presentation of the News

Chandler suggests that the way TV news is presented results in it being regarded as the most reliable source of news by its audience. He notes that:

  • Newsreaders are presented as 'neutral' observers in the way they read the scripted news, dress formally and make eye contact with the viewer
  • Peace argues that the newsreader's manner creates the idea that the newsreader is the viewer's trustworthy and reliable 'friend'
  • The orderly high-tech studio symbolises the scientific lengths to which the broadcaster has gone to find the 'truth' and reinforces the image of formal and objective authority 

Overall, the presentation of the news by TV appears to convey objective truth.

Buckingham's research found that 12-15 year olds hardly ever challenged the status and credibility of TV news. The news was perceived to be an honest and trutworthy reflection of the real world. 

Sociological critics of the way news is presented suggest that TV news actually presents its audience with an illusion of objectivity

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The Construction of Reality in the News

McQuail argues that 'news' is not objective or impartial.

Events happen, but this does not guarantee that they become news - not all events can be reported because of the sheer number of them.

News is actually a socially manufactured product because it is the end result of a selective process - gatekeepers such as editors and journalists make choices and judgements about what events are important enough to cover and how to cover them.

'News' is not simply a collection of facts that happen, but a special form of knowledge made up of information, myth, fable and morality. 

It is 'loaded' information and often refelcts the perspective or interpretation of particular interest groups, particularly powerful groups, rather than being an objective report of events as they occur. 

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Organisational or Bureaucratic Routines

  • Financial Costs
    • It's very expensive to send personnel overseas and book satellite connections - may result in the BBC etc giving us 'news' reports even if very little is happening, to justify such heavy costs.
    • News organisations will have reporters already stationed in European countries and USA, so when a story arises there is someone there to cover it 
    • This often leads to superficial treatment of events in developing countries because news organisations have very few journalists on duty in Africa/Asia 
    • The last 10 years have seen a decline in expensive forms of news coverage like investigative reporting because news organisations are cutting costs 
  • Time or Space Available 
    • Newspapers are limited to pages and news broadcasters for time 
    • Raw news is massive but it is selected and structured 
    • News broadcasters have their own narratives - e.g. a serious item to begin and a funny story to cheer people up 
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Organisational or Bureaucratic Routines (2)

  • Immediacy and Actuality 
    • Recent technological advances in newsgathering - particularly in the form of new media such as internet sites - have created a new level of immediacy 
    • For example, BBC News 24 is now able to inform the UK about news events through live streams - 'breaking news' on all the BBC websites and as live updates on the BBC News app for smartphones and tablets 
    • This new technology has also been used to encourage interaction between news organisations and their audiences/readerships - for example, news presenters often refer to tweets written by their viewers 
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News Values

Galtung & Ruge identified a set of news values used by journalists:

  • Extraordinariness (unexpected, rare, unpredictable) 
  • Threshold (big news - e.g. death of Princess Diana 1997) 
  • Unambiguity (news should be simple)
  • Reference to elite persons (the famous and powerful)
  • Reference to elite nations (proximity, stories about people who speak the same language, look the same and share the same preoccupations as the audience receive more coverage)
  • Personalisation (referring to a prominent individual or celebrity)
  • Frequency (events which occur suddenly e.g. murders, plane crashes)
  • Continuity (stories will continue to be covered for some time)
  • Narrative (journalists prefer to present news in the form of a story)
  • Negativity (bad news is the best news)
  • Composition (news outlets will attempt to 'balance' the reporting of events - e.g. if there has been a great deal of bad or gloomy news, some items of a more positive nature will be added) 
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Pluralists have traditionally argued that journalists are disinterested, impartial and objective pursuers of the truth.

However, neo-pluralists suggests that in the modern world of journalism, these goals are increasingly difficult to attain. 

Davies argues that the most basic function of journalism is to check facts. However, he argues that contemporary journalism has been corrupted by a failure to verify news stories. Davies notes an appearance of 'flat-earth' news stories: a type of news story that appears to be and is universally accepted as 'true'. 

Davies argues that modern-day British journalism is characterised by 'churnalism' - the uncritical overreliance by journalists on 'facts' produced by government spin doctors and public-relations experts. 

Davies argues that journalism is forced into churnalism because of commercial pressures that have resulted in more space to fill but with added pressure to do this quickly and at the lowest possible cost. Consequently, facts from official sources are used because they are so cheap. 

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The Power Elite

Bagdikian suggests that almost all media leaders in the USA are part of a wider power elite made up of a powerful industrial, financial and political establishment.

Consequently, media owners ensure that the content of news is politically conservative and that their news outlets promote corporate values

He notes how such values often imperceptibly permeate news, for example, most newspapers have sections dedicated to business news, which present corporate leaders as heroes or exciting combatants, and they uncritically and frequently report corporate and stock-market information. 

In contrast, very little attention is paid to ordinary Americans and the economic pressures that they face - for example, the news media seem uninterested in the growing gap between the rich and poor in the USA.

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The Hierarchy of Credibility

Hall agrees that news is supportive of capitalist interests because those in powerful positions have better access to media institutions than the less powerful. 

Hall argues that this is a result of the news values employed by most journalists. 

Most journalists rank the views of politicians, police officers, civil servants and business leaders (Hall calls this group 'primary definers') as more important or credible than those of pressure groups, trade unionists or ordinary people.

Hall calls this the hierarchy of credibility

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CONCLUSIONS: Selection & Presentation

The news may not be as impartial as we like to think it is.

Critics of news gathering suggest that a range of influences - bureaucratic constraints, news values, churnalism, the concentration of ownership, commercial pressures, primary definers and the social backgrounds of journalists - mean that the news is a socially manufactured product which may end up reflecting the interests and ideology of powerful groups.

This may undermine democracy, as audiences are not being exposed to a range of facts and information and, as a result, are unable to make informed choices about how society should be organised or about how to deal with the social and economic inequalities that might eventually destabilise such societies. 

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Moral Panics

Moral panics are media reactions to particular social groups or particular activities which are defined as threatening societal values and consequently create anxiety amongst the general population. However, the moral concern is usually out of proportion to any real threat to society posed by the group or activity. 

Cohen's 'Folk Devils & Moral Panics' refers to the moral panic created around the 'mods' and 'rockers' - the media blew small-scale scuffles and vandalism out of all proportion by using headlines like 'Day of Terror' and words like 'battle'. 

Goode & Ben-Yehuda note that the moral panic produces a 'folk devil': a stereotype of deviance that suggests that the perpetrators of the so-called deviant activities are selfish and evil, and steps need to be taken to control and neutralise their actions so that society can return to 'normality'. 

However, the media also engages in a type of social soothsaying - they often adopt a disaster mentality and predict more problems if the problem group is not kept under surveillance or punished. This increases the social pressure on the forces of law and order to stamp down hard on the problem group.

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Moral Panics (2)

Goode & Ben-Yehuda note the volatility of moral panics: this means they can erupt suddenly, although they usually subside or disappear just as quickly. Some are dormant but reappear from time to time.

However, the panic usually has some lasting effect - it may have raised public consciousness, and in extreme cases, may have led to changes in social policy or the law.

Both the publicity and social reaction to the panic may create the potential for further crime and deviance in the future. For example, Thornton notes that the 'Just Say No' drug campaign of the early 1990s probably attracted more young people to the use of ecstasy as they realised adult society disapproved of their membership of the e-generation. 

There is also evidence that the police reaction to illegal rave parties in the 1980s - using riot gear, dogs and horses - led to young people violently confronting police officers' attempts to close down these parties. Consequently, arrests for violent conduct rose dramatically in those parts of the country where these parties were popular. 

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Example of a Moral Panic


  • Binge Drinking
    • Borsay notes that the moral panic that focused on binge drinking in 2008 is very similar to the one that gripped Britain in the early 1700s.
    • He therefore argues that media, public and political concern about problem dinking is not new. He argues that moral panics characterised both periods, fuelled by pressure groups, the media and perceptions of government complacency.
    • He notes that media-constructed moral panics found in both eras were symbolic of wider anxieties about 'social breakdown'
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Example of a Moral Panic (2)

  • Hoodies 
    • Fawbert examined newspaper reports about so-called hoodies between 2004-08, and notes that there was only 1 article in the national papers in 04 that used the word 'hoodie' to describe a young thug. However, a year later, Bluewater Shopping Centre banned its shoppers from wearing hoodies and baseball caps.
    • 'Hoodies' became a commonly used term to describe young people involved in crime. Articles would often use the term in the headline, but there would be no reference in the story about whether the young criminal was actually wearing one - it was just presumed.
    • Hoodies became a symbol of mischief, and sales of the clothing began to soar as young people realised they upset people in authority by wearing them.
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Why do Moral Panics come about?

  • Some commentators argue that moral panics are simply the product of news values and the desire of journalists and editors to sell newspapers
  • Furedi: moral panics arise when society fails to adapt to dramatic social changes and it is felt that there is a loss of control, especially over powerless groups like the young.
  • Marxists such as Hall see moral panics as serving an ideological function.  
    • The moral panic about the 1970s 'black mugger' had the effect of labelling all young African-Caribbeans as criminals and a potential threat to white people.
    • This served the triple ideological function of turning the white working class against the black working class, diverting attention away from the mismanagement of capitalism and justifying the repressive laws and policing that could be used against other 'problem groups'.
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Why do Moral Panics come about? (2)

  • Left realists argue that moral panics should not be dismissed as a product of ruling-class ideology or news values.
    • Moral panics have a very real basis in reality - the media often identifies groups who are a very real threat to those living in inner-city areas.
    • Portraying such crime as a fantasy is naive because it denies the very real harm that some types of crimes have on particular communities or the sense of threat that older people feel.
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The study of moral panics has drawn our attention to the power of the media in defining what counts as normal and deviant behaviour and the effects of such media labelling on particular social groups. 

It reminds us continually to question our commonsensical understanding of crime, which is often underpinned by media reporting of crime.

However, McRobbie argues that moral panics are becoming less frequent and harder to sustain today, as those groups labelled as folk devils by the media can now effectively fight back through pressure groups and new social movements

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The Mass Media & Audiences

Interactionist sociologists, such as Cohen & Young, have pointed to the influence of the media in the creation of moral panics which increase social anxiety and fear among the general population and have even led to changes in social policy and the law.

Some early Marxist commentators, particularly those belonging to the Frankfurt School, such as Marcuse, believed that the media transmitted a 'mass culture' which was directly injected into the hearts and minds of the population making them more vulnerable to ruling-class propaganda.

More contemporary Marxists suggest that the way the media is organised and operates in capitalist societies may be influencing sections of the population to believe in cultural values that are a reflection of ruling-class ideology. 

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Hypodermic Syringe Model

The audience passively accepts the message 'injected' into them by the mass media, without any attempt on their part to process or challenge the data.

The experience, intelligence and opinion of an individual are not relevant to the reception of the text. As an audience, we are manipulated by the creators of media texts, and our behaviour and thinking might be easily changed by media-makers. 

The audience are passive and heterogeneous. There is a direct correlation between the violent behaviour shown on TV, computer games etc and anti-social/criminal behaviour in real life.

Bandura et al: Bobo doll copycat violence study: 3 groups of children shown examples of a Bobo doll being attacked by mallets, 1 group shown no violent activity. In a room of toys, children were frustrated being told the toys weren't for them. Then in a room with a Bobo doll, the 3 groups shown violence behaved more aggressively than the 4th group. 

Newson: sadistic images in films are too easily available and too easily encourage viewers to identify with violent perpetrators rather than victims. Prolonged exposure to media violence in TV and films may result in young people becoming desensitized to violence: they become socialised into accepting violent behaviour as normal, especially for problem-solving.

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Two-Step Flow Hypothesis/Model

Lazarsfeld, Berelson & Gaudet: information from the media is filtered through 'opinion leaders' who communicate it to their less active associates, over whom they have influence. 

In the audience there are active individuals who influence others within the audience as whole. Therefore the audience are not seen as isolated/homogenous. 

Opinion leaders influence people in shopping, fashion, cinema & views on current politics/affairs.

K & L argue that personal relationships and conversations with significant others result in people rejecting or modifying the media messages - thus social networks are dominated by opinion leaders.

Opinion leaders expose themselves to different types of media and form an opinion on their content, then pass it on. 

The media messages have 2 stages:   (1) The opinion leader is exposed to the media content.    (2) Those who respect the opinion leader internalise their interpretation of that content. 

Consequently, audiences are not directly influenced by the media, rather they adopt a particular opinion.

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Uses & Gratification Model

This model directly challenges the hypodermic syringe model.

Looks at what audiences do to the media not what the media does to the audiences. 

Blumler & Katz stated that individuals might choose and use a text for the following purposes:

  • Diversion (the need to forget and escape from everyday problems and routine)
  • Personal Relationships (using the media for emotional and other interaction)
  • Personal Identity (people may use the media to create or modify themselves)
  • Surveillance (audiences need to know what's going on in the world)

Lull noted 5 uses of the media:

  • Relational (a currency of communication - gives people something to talk about)
  • Affiliation (reinforce family community)
  • Avoidance (a form of escapism)
  • Social Learning (solve problems, seek guidance, access info, learn and find role models)
  • Competence Dominance (access to the media through a dominant family member)
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Selective Filter Model

Klapper: for the media message to have an effect, it must pass through 3 filters:

  • Selective Exposure: The audience must choose to view, read or listen to the content of specific media. Although there are mechanisms in place to stop audiences seeing specific types of media, e.g. BBC censor programmes before 9pm 
  • Selective Perception: The audience may not accept the message - some people may take notice of some media content but decide to reject or ignore others. Festinger argues that people will only seek out information that confirms their existing attitudes and view of the world 
  • Selective Retention: The message has to 'stick' in the mind of those who have accessed the media content. However, research indicates that most people have a tendency to remember only the things we agree with - Postman: we live in a '3 minute culture' where the attention span of the average member of society is 3 minutes or less 
    • We're bombarded with information so we can't remember everything (postmodernists)

Klapper suggests these 3 filters involve a degree of active choice on behalf of the audience. 

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Reception Analysis Model

This view suggests that the way people interpret media content differs according to their class, age, gender, ethnic group and other sources of identity

Therefore the Reception Analysis Model suggests that the media content is interpreted in a variety of ways

This work was based on Hall's encoding/decoding: the text is encoded by the producer, and decoded by the reader, and there may be major differences between 2 different readings of the same code. 

However, by using recognised codes and conventions, and by drawing upon audience expectations relating to aspects such as genre and use of stars, the producers can position the audience and thus create a certain amount of agreement on what the code means: this is known as preferred reading

Oppositional reading: a minority may oppose the views expressed in media content. 

Negotiated reading: the audience may reinterpret media content to fit in with their own opinions and values. 

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Cultural Effects Theory/Model

The media does have important effects but not in such immediate and direct ways as the Hypodermic Syringe Model suggests. 

Effects tend to be gradual and long-term, more like a drip-feed - e.g. if the media continually presents a stereotypical image of the perfect female form, this is likely to filter into audiences' consciousness and may cause eating disorders in the long term.

Audiences can be seen as a slow, steady, long-term build-up of ideas and attitudes

In the 1970s the Sun shifted its political support from Labour to Conservatives. Crewe found no immediate change in readers' voting affiliations, but over a longer period of time some readers' values and voting behaviour did change

Marxist cultural effects theory argues that media content contains strong ideological messages. Media producers expect audiences (who often lack direct experience of an issue) to interpret media content in a particular way - to agree with their own preferred reading.

If similar images, ideas and interpretations are broadcast over periods of time, they may well affect the way we see and understand the world. 

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Postmodernist Model

The postmodern model focuses on how individual members of audiences create their own meanings from a media text.

Philo argues that postmodernists see media content as producing one particular definition of reality, which has the same degree of importance as any other definition of reality.

These interpretations of media reality are constantly changing and being modified - they are not fixed.

Rather than seeing the audience as an undifferentiated mass, or as divided into cultural or other groupings, postmodernists argue that generalisations about media effects and audiences are impossible, since the same person may react to the same media message in different ways in different situations

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Representation of Gender

Tuchman: women are symbolically annihilated in the media.

Mulvey: women are subjected to the 'male gaze' of the camera. 

Liberal feminists: media representations are slow to change in response to women's achievements.

Marxist/Socialist feminists: roots of the stereotypical images of men and women are economic.

Radical feminists: traditional images are deliberately transmitted by male-dominated media to keep women oppressed into a narrow range of roles.

Gauntlett: media today challenges traditional definitions of gender and are a force for change for encouraging a diversity of masculinity and feminine identities. 

Pluralists: feminists stereotype females as impressionable and easily influenced. There is no real evidence that media content profoundly affects females' attitudes or behaviour.

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Representation of Sexuality

Batchelor et al: the mass media have an important role to play in shaping the knowledge and attitudes of young people with regard to sexuality.

Dyer: the media construct stereotypical 'signs of gayness' - so if a person demonstrates these signifiers in their behaviour, they may be labelled as 'gay' regardless of their sexuality.

Gerbner et al: the media symbolically annihilate gays and lesbians by negatively stereotyping them, by rarely portraying them realistically or by not portraying them at all.

Gauntlett: TV drama is offering prime-time audiences the chance to 'get to know' nice lesbian and gay characters in soap operas, drama series and sitcoms; e.g. Captain Jack in Torchwood.

Gill: when homosexual images/issues are portrayed by TV, they tend to be sanitised and portrayed in ways that do not challenge heterosexual ideology and do not drive away advertisers and their revenue.

The last decade has seen a growing amount of advertising that includes representations of lesbians and gays. Some argue this is an indication of the increased social acceptance of homosexuality. Others see it as an attempt to access an untapped economic market.

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Representation of Disability

Many disabled sociologists suggest that the disabled are actually disabled by society - social institutions, facilities and services are primarily designed and administered with the able-bodied in mind. The disabled therefore have to negotiate a physical environment unsuited to their needs.

Roper: media representations of the disabled on telethons can create problems for the disabled. Telethons over rely on 'cute' children who are not that representative of the range of disabled people in the UK. They imply that charities rather than governments are responsible for providing funds and services to disadvantaged disabled groups. 

Karpf: there is a need for charities, but telethons act to keep the audience in the position of givers and keep recipients in their place as grateful and dependent. Telethons aim to entertain the public rather than help us to understand the everyday realities of what it is like to be disabled. 

GUMG: TV and press reporting of people suffering mental disabilities often focuses on violent incidents despite the fact that only a tiny minority of mentally ill people are potentially violent. They found that this type of media representation could supersede personal experience

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Representation of Ethnicity

Akinti: TV coverage of ethnic minorities over focuses on crime, Aids in Africa and black underachievement in schools

Black crime and violence is the most frequent issue found in media news coverage of ethnic minorities. Van Dijk: black people tend to be portrayed as criminals. 

Van Dijk's content analysis suggested that a common news stereotype was the idea that ethnic minorities are posing a threat to the majority white culture. 

Van Dijk: some sections of the media imply that the lives of white people are somehow more important than the lives of non-white people. In news items about disasters, the misfortunes of 1 British person tend to be prioritised over the sufferings of thousands of foreigners.

Ethnic-minority audiences are hostile towards tokenism, where TV programmes include characters from ethnic minority groups purely because they 'should'. The characters themselves are often so unimportant that they are rarely in a series for very long - dramas set in workplaces seem to be a convenient place to include an ethnic-minority actor for cosmetic purpose without being obliged to look at their culture.

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Representation of Class

Neo-Marxists: the function of the media is to ensure the cultural hegemony of the dominant capitalist class and to ensure that inequality and exploitation are not defined as social problems so that they do not become the focus of social debate and demand for social change.

Nairn: the monarchy has successfully converted much of the modern mass media to its cause, so until fairly recently, it was rare to see any criticism of this institution or the individuals in it.

Neo-Marxists: media representations of social class tend to celebrate hierarchy and wealth. Those who benefit from these processes (the monarchy, upper class and very wealthy) generally receive a positive press as celebrities who are somehow deserving of their position.

Some argue that the middle class and their concerns are overrepresented in the media.

Research by Butsch: working class men were more likely to be portrayed as flawed individuals compared with middle class individuals. These flaws are highlighted by the portrayal of working class women are more intelligent, rational and sensible than their husbands. 

Newman: the poor are often portrayed in statistical  terms by news bulletins.

Cohen: the media fails to see the connection between deprivation and wealth.

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Representation of Age

British children are often depicted in the UK media in fairly positive ways: as victims of horrendous crimes (e.g. Madeline McCann), as cute, as little devils (common in comedy), as brilliant, as brave little angels (suffering from illness), as accessories, as modern

Heintz-Knowles: children on TV are rarely shown as coping with societal issues such as racism or with major family issues such as child abuse and domestic violence.

Children are represented in adverts in ways that socialise them to become active consumers. Some suggest that this has led to 'pester power': the power of children to train/manipulate their parents to spend money on consumer goods. Evans & Chandler: pester power is creating anxiety among poorer parents, who will often go into debt to provide for their children's needs

Wayne: the media distracts from the real problems young people face in the modern world that might be caused by society's or the government's failure to take the problems of youth seriously.

Old age is generally devalued by the media industry. When the elderly appear in the media, they tend to be stereotyped as grumpy, mentally challenged, infantile, as a burden or as enjoying a second childhood.

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