Media

Media

Media - the means of communication that reach a large number of people. Umbrella term for TV, radio, newspapers, Twitter, blogs, Facebook etc. These can be put in two categories:

1. Traditional media (more top-down and controlled by elites) e.g. newspapers, radio

2. New media (allows more bottom-up interaction and more non-elite control) e.g. social media

Media can also relate to outlets (newspapers, TV, radio) and professionals (journalists, editors, bloggers). 

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Political communication

Political communication - the creation, shaping, circulation, exchange and effects of information being passed between political actors, the media and citizens. How these messages are presented or taken meaning from can have an impact on the exercise and conduct of public authority.   

Laswell's simple definition (1948): "Who says what to whom in what channel with what effect". Very narrow definition - depicts the stimulus-response mechanism typical in one-way communication (newspapers, TV, political rallies) but is not relevant to dialog communication (debates, comments). There is more of a blurring of the lines between mass media and social media, public and personalised communication, serious political topics and entertainment etc. 

Watts (1997) understands the function of mass media to be an intermediary in political communication. It allows the gov. and its opposition to speak to the electorate and the electorate to make its interests known. 

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Media: Guardian of Democracy or Foe?

Media can be seen as one of the checks on the power of the executive. Journalists have more time and resources to investigate wrongdoing. E.g. Washington Post's investigation into Watergate in 1972 found President Nixon had abused his power and led to his resignation. 

BUT, the media can also have a great influence over who is in power. Media can be seen as the 'Fourth Estate' - it is very powerful; can advocate a certain political view and can frame issues to fit with their view. E.g. in 1997 the Sun ran the headline 'It Was the Sun Wot Won It' after Labour won the election. Wring and Deacon (2010) found a strong correlation between newspaper endorsements and election victories.  

Franklin (2004) describes how politicians and the media are sometimes adversaries and sometimes accomplices. 

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Models of media influence

Arguably, all three models are right. There are important differences between TV and newspapers, tabloids and broadsheets, and the readers of these papers, so all models are relevant.  

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Theories of media influence

1. Direct effects (1900-late 30s) - the media 'injects' messages into its audience or batters them with info into acceptance. Attributes a lot of power to the media and argues that newspapers need only print something for it to take hold of the public. Prevalent in the early days of TV.

2. Reinforcement (1940-early 1960s counter-theory to direct effects) - media can only reinforce, not change views and behaviour. It functions within a network of other factors - voters have certain screens/ filters/ tendencies towards parties and attitudes. They accept info that reinforce these, and reject info that doesn't. Lazarsfeld (1944) found that the media had 'limited effects' on the Presidential elections of 1944 and 1948. He particularly noted the importance of selectivity (choosing info that reinforces views) and interpersonal networks. 

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Theories of media influence

3. Agenda-setting - the media shape what people think about (set the agenda). The media may put certain emphasis on issues and ignore others (either to oppose parties or collude with them - has a financial incentive to follow voters' views). McCombs and Shaw found a strong correlation between the issues mass media emphasised and what the 1968 Presidential election voters said were key issues. Relates to the idea of priming - the media influences the standards (issues) people use for evaluating the performance of govs. or parties. 

4. Framing - how a political issue is presented by the media affects how people view it. The effects of framing are very subtle - the media has a huge potential to influence but cannot provide huge influence. Idea has its roots in sociology and psychology; in sociology, Goffman (1974) argued that people struggle to fully understand the world around them, and so they need schemas and 'primary frameworks' to classify new info and interpret it. The media will present info in a way that fits with people's underlying schemas or stereotypes. 

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