Relationship between the media, content & audiences

Topic 5 from the Mass Media topic of AQA A level Sociology

Methodological problems of researching media effec

1. It is difficult to decide whether it is the media that affects a person. People who watch violent media may be more violent because they watch violent media or it could be the other way around. It is hard to know

2. It is hard to determine whether it is the media affecting a person or other factors such as education, peer group, family, broader culture. For example if a child has a violent family then that could make them more violent not the media

3. The spread of New Media has meant that there is so much choice of media products it is hard to determine what will have an impact. For example we don't know if it is traditional TV which could cause violence or if chat rooms and social media have a bigger effect

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Methodological problems of researching media effec

4. It is impossible to investigate what people would be like without any influence from the media. For example we don't know if children could have been violent without exposure to media but children were committing crimes before the media

5. Everyone is exposed to the media so it is impossible to compare different effects between someone who has been exposed to media and someone who has not. Society is so media saturated that it is impossible to compare the effects of violence between someone who has been exposed to media and someone who has not

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Media effects models - Passive audiences

There is a range of media effects models, with the differences between them based around two key and related questions; How passive or active are the audiences?How powerful are the media in affecting audiences?

The hypodermic syringe model - Passive

This model suggests that the media acts like a hypodermic syringe injecting messages into the brains of audiences. It sees audiences as passively accepting media messages and replicating them such as someone watching violent *********** leads them to commit **** or the tabloid press encouraging Islamophobia. This has been linked to the 1999 Columbine shootings

However, this theory assumes all audiences just passively accept media and replicate it but there's a whole range of responses people can have such as watching a horror film could make you scared. In addition, it ignores the impact of other areas in society such as violence in the family making someone violent

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Media effects models - Active audiences

The two step flow model - Active

This theory states that the media does not have a direct impact on individuals and instead has to go through a second stage. There are millions of media products produced each week but only a limited amount have an impact on us. For media to impact us an opinion leader such as a friend or family member needs to influence us to watch something with their own opinions which will then influence us.

However, most of our media recommendations don't come from family or friends but from the media itself such as Netflix. In addition, it over-exaggerates how passive the audience is, people are still able to form different opinions and share these on social media sites

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Media effects models - Active audiences

Cultural effects model - Active

This theory disagrees with the hypodermic syringe and states that audiences respond to the media in different ways depending on their social characteristics like class, age and gender and can be critical. An example of this is women protesting against the 'Are you beach body ready?' ad in the UK. It does recognise that over time the media can gradually influence audiences.

However, people could have already held that view before the media


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Media effects models - Active audiences

Encoding/decoding and reception analysis

Hall suggested that the content of the mass media is produced by white middle class males so this is why the dominant hegemonic viewpoint is expressed through the media. Most audiences will decode media texts (the content of media messages) containing this viewpoint in the way they were intended with three different interpretations:

1. Dominant reading - audiences interpret media in the way in which the media producer intended so believe it such as benefit claimants are scroungers

2. Negotiated reading - audiences generally accept it but use information to reflect the views they already had such as not all benefit claimants are scroungers

3. Oppositional reading - audiences reject the dominant reading and oppose it such as seeing the welfare scroungers interpretation as creating a moral panic when really most people are deserving of it

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Media effects models - Active audiences

Selective filtering model - Interpretivist approach

Klapper suggests there are three filters that people apply in their approaches to and interpretations of the media and be used to explain responds to party broadcasts:

1. Selective exposure - this means people must first choose what they wish to watch, read or listen to in the media. many people will only choose media that is already relevant to their views such as refusing to watch a programme on benefit fraudsters

2. Selective perception - this means people will react differently to the same message and may choose to reject/accept it based on their own views such as people ignoring news reports suggesting benefit claimants are fraudsters

3. Selective retention - this means people will forget material that is not in line with their views. however, people are always exposed to ads and the media can influence people and change their views

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Media effects models - Active audiences

Glasgow Media Group

This accepts that audiences can be critical of messages but the media does have the power to shape our thoughts on events if we do not have access to alternative sources of information. An example is the Sun article 'Are our judges on drugs?' which has an impact as most people are not in the legal system. In a study of the 1980s miners' strikes news repeatedly showed images of victimised police officers with those who weren't there were on the side of Thatcher. Those who were there however were on the side of the miners.

However, we now have a wider range of media with lots of different points of view so people can decide on their own opinion. In addition, smartphones have allowed people to capture and share events to show a more true image of events

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Media effects models - Active audiences

Uses and gratifications model

This model starts with the view that media audiences are thinking, active and creative human beings who use the media in varios ways for their own pleasures and interests. With the example of Facebook, they may be used for:

  • Diversion - for leisure, entertainment and relaxation such as group messaging and games like Candy Crush
  • Personal Relationships - to keep up to date with family and friends or to establish a relationship with a fictional character or celebrity such as walls which tell you what a person has been doing through posts, photos etc
  • Personal Identity - to explore identities with fashion advice or keeping up to date with contemporary trends such as liking pages which suit your interests
  • Surveillance - to find out about issues that may affect them such as sharing petitions and polls for everyone to see
  • Background Wallpaper - having a tab open whilst you work such as desktop notifications
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Media effects models - Active audiences

However, it overestimates the power of the audience to influence media content such as advertising which people can't escape from. In addition, it focuses too much on individual media use and ignores group use and the wider socal factors which affect how people respond

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Violence and the media

Violence is now part of popular culture and more people are exposed to it than ever before through computer games, TV series and movies. Such media violence is often blamed for increasing crime in society such as the murder of James Bulger in 1993 by two 10 year old boys who had apparently been watching Child's Play. Anderson claimed that research showed media violence increased the likelihood of aggressive and violent behaviour. However, violent media often only has a short term effect, there is no way to prove violent media causes violence and research is more likely to be published if it shows media to have an impact so it is biased

Despite this, the belief that media violence makes people violent is widespread with Iceland looking at banning violent *********** so there is less copycatting and desensitisation as many rapes are committed by those who had watched violent ***********

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Violence and the media

Some competing claims about the effects of violence in the media

  • Copycatting - individuals will replicate violence that they have seen throughout the media such as the Bobo doll experiment
  • Catharsis - media violence reduces violence because people are able to live out their aggression through media rather than in the real world
  • Desensitisation - repeated exposure of media violence will have a drip drip effect on individuals where they gradually get used to the media violence and see it as normal
  • Sensitisation - exposure to media violence can make people more aware of the serious consequences of violent behaviour
  • Media violence cases pscyhological disturbances - watching media violence can cause nightmares and anxiety especially amongst children
  • Exaggeration of fear of violence - people who witness a lot of violence in the media are more likely to believe that this is reality so are more likely to be concerned about the threat of violence in real life whether this is justified or not
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Violence and the media

Methodological problems of researching media violence 

The Bobo doll experiment concluded that exposure to violence causes violence but there are questions about the validity of findings obtained:

  • There is a problem with how media violence is defined with differences between scenes showing real life violence, fictional violence etc
  • It is impossible to avoid the Hawthorne effect as in the Bobo experiment they were being watched
  • It is not representative as it only studied a small group of children
  • It is impossible to find a group that hasn't been exposed to media violence
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