POLITICS AND THE MEDIA
Cover sheets page
Word doc on moodle – important issues
70% of journals sold are Murdoch’s (not 70% of journals owned by him).
Climate change – frameworks. Framing one of the most important journal’s activity. Why do they use a frame instead of another? It is strictly related to climate change and catastrofy. Why do journals are more interested to some lives than others?
Readings for next lecture on subject guide line.
Collection of 10 journal articles making a comment on them (one of the assessment).
Relations with the government (leadership)
Relations with the ownership
Historically, mass media’s relationship to politics has been framed by the idea of “propaganda” and fear for its effects on society. This vision of mass manipulation rose particularly during Nazism. Shumpeter argued that what matters is not the content of media but their effects on audience. But there have been those for whom the content has been crucial to the story of media’s power. The political messages contained in media have been scrutinized by many writers and researchers. An early example is Jacques Ellul’s The Political Illusion (1965) where he foreshadows many of the complaints that are now associated with the accusation of “dumbing down” in media coverage. Instead of producing wise and informed citizens, the news produce ignorant ones, capable of “pseudodecisions” [think of Lippman “pseudoambients”].
There is one final area in which the link between politics and media has come to prominence. Besides the impact of media on policy, there has been the impact of policy on media (think of media regulations policies).
It seems that there are no longer boundaries between media and politics. Politicians keep on using media language, communication with through the world of entertainment (infotainment programs occurs mostly in debating political issues).
One of the shorthand ways that the transformation of politics is identified is to talk of “dumbing down”. Serious debate and discussion, it is argued, has been replaced by cynically crafted sound bites and photo-opportunities; politics has been trivialized and democracy damaged.
Politicians are adapting to the medium upon which they have come to rely. They design their campaign and approach to fit the media. Their schedules are timed to coincide with journalists’ deadlines. But the medium is not just an instrument for politicians’ will. It creates the rules and sets the agendas for the coverage of politics. There are both the power over the media and of the media. Media’s functions can be summarized into two concepts: framing and priming. They create bias and can change people’s points of view. At this purpose politicians use the so said “spin doctors” whose aim is pre-empting unfavourable bias, or introduce a favorable one, enabling the politically powerful to manipulate and distort the democratic process.
In summary, Mass Media Politics and Democracy connects the many issues and arguments that are raised by any attempt to make sense of the relationship between politics and mass media. The book links different aspects of that relationship: how the political use and content of mass media is shaped by the commercial and political incentives that drive the state and media conglomerates, how claims of media power are linked to media effects, how the “celebrization” of politics and new media technologies are linked to the notion of democracy. Without understanding such things, we cannot hope to comprehend either the nature of modern media or modern politics, or offer a judgment on whether politics is being transformed by its relationship with modern forms of communication.
POLITICAL BIAS: WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Words matter. News media use of words do change things in the world. James Curran (2002) charts the different narratives that are used in storytelling. For example, he talks about how the emergence of the mass circulation newspaper gave a “voice” to ordinary citizens (Lippman). The mass media were a libertarian force. But there are media narratives that tell a less happy story. These report the media’s role in thwarting people power and in making society less equal and free.
Are media biased? Elections are often the source of many of accusations of political bias (horse race). Accusations of bias are not to be treated lightly because they strike at the core of journalists’ self-image. Reporters see themselves as impartial observers of the world. It is a view that is reinforced by mechanisms that ensure that bias is expunged.
For Shudson (2001) the emergence of a journalistic code that valued objectivity was the consequence of a political process. One key factor was the rise of the public relations industry in the early years of the 20th century. Journalism was forced to define itself against the overtly partisan practices of the PR professional. A further factor, according to Shudson, was the desire of editors to establish control over their workforce. “Objectivity as ideology- he writes- was a kind of industrial discipline”. Requiring journalists to be effective meant that they were less free to act as autonomous individuals.
What makes bias a problem is the thought that media can thwart the democratic process because they manipulate and misinform the citizenry.
By the way, the notion of bias does not refer only to the struggle between political parties. It lies also on value systems, to the representation of women and men to the portrayal of ethnic groups and to the priority accorded to whole countries and their people. Contained within this definition is the distinction between “opinion” and “fact” (Lippman). Opinion is seen as the expression of a personal or partial view; it is biased and its bias in openly acknowledged. News reporting aspire to objectivity, to stating the facts.
Journalistic neutrality is compromised at least by two aspects: commercial pressures (advertisers’will-two sided market) and the balance of facts. A reporter cannot report all the facts, indeed, and he has to make a choice of which fact reporting, that means an evaluation of facts. As Holli Semetko notes, “objectivity” and “balance” demand contradictory practices. This sort of tension is resolved or managed through the routine practices of journalists, the codes and rules which evolved to make journalism possible.
But if neutrality does not exist and if balance and objectivity are incompatible, the notion of bias needs to be qualified.
TYPES OF BIAS
Denis McQuail (1992) identifies four types of bias which are to be distinguished by their place in a two-dimensional matrix: explicitness of the bias and intention behind it
- PARTISAN BIAS
- PROPAGANDA BIAS
- UNWITTING BIAS
- IDEOLOGICAL BIAS
Partisan bias: cause is explicitly and deliberately promoted. Exemples: editorial comments.
Propaganda bias: a story is reported with the deliberate intention of making the case for a particular party or policy or point of view, without explicitly stating this.
Unwitting bias: judgements on which story is more important than another. Bias is implicit. Detection of this type of bias involves looking at the standard operating procedures of papers and newsrooms, to see how these practices routinely create hierarchies of values.
Ideological bias: bias is hidden and unintended. It is based on the assumption that something is “newsworthy”; that is, it is both out of the ordinary and also part of a general framework of expectations. Examples: the coverage of women in news, who receive less coverage than men’s.
How to identify these types of bias? It is so difficult to state whether a journalist is serious or ironical, for example. Miller’s team tried to identify a way to discern bias combining quantitative and qualitative elements. The quantitative work employs a content analysis, in the attempt to provide a scientific method for recording the use of words and pictures. Qualitative work is concerned with the way meaning is contained in what is not said as well as what is, in images and impressions as much as in words.
The way a sentence is structured is not merely a matter of grammar, but of meaning. John Thompson (1988) provides a neat summary of four different linguistic techniques that can be employed to favour one group:
- Legitimate, by attributing popular support or expert authority to them;
- Dissimulate, to cover up the particular social relations attributing blame to other specific individuals;
- Fragmentation, representation of groups as opposed to each other, when in fact they may have a common cause;
- Reification, the ways in which media present the world as naturally ordered and fixed, thereby marginalizing those who wants to change it.