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Media Effects on Democracy

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The media is too influential and this undermines democracy in the UK.
This paper will examine the above statement in regards to media undermining democracy. It will look at arguments both for and against, what influence the media has on our democracy, it will look in to media and government bias, refer to statistics along with some theories, this is to try and determine if behaviours and attitudes can be influenced by what we see and hear in the media. Other points that will be addressed include the effects of spin and how the media tends to deliver its information to its audience.
In todays society more or less everyone knows about the media. We as a nation tend to partake in some kind of media activity daily. It has been said that we take the modern media very much for granted as we are totally immersed in them. For example “Just as fish will be the last life form on earth to discover water, because they are completely surrounded by it and know of nothing else” (the new politics, 2007:301). There for it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the daily paper, radio and tv.
Some allege that the effects of the media are strong and clearly visible, however others argue with equal conviction that the media have minimal or no direct effects (the new politics, 2007).
According to the reinforcement theory the media can only reinforce attitudes that already exist and this is down to two reasons markets and personality. They believe that the effects of mass media are minimal and only confirm what people already believe rather than influencing political life and attitudes. However Direct effect theorist say that the mass media can and do directly influence attitudes and behaviour, including voting behaviour. This in turn leads to the question of is media bias (developments in british politics). How ever before diving in to media bias it is important to understand the growth of the media from previous years. To try and demonstrate this fully here is a few contrasts between 1945 and modern times to consider.
In 1945 there was no tv in Britain. The BBC resumed its post war broadcast in 1946, with only 25,000 viewers. Now days though virtually every house hold owns at least one tv, and has instant access to over 100 chanels. On average British adults spend over 26 hours a week watching tv and half of the nation watch tv news seven days a week. In 1945 politicians mainly interacted with voters through the use of public meetings, newspapers and the radio. The newspapers were very thin and had little in depth analysis of politics and had little commentary. They didnt use opinion polls and reporting of parliamentary debates were limited. Modern papers on the other hand are glossy and fat. There political content is vastly larger, and they are far more party political than in 1945. Apparently three people read every newspaper sold, which means that 37 million read a daily paper. In 1945 about ten million households had a ‘wireless’(radio), but politicalbroadcasting was limited, and there was very little coverage of the 1945 election. Now there is more than 750 radio stations in the UK, and many of these stations include regular news updates. In 1945 the term ‘spin doctor’ had not even been invented. The government had a small handfull of press departments and offices, but nothing like the scale of nodern operations today.
It has been said that many people are convinced that the media are biased, how ever when considering the political bias of the media it is necessary to ascertain between print and electronic media. Electronic media are obliged to be politically balanced and unbiased, where as the news papers can be as partial and partisan as they wish. In relation to newspapers there are ten main publications. Amongst those ten the two most circulated are the Sun and the Times both who are owned by News International. In 2004 the Sun alone sold 3,378.000 and the Times sold 609,000 per day (developments in British politics). This shows the kind of audience these news prints reach, and more importantly showing how many people are exposed to the political views of just these two newspapers alone. This also raises the question of media ownership and does this matter (British Politics, Leach Page 150). There is seen to be a danger that the ownership of the media is being concentrated in too few hands. News International, owned by Rupert Murdoch, controls a large number of news and media organizations. There are concerns that, as a result, he is able as an individual to shape public opinion and influence voting behaviour. This can be seen as an indication that maybe the media do have to much influence when it comes to reporting in regards to political issues, especially if they are putting their own opinions or points of view across. There for this then suggest that certain stories that are covered could be portrayed or written in an unfairly biased way towards a certain political party. However in turn it has also been said that the media coverage of modern political issues makes the voters and readers in the UK more aware of what is going on in the different political parties and it helps them to make a more informed decision when the general elections take place (developments in British politics). Having said that statistics show that the British newspapers from much of the post war period, had been heavily conservative. The circulation of conservative newspapers outnumbered both Labour and Liberal papers. These statistics prove sympathies towards the conservatives, which in turn tends to be seen as backing up the theory of media bias (The new British politics).
Having considered this, Labour scored an exceptional victory in 1945, and went on to win again in 1964, 1966 and in 1974, all with most papers against it. Besides does the newspaper influence the voting of their readers or do the voters choose their paper to suit their own politics? In 1997 the Sun switched their support to Labour, at that time most sun readers voted Labour, and of course Labour duly won the election by far. But does this prove ‘it was the Sun wot won it’? Probably not. It was estimated that about 60 percent of Sun readers would have voted Labour anyway regardless of who the paper backed. However from the papers point of view it’s bad to run against the grain of your own readers. In any case so many individuals had firm voting intentions of their own and the newspaper effect may well have been small if even there at all (The new British politics).
There is also government bias and this tries to shape the news in two different formats. The first being suppression of news; On the one hand, freedom of information is relatively weakly protected in the UK and, on the other hand the official secret act is powerful. Compared with many other democracies, these two factors combined allow the British government a lot more room to manipulate in controlling information, news flows and keeping thing secret. And the second format being the manipulation of news; The government provides a large proportion of daily news usually done through press releases and tends to try and shape the news in its own interests, also more commonly known as ‘spin’.
Spin is a form of propaganda achieved through providing an interpretation of a campaign or event to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure. A prime example of this would be Alistair Campbell. Alistair was a political editor at the daily mail, but after the 1997 election he took on the role of Tony Blair’s chief press advisor. It has been largely documented that he played an enormous part in the Labour party’s press releases. He was known for spinning stories that would in turn make the Labour party along with Tony Blair look good in the eyes and ears of their audience. He also had a powerful effect on what was broadcast or printed in certain news press, in an attempt to sway viewer’s opinion towards the Labour party. Having said that all political parties have press advisors who do the same thing to sway public perceptions and opinions (BBC news website).
Although there are strong views for both sides of the argument, it turns out to be extremely difficult to demonstrate the effects of media, even more so to measure them. There is no denying that yes the media is influential and in some cases this may seem to undermine democracy, but it could also be argued that it depends on the individual. If you have core beliefs that you stand by then other influences shouldn’t affect your decision. Given these difficulties it is scarcely surprising that experts disagree about the impact of the newspapers on politics, and more generally about the impact of mass media on politics.

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