The mass media comes in many different forms, including radio, books, television, internet, and newspapers. It fulfils several functions within society, such as education, socialisation and entertainment. It also provides jobs, and is a source of information for worldwide news. Socialisation is the process of learning society’s norms, rules and values. The media is one of the main agents of socialisation for all age groups within society, and can come in the form of advertising, reality TV and entertainment programmes.
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Sociologists tend to agree that the media influences its’ audience, although it has been debated on how this is. There is the hypodermic syringe theory, where the media is seen to have an immediate and dramatic effect on behaviour, through the needle analogy. The type of media is the syringe, whether it’s radio, TV etc. , and the content is what is injected into the mind. In 1938, the H. G. Wells book ‘War of the Worlds’ was adapted as a radio broadcast, about an alien invasion in New Jersey.
The programme was so believable that it caused widespread panic throughout America and Canada, because listeners thought that the broadcast was genuine. However, nowadays audiences are thought to be more media literate, and this model only focuses on the short-term effects of the media, ignoring long-term effects. The Two-Step Flow (Katz and Lazarsfeld, 1955) claims that most people shape their opinions under the influence of opinion leaders, who in turn are influenced by the mass media. So according to this model, ideas flow from mass media to opinion leaders, and from them to a wider population.
However, this implies that people are strongly conditioned by opinion leaders and have little free will, which is not always the case. There is also the Cultural Effects Theory. This argues that the media has a ‘drip-drip’ effect on audiences, over a longer period of time compared to the hypodermic syringe theory. People are often not conscious that they are accepting the media’s views, for example, it is now the norm for young women to idealise the figure ofmodels such as Kate Moss, even though most images of her in magazines have been photo-shopped and altered, therefore portraying an unrealistic body image.
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This has been criticised for sensationalising an unhealthy body size, and images in the media have led young girls and women to suffer from disorderssuch as anorexia and bulimia. There have been many changes in the media since its’ creation. The education system means that there is now mass literacy in the UK, so more people are now able to access the information in newspapers and books. Also, televisions have become more affordable so now the majority of households in the UK own at least one. In the past, religion was seen as a major influence within society, but now the media has taken over and religion is much less prominent.
Other important forms of socialisation are also being replaced by the media such as play, and interaction with peers and adults. Also, the media used to be owned by numerous families, whereas it is now owned by a very small number of people through large mergers. For example, Rupert Murdoch owns News International Corporation, which in turn owns over a third of UK newspapers, including The Sun, The Sunday Times and The Times. Rupert Murdoch also owns Sky, along with owning a number of media outlets in America, including The Wall Street Journal.
Any party which was supported by newspapers owned by Murdoch has won every general election since 1979, suggesting that media ownership also means having a political influence. Sociologists have also had to take into account the effect of the internet on British and global culture, which is a fairly recent phenomenon. There are three main perspectives when analysing the mass media. These are Pluralism, Marxism and Feminism. The Pluralism perspective states that within society, there is no dominant group, and instead there are a variety of groups who have equal power. This theory has been likened to a Functionalist view.
It argues that the mass media simply reflects the views of the audience, and if this results in bias, it’s because that is what the public’s view is. For example, Pluralists state that the government is neutral in its’ interests, and bases any decisions on which group has the strongest argument. According to the law, the BBC must be impartial and unbiased, but newspapers do not need to be. Nicholas Jones (1986) states that although the BBC may seem biased on some issues, this is down to which group presents their views more coherent way, and therefore gains more support.
Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) claim that the media has limited influence on society, and that there are five variables which affect the way in which audiences respond. These are: The amount of exposure that a certain issue gets The type of medium which is used. For example, footage on television of starving children has a more profound effect on audiences compared to a newspaper story. The nature of the content, how it is presented, and the language which is used The beliefs and attitudes of the audience How opinion leaders react to an issue or story, as they are said to influence the public’s opinion.
Pluralists argue that the mass media provides a diverse and varied choice for the public, and that one dominant ideology does not exist, but rather a real choice of different opinions. It is because of this variation that the mass media has almost no influence on the audience, and that it reflects their views. The Pluralism perspective of the mass media is strong in recognising that there is a huge range and variation of opinions. It recognises that the audience is able to make up their own minds, regardless of what the media portrays, and also the power they have in controlling the media content.
However, Pluralists are criticised for ignoring the concentration of ownership within the media, which can be a major factor in what messages and stories are published. They are also criticised for ignoring clear evidence of bias, especially political bias. For example, the fact that any political party supported by Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers has won the general election since 1979, even when the newspapers switched allegiance from Conservative to Labour in 1997. The Marxist perspective of the mass media emphasises the ability of the media to influence and control people.
Marxists claim that the bourgeoisie maintains control and power over the proletariat through the outlet of the media. They argue that the mass media portrays capitalism positively, which therefore promotes a false consciousness, and prevents the proletariat from becoming class conscious. Noam Chomsky, in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988) claims that the mass media is a powerful ideological institution which supports the system of capitalism through internalised assumptions and self-censorship, without obvious force.
Marxists state that there is a severe lack of diversity in the media, possibly because it is owned and controlled by so few corporations. For example, the Walt Disney Company owns the most mass media companies in America, and is the biggest media conglomerate in terms of revenue. Marxists also emphasise the power of advertisers. Every media outlet has to have advertisements in order to support the cost of production, and in turn advertisers want to put across a capitalist message so that the audience wants to spend money on their products or services.
Because the heads of corporations often manipulate front page stories in newspapers to avoid a conflict of interest, it is stated that the mass media is used by the ruling class as a filter through which information is passed to the general population. This information emphasises the acceptance of capitalist views, resists change, and as a result, works against the interests of the working class. Any other views are made out to be extremist and irrational. Ralph Miliband (1973) claims that the media is the opium of the people, when it had previously been claimed by Karl Marx that religion was the opium of the people.
Miliband stated that because there was so much bias and misleading information within the media, that it led the public to accept major inequalities in society. Mass entertainment programmes exist in order to ‘keep the audience quiet’, and distract them from important economic issues. Marxism is good at analysing the media from a conflict perspective, and explaining that the mass media is another source of inequality within society, and supports a capitalist culture. It has uncovered the fact that the mass media tends to be a monopoly, in that very few people own a lot of companies.
Marxism has also highlighted how advertisers have power over the media and its’ content, by threatening to pull their support if they don’t like the message that’s being put across. On the other hand, the Marxist perspective of the mass media underestimates the ability of the audience to take in information from the media and come to their own decisions about particular issues. Marxism has also been criticised for concentrating on ownership of the media through monopolists, however the most popular form of media is television which is largely controlled by governments, not capitalists.
It has been pointed out that owners of the mass media are more concerned about making profit rather than promoting ideas, so they cannot ignore the demands of the audience. Within the Feminist explanation of the mass media, there are three different perspectives. These are Liberal, Radical and Marxist Feminism. Liberal Feminists state that sex role socialisation for males and females is achieved through magazines, TV, films, and other media outlets. The only way of changing the stereotypes which the media portrays is to challenge stereotypes in all areas of society.
They state that if there is a wide social change, it will take a while for the media to catch up. Radical Feminists argue that the male domination of the media means that it portrays images of women which it’s thought that men desire. Croteau and Hoynes (2000) found that in the mid-90s in America, only 6% of top management positions were held by women. Women wrote 19% of front page stories, and presented 20% of news reports on television. Radical Feminists argue that there is a patriarchal ideology within society, which is supported by the media, through portraying exaggerated stereotypes about men and women.
Even though it’s women who run women’s magazines, they have internalised the patriarchal ideology, and have learned to preserve sexist ideas, and pass them on to their readers. Marxist Feminism states that capitalism as well as patriarchy is to blame for the exploitation of women which is portrayed in the media. They claim that women’s bodies are used in order to sell products and support the capitalist system. Advertisements also often fragment women’s body parts, so that they don’t show the whole person. This further promotes the exploitation of women as they are seen as ‘objects’ within the media, rather than human beings.
Even though Feminists have different perspectives on the mass media, they do all tend to agree on certain points. They agree that women tend to be seen in domestic settings in the media, especially in the 1930s-1950s, where they were expected to take care of household chores, cooking and cleaning, and to look after the children full time. Women’s bodies tend to be highly sexualised in the media, and it has been normalised for women to be seen as objects of desire for men, rather than people. Women often aren’t the main character in a soap opera, or the main presenter of a TV programme.
They are there to support the male lead, and to provide light entertainment rather than having any real impact. Female news reporters usually cover soft stories such as entertainment, travel and education, whereas male reporters tend to cover the harder stories which cover issues such as politics, crime and the economy. Female newsreaders also had to give up their job after turning 35 until fairly recently, as they were seen as being in their prime before that age. On the other hand, male newsreaders could stay on for as long as they wanted. Women in the media also tend to be judged solely on their appearance.
For example, Ann Widdecombe receives a lot of negative press for being ‘fat’ or ‘not wearing enough makeup’ whereas males such as Alex Salmond would never be criticised in the media for his appearance, because it has nothing to do with the job he does. Women in general are often judged by their appearance rather than their personality, which is also rarely the case for men. There is an unrealistic standard in the media of women. It dictates that women should have flawless skin, and should be size zero, when in fact, this is borderline anorexic for most women.
An average sized woman (14-16 in the UK) very rarely makes it into the media. This leads to the point that images of women in the media are marginalised. Often, women in the media are white, slim, heterosexual and young. Other groups do not make it into the media as much, such as black women, homosexual women, and older women. Feminist theories address the issue of the false portrayal of women within the media. This point has been largely ignored by other theories of the media. They have also highlighted how stereotypes in the media shape the attitudes and behaviour of the audience.
However, they tend to overemphasise the impact of patriarchy, and the fact that there are opportunities within the mass media to change the projected image of women. Feminists also don’t agree on the cause of female exploitation in the media, and therefore have come up with different solutions, none of which they completely agree on. Ownership and control is a key feature in the mass media. Ownership of the mass media has become increasingly concentrated recently, with Rupert Murdoch owns over a third of newspapers in the UK, and another 40% owned between The Mirror Group Newspapers and United Newspapers.
This can be viewed as a problem, because the owners have control over what their newspapers print, and this then influences audiences. Concentration of ownership has also occurred in television, with Rupert Murdoch owning Sky TV. There has been debate over ownership and control of the media, mainly between the Marxist and Pluralist perspectives. Marxists state that the mass media is an agent of ideological control within society, used by the bourgeoisie to force its’ views and values on the proletariat. This view is backed up by Miliband in The State in Capitalist Society (1973).
Miliband argues that the media is an agent of capitalist control, and rejects the Pluralist view that the audience has genuine choice. He also argues that the media is controlled by capitalists, and therefore this is the ideology which is portrayed in the media, which then persuades the public to accept gross inequality. This study is good at pointing out political bias within the mass media, and questioning the impartiality of some corporations such as the BBC, who should be impartial by law. It is also strong in analysing the relationship between ownership of the media and its’ content.
However, it has been criticised for over emphasising the impact of the concentration of ownership. They ignore the fact that Murdoch has failed to purchase certain franchises, such as Channel 5, to avoid a monopoly ownership. The Marxist perspective also ignores the fact that audiences are able to make up their own minds, and aren’t always swayed by the media. On the other hand, James Curran in Mass Media and Democracy: A Reappraisal (1991) takes a Pluralist view and argues that the growth of the mass media reinstates the view that there is widespread choice, with a core public sector, combined with an expanding private sector.
Therefore the impact of ownership and control is insignificant when the diverse choice which exists is taken into account. This study is strong in recognising that the mass media in the UK has undergone major changes recently, although it ignores the fact that it is mostly owned by either wealthy individuals or large institutional shareholders. Another key feature in the mass media is bias. Bias can come in a number of forms. Over-representation is where certain groups receive more media coverage than others. In the UK, this tends to be white, middle-class heterosexual males.
Other groups within society are under-represented, such as females, homosexuals and ethnic minorities. Misrepresentation is where information is presented incorrectly, through misquoting a phrase, or misrepresenting one side of an argument in order to either show it in a more positive or negative light. This causes the audience to come to a false conclusion. Exaggeration means that the media makes an issue out to be more important than it really is. This may be used to scare the public into believing that something is more dangerous than it actually is.
Finally, omission is where information is withheld, and key facts are not included. The Government can be involved in bias within the media, because it tries to influence media content through manipulation of the media in order to promote Government policy, and it also restrains investigative journalism which opposes Government policy. The BBC’s license fees are set by the Government, and if it broadcasts something which the Government is in opposition to, this can have a knock on effect on the BBC. In 1988, Thames Television aired a documentary on the killing of 3 IRA members in Gibraltar,
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