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Thursday, 19 September 2013

What is the Medias Role today?

In order to understand the following very different theories on Media we need to understand that the media, 70 years ago, was incredibly different from today’s mass of media outlets. Radio and Newspapers were the key media in the 1940’s and 50’s. From the early 1980’s however, satellite helped to globalize news via television. The birth of the internet also opened up even more media avenues than ever previously possible. In this essay we will look briefly at the audience response to media today and I will be comparing the Marxist Theory against the Pluralist Theory whilst discussing what the role of the media is in today’s world according to both perspectives.

Marxists state that Ownership is causing bias in the media due to the beliefs and attitudes of the owner. They state that many companies are involved in synergy which helps to mass advertise their products. Marxists also argue that every epoch is ruled by ruling class ideas, from your tribal chief to today’s Corporation owner. In Marxism this argument along with the following statement from Ben Bagdikan, stands as a testament in the issue of how the media impacts society. Ben Bagdikan (1997) stated that if each of the USA’s newspapers, magazine, broadcast stations, book and film studios were owned individually, there would be 25,000 registered owners. There are in fact only ten major corporations that dominate the American media.

The Glasgow Media Group, carried out research “War and Peace” (1985) and “Getting the Message” (1993) shows the media from the traditional Marxist viewpoint, unlike their earlier research which focused on the Neo Marxism Hegemony theory. The Glasgow Media Group has been conducting research studies on television news since the early 1970’s. The aim of these two particular studies was to evaluate media content and show how this was communicated to the audience. The method included the group analyzing hundreds of television news programs, evaluating the content and how it was delivered. They concluded consistently that the language used within the programs was ‘ideologically loaded’ and would influence an audience. They also concluded consistently that Visuals are similarly loaded with ‘connotative codes’ and that the programs agenda set was to report on the impacts to the audience rather than report on the cause of the event, such as a strike. It was also concluded that the powerful do have more access to the media and that there was a pressure on journalists to broadcast from the establishments viewpoints even if this did not reflect the journalists own view. There is however some criticism from the pluralist perspective, for example, they argue that many journalists attempt to expose the unacceptable capitalist; they use The Watergate scandal (40 years ago) and the Tory sleaze campaign (23 years ago) which helped to remove several MP’s from the benches (these two examples are relatively outdated examples in comparison to today’s media sources and ownership issues). There is a key strength, however, in all of the research that the Glasgow Media Group has conducted overall. This strength is that they have taken much of their studies from a Media deliverance point of view but have also looked at the audience receiving the message in later studies. These show clear UN-bias of the research of these studies.

The Pluralist as you can see from previous criticisms of Marxist views, has another perspective which states that the media is diverse and all society have equal access. They put the impact of the media solely in the hands of the audience.

Katz & Lazarsfeld (1955), carried out the “personal influence” study based on data collected (in 1945) and concluded that the media, in general, have a rather limited influence. They argue that this is because the mass communication process can be impacted by five variables. The Variables are described as the following; one, the type of medium used to convey a message can impact on how the audience perceives it. They go on to state that based on technological advancements some may only have access via certain mediums, i.e. radio. Two, variable exposure is how much you are exposed to that information, such as hearing it on radio and from friends or in newspapers. Three, the nature of the content can also impact how the audience responds to the information. Four, the audience’s beliefs and attitudes can also modify or distort the message being given. Five, lastly, they argue that Leaders or opinion makers can also mediate the message, such as a wife voting the same way as her husband does. From a Marxist perspective this research could be criticised from a view that it was funded by one of the most influential corporations of its time. It was in fact, funded by the Rockerfella Foundation (who supported Lazarsfeld to emigrate to the USA and secured his role as the director of the Princeton Office of Radio Research). The Marxist would also argue that the beliefs and values of the audience are in fact influenced by the media message, based on ownership bias and message delivery. They would also argue that the data used for the research was outdated as it was taken from data ten year previously.

There are assumptions in both theories that we also must look at before looking at any further weaknesses in each theory. The Pluralist Theory of putting the audience in charge of their acceptance of the information given is logical; however, when you consider that the assumption here is that the audience has a perfect knowledge of everything this is not something that is possible. From a Marxist perspective this assumption can only be applied to fringe groups, however in today’s media these fringe groups are often ridiculed to re- adjust focus back to the ruling class idea. This then suggests that information given by the media is not equal or diverse. From the Marxist perspective it is assumed that the audience suffers from a false consciousness and therefore believe everything the media tells us. Fringe groups, however, thanks to the internet, are growing and more “truth seekers” are appearing daily. Choice of information on the internet can be checked and accepted willingly by the audience. This does, to some effect, weaken the false conscious theory, however when you consider that Marx himself states that it is inevitable that the working class will revolt, these appearing Fringe groups actually support that more working class or audiences are “awakening” ready to fight back against today’s media system.

Each theory criticizes the other in what we see as an objective, sociological way however we still need to understand that the media, 70 years ago, was incredibly different from today’s mass of media outlets. Television was a very new concept and access to this media type was limited to the upper class or Cinema houses at that time. Radio and Newspapers were the key media avenue to their audiences in the 1940’s and 50’s. From the early 1980’s however, satellite has helped to globalize the news and world issues. You can turn on your Television to choose from 100 channels or more at any time and have instant access to any type of programming you want. Now from a Pluralist perspective this does give the diversity that they discuss. It soon becomes apparent however that many of these channels are in fact owned by the same people, In other words, the rich have the monopoly on what we see. In the early 90’s however the birth of the internet was a global household phenomenon which has opened up even more media avenues for the audience. Now with the “truth seekers” having access to this type of medium it has caused much displeasure to, as Marx would label, the ruling class. Marxists argue that the logic of Capitalism dictate the contents and effects of the mass media within society however Pluralists state that it is the beliefs and attitudes of the audience that impact on how the media message is received and dealt with that impacts society.

In conclusion, looking at the pluralist theory we see the role of the media is to inform and educate all audiences equally but as I sit writing this essay, listening to a song written about the media very recently, the words repeated in the chorus are “therapy, advertising causes therapy……advertising’s got you on the run” (System of a Down, Steal this album, Chic n Stu, Serj Tankian, 2010), I have to question this theory for two main reasons. Its information comes from a time where media was miniscule in comparison to today’s media outlets and as proven by Ben Bagdikan, also concluded by the Glasgow Media Group, Ownership is indeed centralised and biased. It is therefore logical to conclude that Marxists have a much better understanding of the media and its role today, in this instance, this tells us that the role of the media today is to supply the audience with ruling class ideas (influencing and pressuring the audience - the consumer),to keep capitalism as the key priority for the ruling class.