“It’s just hard not to listen to TV: it’s spend so much more time raising us than you have. “1 Taken from the television show, The Simpsons, this quotes said by Bart Simpson to his father, Homer Simpson, reflects the importance of television on children’s lives. In its 15 seasons, this prime-time show has depicted, in a parodic way, the life of working class American family. Nonetheless, as satirical as the Simpson family and the residents of Springfield might be, many of the subjects portrayed in the sitcom are “real”; such as, the influence of the media on people’s lives.
In this essay, the importance of television in democracies and the influence television has on politics will be discussed. At the same time, the control of the media will be analysed, in other words, what are the positive and negative aspects of public broadcast and private broadcast. According to the APP (American Academy of Pediatrics), “children in the United States watch about 4 hours of TV every day.
” On the other hand, according to Teen Health and the Media “the average teenager spends more time in front of the television than any other activity besides sleeping. 3 Finally, according to The Television Bureau of Advertising and the Nielsen Media Research, in 2003, adults spent 258. 4 minutes watching television per day. Therefore, there is no doubt the media, specially television, and increasingly, the Internet, influence people’s opinions. Advertisements, television characters, music videos, documentaries, movies and more, impress the public’s beliefs in various aspects; such as, religious convictions or political views on different issues.
Although “CSI”, “CSI Miami” and “Without a trace” have been the top three television shows in the United States4, the last presidential debate had 51. 2 millions viewers5. Thus, the media has a very important role in politics; but, on people’s perceptions of the political process as well. In today’s Western society, it is difficult to remain outside the political world; considering, domestic and international political issues are present on the everyday life. One may argue the media has positive effects on the public and others may argue the media has no positive effects whatsoever or no effects at all on individuals.
Yet, in democracies, television is essential in politics. According to Dr. Claude-Jean Bertrand, a professor at the French Institute of the Press in Paris, “the can be no democracies without informed citizens. There can be no informed citizens without quality news media. “6 Nonetheless, before the issue of the role media in democracies is examined, the theories about newsmaking and the theories about media effects will be briefly discussed in other to be able to understand the “two-faced” place media has in today’s society.
In the book, “The newsmakers, the media’s influence on Canadian politics”, the author, David Tarras, points out there are different schools of thought concerning newsmaking: the mirror model, the distorted mirror model, the ownership model, audience model, organization model, cultural model and political model. In the mirror model, journalist do not twist news and focus on the main events that are being reported; consequently, the mirror model informs the public accurately. On the other hand, there is the distorted mirror model; which gives distorted news to the public in order to “agree” with the journalist opinions and beliefs.
The ownership model maintains that “news are dictated primarily by the interest of the huge corporate empires that own so much of the Canadian media” (Tarras: 8). In the audience model, news are given according to what the audience wants to hear or see; however, the main goal is to entertain the public. In the organizational model “the structure and purpose of the organizations within which journalist work condition how the news is produced” (Tarras: 19). The cultural model aims to reflect and contribute to the culture of one’s country.
Finally, the political model in the one approach that sees the journalists as the main actor. In the political model, the journalist’s most important goal is to shape public opinion. Nevertheless, according to Tarras, there are two main theories about media effect on the viewers. The “magic bullet theory” and the “minimal effects” theory. The magic bullet theory maintains “media images could directly penetrate people’s conscious and unconscious thoughts” (Tarra: 27); while, the minimal effect theory argues “people watch or read selectively and in accordance with their previous beliefs” (Tarra: 28).
Nonetheless, according to the Marxist media theory, “media institutions are regarded as being ‘locked into the power structure, and consequently as acting largely in tandem with the dominant institutions in society. The media thus reproduced the viewpoints of dominant institutions not as one among a number of alternative perspectives, but as the central and “obvious” or “natural” perspective'”7 After looking at some of the theories about newsmaking, the importance of the media in democratic regimes will be established.
In democracies like Canada or the United States, freedom of speech is one of the most important values. In the political arena, the main benefits from “enjoying” free media are journalists inform the viewer with the most recent facts, provide the information voters need in order to make their decisions, the media lets the viewer see and at the same time, understand the problems faced in the community, journalists discover corrupt politicians, re-shape public opinion and allow the citizens to get more involved in politics.
However, in the past 20 years, the ownership and audience model of newsmaking have become very dominant in news coverage. Journalists are constantly looking for shocking news concerning politicians’ private lives. Also, news are shaped in a certain way that will not damage the social and economic order. But, the most important fact about distorted news is the public is misinformed and individuals are led to believe twisted or unreal facts about different political aspects.
According to “An introduction to government & politics sixth edition – A conceptual approach” by Mark Dickerson and Thomas Flanagan, there are four branches of media politics: public relations, the world of paid media or advertising, public opinion polling, and finally, direct mail. These four types of activities have become essential to politics. “Public relations, as managed by the so-called “spin doctors,” whose job is to release news stories to, and answer form, print and electronic reporters. Insiders refer to the world of daily news coverage as the unpaid media. “(Dickerson and Flanagan: 418).
On the other hand, paid media consist on advertisements paid by political parties. The commercials are carefully done, studied and prepared and their efficiency is measured. Public opinion polls are have very important. There are seven main types of polls which are frequently used in election campaigns (the bench-mark study, the follow-up survey, omnibus polls, panel surveys, tracking, the riding study and focus groups); however, many times, polls are used by the candidates to promote themselves or to misguide the voters. Finally, direct mail is advertisement send to the voters via mail.
However, there is one more type of media politics. Unpaid media has become very important in political campaigns. Televised presidential debates like the ones in the United States or televised prime-ministerial debates like the ones in Canada play an essential part in political campaigns. The debates are important because they address the general public and; in many cases, the debates “help” the indecisive voters decide who they will vote for. Paid advertisement can be divided in four categories: Leadership spots, testimonial, argument spot and the black negative add.
In the article “Campaign ads can mislead voters” by Liz Sidoti, the author shows the reader campaign ads distort candidates. For example, one of John Kerry’s ads maintained 3 million Americans lost their jobs during George Bush’s term; nevertheless, only 1. 8 million Americans lost their jobs. On the other hand, George Bush’s commercial states “John Kerry will raise taxes by at least $900 billion in his first 100 days in office”8; yet John Kerry never said he will raise taxes, besides, the figure is established on GOP calculations.
There are no federal regulations in campaign advertisements, which means, candidates are not required to tell the truth in the advertisements. On the other hand, in the 1988 prime-ministerial elections in Canada, the Liberal party most impacting ad was the “erasing the border” commercial which represented the fear many Canadians encountered to being taken by the United States. One the other hand, the Conservatives most impacting ad concerned Canada’s health care system.
According to the NPD, Canada’s health care system was in danger by Mulroney’s free trade deal. Both commercials were the argument spot type of ads. But, there is an interesting fact which differentiates American and Canadian political advertisement. According to David Tarras, black negative ads are not widely accepted in Canada because Canadians see black ads as a “hit below the belt. ” On the other side, Americans do not react negatively to black ads and they find them highly effective.
However, during election campaign, the public-owned media and the private-owned media have different roles. Some scholars argue public-owned media do nothing but “reflect” the government. In other words, public broadcast is biased and therefore, it favours and it supports the government. Nonetheless, if the media controlled by the government is impartial and “correct” there are no problems; for example, PBS in the United States, CBC or Radio Canada in Canada. Yet, one example of government dominated broadcast is the case of the USSR.
In this case, the Russian population had to watch a very biased television which supported the communist regime. Accordingly, other scholars argue private broadcast has become too commercial and less informative; consequently, public media is not a good source of information. Although private media provides the viewer with different views of various topics, there are some major problems with the ownership of private media. Big corporations have monopolised the market.