We are living today in an age where media not only dominates the coverage of all sorts of information but also affects our disposition towards different political objects and matters and hence affects the way affairs are dealt with and politics is practiced. This paper sheds light at some of the ways in which mass media shapes our attitude.
The end of feudal period and creation of nation states, led to a consolidation of a set of common rules that displaced common customs and traditions with uniformity of law. This also led to standardization of social life and privileges like education were no longer restricted to the elite and/or wealthy. Along with mass culture, socialization, urbanization, globalization, one of the most significant contributions to the development of mass culture was made by the emergence of mass communication; the emergence of electronic means of communication such as telegraph, telephone, radio, television, cable and satellite communication and personal computers make us all see the wider world out there in a similar way.
There are various different techniques that mass media uses to manipulate and shape our attitudes. A common opinion is that media today is known to present us with “covert opinion” (http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/med101.htm 1994 ) that is, disguised opinion. There are two types: In the first one, the reporter disguises the source of the opinion instead of the opinion itself so that it does not appear to be coming from him. In the second one he is the one interpreting but he presents the opinion in a devious, implicit and coded way so that it appears to be a fact rather than an opinion.
One way in which media affects our attitude is through the manipulation of language. An example where this technique is applied to the second category above is when reporters “hide behind anonymous sources of opinion” (http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/med101.htm 1994 ). Examples of phrases employed by the media using this technique can be observed throughout media coverage; phrases such as ‘critics feel..’ , “..critics believe..’, ‘…observers point out….’ , etc. I strongly believe that in this way the media reporter can force viewers to accept his opinion since these sources cannot be checked upon and are often taken on blind faith.
I feel that Another common example today of language manipulation is the variation in the use of phrases such as ‘natural’ or ‘seasonal’ disasters to ‘…the worst natural disaster in the history of mankind.’; this affects the disposition people develop towards a political affair which does not always reflect reality. “Euphemisms” are another instance of language manipulation and are a means of omitting the critical opinion of the organized society itself. Gentler and more indirect terms such as “…the government admitted there were problems..” are used to describe situations much more grave worthy of attention than merely being ‘problems’ , for instance, thousands of people being without food, water and shelter.
Apart from keeping some of the political views on the air, media often uses techniques to keep some off the air; conveying selected information is an example of one. I feel that a significant example of this would be how the extensive coverage/emphasis on the Katrina disaster in New Orleans was used to keep the riots that occurred in Iraq and resulted in massive number of people dying at that time, off the air. Also, I strongly feel, that at the time of the Katrina disaster, continual and extensive visuals of government/state action displayed how everything was being well managed and being dealt with on time.
However, in fact, it is known that the action was delayed and not prompt and adeuate; “Cindy Sheehan, Robert Kennedy, Jr., and many other liberal extremists are blaming the devastation in the south on President Bush. This is simply incredible. People are suffering and dying in the streets in New Orleans and other cities. This is not the time for politics, it is not the time to promote oneself by exploiting this tragedy. “( http://lighthouseblog.com 1994)
Another example of conveying selected information is the evasion, or suppression of a controversial issue. While mass media reporters might claim that they are covering both sides of the issue, they might actually be evading/suppressing crucially relevant information so that the coverage presents only one side of the controversy and may actually be displaying fake neutrality. Hence, using these examples as evidences, I strongly feel that using selective reporting, media can actually manipulate the reality, attitudes, opinions and disposition of people by deciding what to report, and how much to report of it.
Another body of techniques can be grouped under “glamorization” (http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/med101.htm 1994 ) where the reporter idealizes an individual, group or cause. This could include suppression of the negative aspects of an individual, group or cause, attacking opponents as immoral or unnecessarily enlarging the significance of the respective group, individual or cause. For example, I strongly feel that religious causes are particularly glamorized in Pakistan out of proportion, merely to hoodwink the common masses. The opposite of glamorization is a technique known as “deglamorization” (http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/med101.htm 1994 ) which employs various techniques to disapprove or undercut the moral character of the individual group or cause employing techniques such as humor, sarcasm, satire and irony.
Yet another group employed by media is the “editorialized structure” (http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/med101.htm 1994 ) which consists of burying or inflating material in accordance with reportorial sympathies. This group includes within it techniques such as ‘poison sandwich’ where the reporter sandwiches a favourable opinion about the candidate between a negative introduction and a negative conclusion. If skillfully done, it could actually cause the favourable opinion to go unnoticed. For example, during the anti-Nixon campaign, “..the reporter sandwiched Nixon’s triumphant reception in Philadelphia between a report on a catastrophe that never occurred and speculation about a failure that may have not occurred”. (http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/med101.htm 2005 ) The technique ‘sugar sandwich’ is known to be the opposite of the ‘poison sandwich technique’.
Another view of the dynamics through which media manages to shape our attitudes is “moneyed media” (http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/med101.htm 1994 ). I feel, that this particular phenomenon rests on Focault’s theory and philosophy of ‘knowledge is power’, in that it says that it is specifically the people owning the mass media who have the power; by controlling instruments/agencies of knowledge they control and manipulate power, and they have power because they possess the knowledge. So those who have power have the knowledge and ability to mould it according to themselves.
As with any private business, the mass media’s first obligation is to make money for their owners and so aim to sell advertising instead of serious accurate information. Hence, whatever is reported by mass media owning corporations is a reflection of what it’s maker/disseminations themselves believe in. Also, I feel that in accordance to Antonio Gramsci’s concept of ‘hegemony of power’, powerful people have keep reinforcing existing power structures through different societal institutions such as culture, education and of course, the mass media to get consent of those who are disempowered.
Hence, concluding, I strongly believe that mass media is indeed an extremely powerful tool; it is not at all apolitical. It is always biased and needs to be taken into account by general viewers while digesting information because it plays the extremely important role of shaping our attitudes and opinions; instead of information, it often conveys ‘disinformation’; that is, what we actually see as information may not actually reflect reality.
Lastly, although I feel that media is an agency which has an inherent bias developed in it, I also strongly believe that whether the viewer takes media as absolute truth or not depends largely on the circumstances they’re in. Hence I would say that passivity of the viewer is an option but definitely not a must and the viewer can negotiate his intake of information if subjected to adequate circumstances by being aware of this inherent bias in the agency of mass communication that shapes his political attitudes/values.
A clear demonstration of this is how the Pakistani population being under developed and having an inclination towards politics, does not take everything as media presents it. Partly, this is because media is state owned in our country and we inherently don’t trust the state. Whereas in America, being a developed country, there is political apathy amongst the general population which does not have much of political interests and hence generally takes whatever media presents as accurate and the absolute truth. Nevertheless, mass media continues to affect the attitudes of people all over the world at large.
* “Mass Media 101”. Media Analysis Group. 1994. 11 October 2005
< http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/med101.htm >
* Eagles, and Larry Johnston. “Political Culture.” Introduction to Political Science Reading package. Broadview P, 1999. 137-164.
* “The Politics of Katrina”. LightHouse Blog. 2005. 11 Oct. 2005 <http://lighthouseblog.com/>.