Role of the British Media in Contemporary Politics

Term Paper, 2010

12 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Media as a Transmitter of Political Information Shaping Public Views

3. Media as an Implementer of Governmental and Other Interest Groups Directives
3.1. Influence and Delusion of Public by the Media
3.2 Making Use of the Media for Own Purposes

4. Media and the Declining Political Debate

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The question about how media institutions should function in Great Britain has currently been raised. The liberal media theorists suggest the key concepts according to which the media in a democratic society should work. The media should provide fair information which helps the citizens to form their own views and actions. They should be independent of economical and governmental influences. A watchdog should control the media and protect the formation of the content agenda set by the media against impact of governments and particular interest groups. The media should also present a plurality of views and involve public in debate (cf. Bennet 1982: 31f; Christians et. al. 2009: 91f). However, this essay will show that the British media institutions do not always follow those concepts and they work differently in practice. It confirms that Marxist theories which incline to the presence of ideological views in the media agenda still have influence in a democracy nowadays.

The first part of this essays deals with the role of the media as a provider of political knowledge. The mass media play an important role in the formation of public views, because of being a basic institution that provides the communication between politicians and the public. But the misrepresentation of politics through the media shapes negative views on politics and makes people doubtful towards political system. The second part of this essay is concerned with the media as an implementer of governmental directives. The media institutions often undergo the influences of the political economy and governments, and the media output is to some extent formed under their impact. The broadcasters distributing State propaganda and tricking the public serve the government. Although there are institutions aiming to protect the media content against the external impact, the governments and depositors still have access to the broadcasting and press. The third part of the essay deals with the media as an agent of majority of views. But despite of the representation of plurality of views, the media agenda is unable to develop political debate among the citizens. Although the public receive sufficient information about different sides of political life, the interest in traditional politics is declining and the political debate as well. In other words, despite of being a great provider of political knowledge, introducing a plurality of views and being controlled by a watchdog, the British media do not fulfil the major key points of the liberal media theory.

2. Media as a Transmitter of Political Information Shaping Public Views

According to liberalists, the primary role of the media is to transmit information to the citizens which helps them to shape their own views (Christians et. al. 2009). The media plays an important role in the formation of views and attitudes towards politics. Smith suggests that television is a great provider of the knowledge that serves the audience: “the broadcasting environment of a society is an element in the political environment and has responsibilities to it, not merely to reflect but to sustain it” (1978: 96 cited in Garnham 1990:101), he adds that the broadcasting is “the basic structure by which politicians communicate with people” (1978: 98 cited in Garnham 1990:101).

However, the way of political presentation through the media can form negatory views on politics. Garnham argues that the structured views provided by the media “… set limits upon the range of attitudes that people can adopt” (1990:100). He suggests that people are mistrustful to politics because of the content and form of agenda and the way of how politics is presented: “[i]t breaks politics down issue by issue rather than on a basis of coherent ideologies; it reaches people individually […] in their homes rather than at work” (1990: 97). The media continually searching for the breaking news present political events incoherently and unexplained, which leads to the misunderstanding of political affairs. Similarly, the broadcasts give only a limited presentation of the political process during which politicians make cooperative decisions even when campaigns take place. The time is limited to several minutes during which the politicians apply to the audience. Thus, the news report became more important than the political process itself. The news partly consisting of the issue agenda constructed by the broadcasters can affect public opinion, because their agenda can carry political ideologies towards which people are incredulous. Moreover, the media do not centre on the House of Commons where political debates take place, but on the party leaders who depict the image of their party. (cf. Jones & Kavanagh 2003: 106). And the focus is rather on the leader than on the party, so to say, the media focus on the elite group of the government. In cases where the public is not satisfied with the leaders’ performance on TV, their style and manner of speaking, the party image can suffer, because the negative judgments of the leader can be transformed on the whole party.

There are many other examples of the media’s failure to present the government from different perspectives. For example, Hennessy and Walker criticize the Lobby saying that “[i]ts political reporting in both newspapers and the broadcast media, has remained Parliament bound […]” (1996:112). Thus, the Lobby’s news reflecting Prime Minister’s conclusions and avoiding political discussion is presented for the government rather than for the public. There is also no imperious convincing address to the audience but” …relaxed television performances where politicians strive to persuade us of their competence, commitment, [and] sincerity…” (Jones & Kavanagh 2003: 108), so the public do not seriously perceive the appeals of politicians. In addition, the tabloid press frequently attacks the personal life of politicians presenting their wrong-doings with exaggeration and triviality, and undermining the reputation and authority of those politicians. Such media output causes futile attitude and growing skepticism towards politics. But also the information presented on television and in the press is distributed irregularly: Dahlgren reports that “[there is] a correlation between newspaper reading and political knowledge; those who use only television as a source of news clearly fare less well in this regard” (2000: 323). Harrop also comments on the allocation of information in the media and press saying that, despite of the fact that television has become the major source of the news, the serious-minded newspapers are concerned with basic information, whereas the less serious press makes its own prejudices (cf. 1996: 51). This implies that the audience lacks the background knowledge about politics and consequently is unable to make objective judgments; and the media mostly affect the people who seldom discuss political issues and have limited knowledge about it.

3. Media as an Implementer of Governmental and Other Interest Groups Directives

3.1. Influence and Delusion of Public by the Media

Another concept defining liberal media is that they should be free from the influence of economics and the government (Bennet 1982). But some writings suggest that political economy plays role in the formation of media output. Chomsky reports that business community wastes a lot of money on the public relations industry, it regulates the media and has massy resources (cf. 2002: 24f). Dahlgren argues that there is a connection between the media content and declining interest in traditional politics:” […] commercial pressures of the media’s political economy foster a drift towards sensationalism, trivialization, [and] personal drama […]” (2000: 313). The media nowadays put more emphasis on personalities and their appearance. Budge and others criticize the formal political economy because of its pressure on politicians rather than on political process. Their presentation on the “scene” has become more important then the content of their speech. Thus, “[m]any politicians now go to TV ‘charm school’ that train them to speak, smile and dress correctly” (Budge et. al. 2007: 307).

In addition, the media fulfil the governmental “wishes” distributing State propaganda. Their role is to influence and to bypass the public. According to Chomsky, the population must be just “spectators” in a democracy, be obedient and passive. The people should be distracted and marginalized without having a possibility to form an organization that is dangerous to democracy (cf. 2002: 17, 31, 33). Garnham on the basis of Blumler’s data also supports the idea of distracted population saying that Britain is “…a society in which people are being driven into a position of social atomism and into a politics that results from that atomism “(1990:91). And all this is achievable through the media control. Similarly, the media tricks the public in order to cover governmental offence. For example, you don’t find much information in the media about foreign matters, such as unlawful occupancy of territory or human rights misuse. Or another example is that the media report bad news about violence and crime, or propagate “[…] international terrorists and narcotraffickers and crazed Arabs […] and the new Hitler […]” (Chomsky 2002:44) in order to distract the public from the domestic problems, such as poverty or declining educational standards. According to Chomsky, the media introduce us the different image of reality:”[…] the picture of the world that’s presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality” (2002:37), and that means that the media do not take into account the interests of the citizens.


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Role of the British Media in Contemporary Politics
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
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role, british, media, contemporary, politics
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Alina Müller (Author), 2010, Role of the British Media in Contemporary Politics , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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