Term Paper: Mass Media and Politics

Pages: 8 (2565 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] The Commission also referred to the three major and crucial responsibilities of the press that are central to its political role-- to provide true and undistorted information, educate the public to make them capable of self-government, and to serve as a watchdog on government. Another function of the press is to represent the various segments of the society as they are represented in the public life.

Thus, independent, and critical functioning of the media is essential to an informed democracy. However, in this regard, America presents a very uninspiring scenario. With U.S. media channels being owned and operated by profit oriented corporations and backed by corporate advertisers, independent and unbiased journalism is incongruously compromised. The effect is visible is democratic decision making, in that the voter participation in elections has reached an all time low, with people becoming ignorant of the social issues and as a result less interested in the democratic process. In the United States, the eleven largest and most prominent media corporations -- General Electric Company (NBC), The Walt Disney Company (ABC), Viacom Inc. (cable), Time Warner Inc. (CNN), The News Corporation Ltd. (Fox), Washington Post Co., New York Times Co., Westinghouse Electric Corporation (CBS), Gannett Co. Inc., Knight-Ridder Inc., and the Times Mirror Co - present a signification part of the news information systems, constituting almost the entire source of information for a large section of society. (Bagdikian, 1983) The danger lies in the fact that collectively they represent the vested interests of a major part of the corporate sector in America and also share an ideology which has common elements in free market capitalism, internationally protected copyrights, economic growth, and a government which is dedicated towards protecting of their interests. Added to it is the fact of the conflicting goal of maximizing profits with that of the essence and practice of responsible journalism.

Recently the news industry has also undergone major mergers and the trend is increasing, which further limits the accessibility of different viewpoints to the mass media. The increasing concentration of ownership of the media houses has obviously resulted in a reduction of the diverse and dissimilar views, which often forms the basis of informed decision making in democratic set ups. (Bagdikian, 1983) With the news media essentially held by large conglomerates, having business presence and interest in many other industries, fair journalism is almost impossible and the true facts seldom reach the public. News media seldom permit a critic of corporate power involved in progressive movements to voice his concerns in mass media debates. News is often distorted due to vested interests, leaving the participants in a democratic government handicapped in making the right decisions.

Though both the government and the media in the United States claim that they are independent of each other, a close observation of their policies and standpoints reveal differently. The U.S. media in most cases follow the stance of the Government. And the extent of debate in a national issue or controversy is often restricted to those of Republican or Democratic parties alone, an both present their versions of the issue, protecting their own interests seldom provide the viewers with a full range of debate, exposing the pros and cons of the issue in true light. Moreover, the owners, media executives and reporters of the major media houses also, by and large, share the same worldview, has the same background, and belong to the same income range of their counterparts in politics.

This often leads to their socialisation with legislators and government official, resulting in the so-called 'unholy nexus' and basis of the news often form government sources (Cook, 1998) corrupting each other in the dissemination of their duties. It is a well-known fact that the most influential media companies regularly make large donations to both major political parties, and in return receive millions of dollars in the form of payments for running political advertisements. (Graber, 2000), With such background, it is quite obvious that corporate media houses would not be inclined to displease the government officials who also hold the authority to regulate their businesses. This eventually leads to the 'independent' news media to be the mouthpieces of their respective political affiliates, corrupting free and fair journalism, essential to the functioning of democracy.

Governments all over the world have a vested interest in checking the free flow of information and official censorship is often resorted to so that the interests of the government is protected. In the United States, media being in the hand of large corporations, the source of censorship is not directly the Government, but the corporations themselves. The reform of media in the United States creates covert forms of censorship that are equally detrimental as overt censorship by Governments. Apart from the major reasons of corporate and business interests for censorship, the most common form of censorship is self-censorship by the journalists in their endeavor to please the management. Such irresponsible and reprehensible stance by the journalists, in private media, result in the non-representation of social issues with the required focus and importance. Then increased focus of news stories on celebrity events, sex scandals crime are a reflection of media's commercial and profit motive, but in this mayhem what is left behind, are the much required analytical news on vital social issues.

For a true democracy to function in America, and for that matter any country, requires an informed electorate and a committed watchdog press. Freedom of information and the responsibility of the press in keeping the public informed are longer the basis of policy issues addressed by the press, if at all, its only lip serviced. Media owners are often oriented towards pleasing corporate advertisers and upper middle class citizens, in their quest for profit. And the trend is damaging the U.S. democracy.

References

Ben Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly, 6th ed. Beacon Press; 1983

Cass Sunstein Republic.com, Princeton University Press, New York, 2002

Doris Graber. Media Power in Politics, 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. 2000.

Timothy Cook. Governing With the News: the News Media as a Political Institution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1998. [END OF PREVIEW]

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