Thesis: Media Influence and Political World

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Media Influence and the Political World

The work of Croteau and Hoynes (2003) entitled: "Media Society: Industries, Images and Audiences" states that if one is to better understand media then it is important to understand "the political environment in which they operate. This becomes obvious when we consider the drastic differences between media in a democratic society and those in totalitarian nations." However, it is the position of the writer of this work that even in democratic societies media influence may be characterized by the promotion of a "narrow set of government-sanctioned images and messages." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

When such as this occurs in a democracy then the audiences in the democratic nation, just as those in other nations must become "...adept at reading between the lines." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003) Croteau and Hoynes note in some democratic societies "the media are largely controlled by a relatively small group of powerful interests -- commercial corporations. In those cases, it is corporate domination of media, rather than government control, that is of most concern." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

I. Politics and Media: A Mutual Impact

Croteau and Hoynes write that political forces and most especially regulations of the government play a role that is significant in "shaping the environment within which media organizations operate." (2003) In fact, even where federal laws make a requirement or alternatively prohibit certain actions "the constraints of government regulation do not determine what media organizations will do. Instead, the media sometimes ignore, reinterpret, challenge or preempt regulation." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

II. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is reported as being historically a "firm enforcer, in large part because of the complexities of its relationship to the U.S. Congress and to the media industries it is supposed to regulate." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003) Resulting is that regulations concerning communications and in this case, media broadcasts are often ignored due to the lack of consequences for having committed the violation. Additionally complicating the matter is that government regulations are "almost always subject to interpretation, giving media organizations the power to read regulations in ways that match their broader agendas." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

Croteau (nd) reports that the 1996 Telecommunications Act eased restrictions on media ownership and this has lead to more concentrated patterns of ownership. The following table lists the previous rules as compared to the new rule changes that occurred in 1996.

Figure 1

Select Ownership Rules Changes in the 1996 Telecommunications Act

Source: Croteau (nd)

Croteau and Hoynes writes that Saturday morning broadcasting, is governed under a 2001 FCC rule that noncommercial stations "are required to use their digital capacities primarily for noncommercial educational programming." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003) Naturally public broadcasting media were satisfied with this ruling as this lessened the competition however, the FCC failed to define precisely what constitutes educational programming resulting in cartoons such as "The Flintstones and The Jetsons" being included in educational programming. (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003, paraphrased)

However, it must be understood that when the government sincerely desires the enforcement of regulations and laws governed under the FCC it is "quite adept at controlling the content of news reports..." through regulating access to information. One such case was that of the Persian Gulf War in which there is stated to have been "little need for more direct censorship because the government had a near monopoly on the strategic resource -- information that news organizations required." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

It was however reported that "A handful of enterprising journalists ignored military restrictions in an effort to gather independent information, and a group of alternative publications took legal action against the Pentagon for restricting access so tightly." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003) This is suggestive of a third venue that media organizations can take in pursuing the change constraints of regulation of media by the government. If, the resources are available for the media organization who wants to challenge the government regulations or have them rescinded completely the media "can adopt a legal strategy, challenging the constitutionality of specific regulations, or they can use a political strategy, lobbying potentially supportive politicians and threatening opponents in an effort to win new legislation more to the liking of their industry." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003) Media industries may also "preempt external regulation by engaging in a public form of self-regulation." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

Voluntary adoption of program ratings is a strategy used by television broadcasting networks that provide "age-appropriate and content ratings for television programs. Croteau and Hoynes state that media organizations "ultimately...do not fully determine the actions of media professionals and neither are they compliant in the face of political constraints. In both cases, media personnel are active agents, making decisions and pursuing strategies within particular economic and political frameworks." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

Croteau and Hoynes relate that sociologist Howard Becker (1982) stated "producing art requires elaborate cooperation among specialized personnel." (2003) The same can be said about "the production of media content" according to Croteau and Hoynes who hold that whether the discussion is surrounding films, books, music, magazines, radio, newspapers or television, "the production and distribution of the message." It has been argued by some that "...the behavior of media personnel is shaped by the 'needs' of an organization. In other words, maintaining the existence of an organization points different individuals within that organization in the same direction." (2003)

The problem is how is it that one would go about assessing that which the organization needs in order to sustain itself? Stated to be another way that one might account for the "collaboration of media workers is to suggest that they must negotiate the terms of their cooperation before each new endeavor. This approach emphasizes the capacity for independent action, but it ignores the constraints under which media personnel labor." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

Becker (1982) speaks of the historical, traditional, and conventional methods and processes, and procedures by which that which is deemed both appropriate and acceptable these become known as a practice of technique and commonly referred to as a 'convention' because it is "widely used in a field." Identification of something as conventional is stated to be much "easier to identify...than it is to explain the source and meaning of the conventions that govern news reporting, pop music, or advertising." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003) Conventions are stated to be found "in all spheres of media..." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

III. Defining "News"

In order to fully examine the impact or influence of politics upon media and of media upon the shaping of politics it is necessary to ask the question of just what is 'news'? Croteau and Hoynes states that the individual generally does not ask this question very often as the answer "seems self-evident: News is information about recent important events." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003) The definition of news is not generally explored as this question is left to the professional journalists to answer and the result is "we rely no journalists to make judgments about what is or is not important, or newsworthy, and to provide us with factual accounts about these newsworthy events." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003) In order to better understand what really constitutes the 'news' it is necessary to understand how journalists form their judgments and construct their accounts." (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003)

Croteau (nd) writes that the Select Media and Telecommunications PAC Contributions to Federal Candidates 1999-2000 were as shown in the following table.

Figure 1

Select Media and Telecommunications PAC Contributions to Federal Candidates (1999-2000)

Source: Croteau (nd)

The work of Shanthi Kalathil (2002) entitled "Chinese Media and the Information Revolution" relates the story of a small tin mine in Guangxi province that flooded in July of 2001 and many miners were trapped and lost their lives. Kalathil states "What followed became emblematic of a growing trend in China. Amplified by the information revolution, the story itself became the story. Neighborhood media outlets, cowed into silence by local authorities' intent on covering up casualties, e-mailed their version of events to regional journalists, who scrambled to the city to investigate. Subsequently, regional papers began to report on hundreds dead and missing, even while the official Xinhua news agency remained silent. Those reports were circulated by Chinese Internet users and web portals, allowing the story to spread nationally, until even the venerated and politically correct People's Daily followed up on the story. The central government ultimately felt compelled to send an investigative team, resulting in the mine owner's arrest." (Beach, 2001 in: Kalathil, 2001)

According to Kalathil the Chinese media has undergone a transformation from the time when it "...functioned strictly as an ideological Party mouthpiece and government cheerleader. At the same time, its evolutionary trajectory remains unclear. No longer simply part of the propaganda apparatus, the country's media is still far from functioning as an impartial observer and commentator. Amidst the economic and political aftershocks of WTO membership, the country's media sector is struggling to reflect and keep pace with the changes… [END OF PREVIEW]

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