Budd and Ruben (1988) stressed that the absence of data sources signals mass media’s inevitable downfall and destruction. Once and for all, information is media’s main (product). Thus, it is pretty impossible for media organizations to deliver such (product) if there is an apparent lack of supplier. PR is therefore instrumental in sustaining media’s existence and survival. PR departments of business establishments can supply industry-based news and stories. Likewise, government agencies utilize PR to increase the public’s awareness about the government’s projects and endeavors.
Similarly, it can be noticed that advocacy and interest groups capitulated on public relations to voice out their views and opinions. However, while it is true that public relations aid the media in satisfying the market for information, it cannot be denied that PR’s sole purpose is still grounded on the principle of building publicity and creating massive media exposure. The marriage of press releases and news items make it too difficult and confusing for the public to distinguish plain news materials from press releases. The implications of the above-mentioned scenarios are pretty compelling and cannot be readily ignored.
For one, the dependence of media organizations on PR departments as news sources raises question regarding the quality of news production. For one, media practitioners are trained and expected to conduct heavy research and collect different news sources to ensure accuracy. Relying on a single source is a cardinal sin for many journalists and broadcasters primarily because news items must ensure that all angles of the story are presented. Relatively, this also served as a challenge to the degree of professionalism practiced by individuals that work in the media.
Data gathering and verifying information are essential routines in news production. This means that journalists and broadcasters are expected to go out of their comfort zones and look for socially relevant topics that serve the public’s interests. The notion that media practitioners should develop a keen eyes for details and nose for news, imply that media outfits must exert effort in providing news rather than merely sit and wait for PR handouts. But more than anything else, this situation readily surrenders mass media’s freedom.
Mutual connections of news organizations and PR departments manifest media’s subtle suppression and independence from the powerful influences of external environments. Indeed, PR departments, due to its strong links to business organizations, governmental agencies and even advocacy groups, now has the upper-hand in the overall process of how news is produced and delivered to the public (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006) . Drawing on Dahrendorf’s idea of power legitimacy, business establishments and government agencies have the authority to transform news materials into mere promotional or propaganda copies (Slattery, 2003).
These actors are well positioned in the social strata that grant them a good grasp of influence. The uneven distribution of authority and rule (Slattery, 2003) readily legitimizes the position of business organizations and government agencies in the social, political, cultural and legal hierarchy. PR subsequently becomes a tool for control and manipulation via exerting pressure to distort and fabricate news items. It is important to note that media outfits are also business endeavors that depend on profiteering to sustain their survival. Profit, in the media context is measured by high ratings and wide audience reception.
But this can be only achieved if newspapers and television programs alike have enough information to offer for public consumption (Craig, 2004). It is the information—the news stories that function as lifebloods of the media industry. When PR departments become involved in news making, they are very much capable of withholding data and information that leaves journalists and broadcasters at their mercy. This is most especially true in situations wherein corporate reputation is very much at stake. In these times, media practitioners must exercise neutrality and objectivity.
However, neutrality in this case does not work well for PR. One must readily take sides. What happens then is that journalists and news anchors are compelled to transform press releases into (well-researched) news reports that simply explain the sides of the affected party. However, a closer look into the matter shows that these simple explanations are no less than defense mechanisms that are pursued to protect capitalistic aims and orientations. Other business organizations would even push media practitioners to exaggerate press releases and resort to sensationalism (Whitaker, Ramsey & Smith, 2004).
On the other hand, government agencies can impose legal sanctions to influence news coverage and to a certain extent—silence media groups. These institutions can very much exercise censorship to dismantle media’s critical stand. This situation is highly evident in communities governed by extremely authoritarian regimes. Likewise, if government offices fail to garner favorable media attention, they can create their own media system and thus capitalize on PR. Nowadays, it is not too much of an extraordinary thing to see government agencies publish their own newsletters or newspapers (Franklin & Murphy, 1991).
A deconstruction of these media contents clearly show that campaign materials are readily expressed as news. Yes, these copies may well increase the public’s awareness. But news, in the truest sense of the word, is not self-serving. Apparently, this scenario manifests a blatant abuse of freedom of expression. However, press releases are also exploited by other media practitioners. This can be specifically observed in journalists and broadcasters who are active members of advocacy groups. Their ideological beliefs may very much interfere with the way they handle news stories.
Biases may occur in treating subjects that have differing opinions and perspectives. There are instances wherein released statements of their respective groups are customized to look like news items. But then again, no matter how noble the intentions are, this does not erase the fact that the public is deceived and mislead. The inability of media individuals to distance themselves from their respective affiliations is a subtle and unconscious way of placing more PR content in news items. The agenda-setting model states that mass media in general have the ability to dictate and redefine the audience’s perception (Botha et. al, 2007).
News organizations, regardless of the ethical standards that govern broadcast, print and online media can tell the public which issues should be considered important and which should be immediately dismissed as irrelevant. The agenda-setting function of media is manifested through giving focus and emphasis on particular subjects (Botha et. al, 2007). When certain events or personalities receive much media attention, the public is made to believe that these are important. It can be observed that majority of released news items are mainly concern on few large-scale issues.
Yet, it seems that there is diversity in newspapers and television news programs. But the truth is, these issues are simply dissected and articulated from different angles. Public relations officers know this very well and PR agencies are readily capitulating on these situations (Burns, 2002). Even though it is a common practice for news producers to identify news angles, this has been nonetheless, abused. Consequently, this scenario is also instrumental in the prevalence of unethical practices in mass media. These include biases, data fabrication, inaccuracy, and conflicting interests.
Under this context, news and media in general becomes a tool of the elite to retain their positions in the social and political ladder. Media becomes a hegemonic machine of the ruling class. This situation further reaffirms Althusser’s argument that media is part of the so-called “ideological state apparatuses or ISA (Fourie, 2007). ” Conclusion PR is indeed, a good source of news stories. However, there should be a clear distinction between press releases and news items. Media organizations must assert their independence and autonomy from certain groups that could very well affect news production.
It should be always remembered that providing relevant information is not synonymous to creating “praise releases. ” Ethical practices in the media must be strictly observed. The public’s demand for information should not be perceived from a business-oriented view. News stories are not commodities. The public needs to know because the public needs to make a decision. Media, more than anything else is accountable to the public, not to PR agencies. Reference List Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedoms. Connecticut: Yale University Press
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