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The ‘content’ of the newspapers Essay

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“The ‘content’ of the newspapers is not fact about the world, but in a very general sense ‘ideas’.” Fowler (Roger Folwer – Language in the News – Routledge – 1991 – Pg.1) In today’s society it would be naïve to assume that the news we receive is unbiased. It is safe to say the facts are reported if someone is murdered, the story maybe covered in the news, but the placement of the piece, emotive language used, duration or any other factors involved would immediately inform the audience to the merit of the story.

In effect dictating to the viewer the version of reality ‘they.,’ the media/government want us, the audience to see. The factors that govern what is reported are news valves and as it is recognised that this code of conduct exists we can, I personally feel, say that the media can, and does, reflect the political agenda or climate. The question of the news being created has been a topic of discussion since the dawn of media studies.

There are several different political theories or traditions of thought. The three I have chosen to concentrate on are the liberal, Marxist and pluralist theories. All to some extent see society as maintainable, they agree that the structure of society can be altered not by personal level events but by major structures, such as legalisation and reform.

To understand each theory better we must first look at how each theory or idea is applied to our society and in this case the construction of the news, starting first with liberalism. This body of thought was established by the end of the eighteenth-century. It’s economic theories favour the development of capitalism, seeing society as a group of ‘rational individuals in pursuit of their self-interest.’ Direction from the state is not needed, it’s job is merely to provide ‘external defence and internal order’. James Curran wrote: “A view of society as a system of class exploitation gave way to a new definition of reality in which different sections of the community were portrayed as being independent, with shared interest in common. The portrayal of labour as the source of wealth was replaced by the portrayal; of ‘profit’ as the mainspring of the economy.” ( Ed. James Curran – Mass Communication as a social force, in the media: Context of Study – Open University – 1997 – Pg.51)

They believe that talent is rewarded in a society where people are free and equal, the state is merely there to regulate the individuals personal freedom. The mass media is seen as accurate and reliable, run by groups of talented entrepreneurs, it should not be state run, but if necessary, sensibly regulated. Pluralism takes a more simplistic approach it depicts the message of the media as a circuit from ‘society as source’ to ‘society as audience’ it doesn’t believe news is created it accepts news values exist but hold them as a reflection of current public attitudes. The news is not ‘constructed’ the media, having no power, being used only to confirm and uphold the preconceived beliefs of society. Sir Nick Lloyd, the then editor of The Daily Express, was interviewed in 1991 by Nina Arnott for a communication studies project entitled Political Bias in the Press, he was reported as saying: “You can only get over to your own readers. The Express has four and a half million. That’s only a small percentage of the electorate and if people buy newspapers that reinforce their political view then you won’t change much.” (Stuart Price – Media studies – Longman – 1996 – Pg.374)

This mode of thought sees the audience as educated and selective and understands, unlike some effect studies, for example the hypodermic syringe or magic bullet that the audience is not passive and the message not direct, that ideas cannot be simply injected into the consciousness of an audience. The Marxist theory is more complex and can be broken into many subsections. Marxism, unlike liberalism, doesn’t support the idea that competition leads society onwards. Marx argued that workers co-operation would lead to a better future. He was concerned with the class system. Those who owned factories or shops, the bourgeoisie were comfortably supported by the labour of others. He wanted a society not controlled by the division between capital and labour. Marxism states that we live in a capitalist society divided into classes broadly speaking, working, middle and ruling classes. The power in society is found in the state, the mass media only exist to uphold the capitalist state in power.

The Marxist manipulative model, as its name suggests, believes the news is constructed and in some cases invented to influence public opinion and change society for political gain. The hegemonic model was developed by Antonio Gramsci he believed that the media whether knowingly or not is used to promote beliefs and ideologies of the dominant class in society. The masses, working class, need to believe that the views they are being given support their existing beliefs. The media does create the news and reality is being constructed not to bring about change but to maintain the balance of the governing body. The ruling ideas become the ideas of the whole society to allow capitalism to survive. Chomsky extended the hegemonic model instead of the media reflecting the dominant views of the elite, he thought the media was the elite. A countering view that could destroy the hegemonic model is that technology will and is shaping society’s views and beliefs. New technologies are allowing more people not just the elite to promote their ideas via the Internet or cheaper more accessible equipment. If this were the case the elite would no longer own the means of control and capitalism could fold if the masses were no longer spoon fed by the dominant class.

The theories of the Frankfurt school are another take on Marxism. They see the news as created and reality as constructed but instead of seeing society as a sponge and the masses merely absorbing the message, it believes there are differing levels of attention. Resistance to the message is found against marginal groups believing the sub-groups such as the young, ethnic minorities or women are less susceptible to the message. Regardless of whether the media constructs the news the effect on the audience will differ. Over the years many theories have been developed and documented to help understand the effect of the message on the audience, these are known as the effects studies. There are two I have chosen to look at in brief, they are the two step flow theory by Katz and Lazarfeld, inoculation theory and the psychodynamic effects study as well as earlier mentioning the hyperdermic syringe or magic bullet theory. The two step flow theory by Lazarfeld Berelson and Gaudet studied the 1940 US presidential election. It was based on the stimulus-response theory leaning on uses and gratifications. It proved inadequate so Katz and Lazarfeld published a new edition of the model. It highlighted the concept of opinion leaders who pass the message from the media, to the less active members of society.

This theory sees the opinion leader as a go between from the elite/media to the opinion leader to the masses. The inoculation theory believes that continued exposure to a specific message can lea to desensitisation. When we are continually bombarded with pictures of starving children in the third world, they do stop existing in an emotive sense and we do, to a degree, become desensitised to the original message. The phychodynamic effect is an extension or modification of the original cause and effect thesis. It recognises the importance of the interpretation by the individual. The effect of the message depends on the internal psychological structure of the individual. The effect studies help us to understand if, and how, manipulated society can be. Even if the news is trying to convey a particular message to maintain balance, effects change or merely agree with existing beliefs, we have to understand that everyone will process the information differently. With this taken into account there is a code of conduct that allows journalists to pick stories on set valves, that will give the clearest message, so no matter how it is processed the end outcome of a piece is constant. The operation of the selection of news is known as news valves.

These are ideas or assumptions that form the ideological background to the work of those involved in gathering the news. A number of writers have categorised the valves, none more concisely than Brain Dutton, who concludes that there are twelve main valves. These range from continuity, frequency and unexpectedness to unambiguity and reference to elite nations. They help to define whether a story is newsworthy; it would be if it had one or more of these elements. A story may have some or most of the news valves yet still not be newsworthy. Philip Jones- Griffiths a journalist during the Vietnamese conflict was interviewed by the photographic magazine 10/8 for a piece entitled Vietnam after the apocalypse No. 5/6 Spring 1981. He remarked: ‘If I had gone back to Saigon and into one of the agencies and had said, “I’ve got a story about Americans killing Vietnamese civilians,” they would have said, “So what’s new?” it was horrible, but certainly not exceptional, and it just wasn’t news.’ (Stuart Price – Media Studies – Longman – 1996 – Pg.207) This statement clarifies and answers the question, in my opinion; yes the news is constructed.

It is hard to pick just one political stance as I agree to some extent with all of them. The manipulation model and Marxist theory is closest to my view but it does not take into account the viewer’s understanding of the media. I feel, as I am aware there is a selection process to what is shown and an unbiased view cannot exist, as a viewer I am less susceptible to the message than others may be. I think we should question what we are told and consider carefully who will benefit. The more man evolves the quicker we are to manipulate the views of others for political, monetary or consumer gain. It has become such an art that we tend not to see it is happening.

We should be vigilant and make sure that the control does not lie prominently in the hands of a few elite. The immense power of the media especially the news should be carefully welded. As long as we understand the greater implications and see there may be a hidden agenda or something more manipulative afoot. The London Correspondent for CNN, Richard Blystone once said: “If you go to TV for your only news, then you’re lazy. If you go to TV for the truth, then you’re a loony.” (Stuart Price – Media Studies – Longman – 1996 – Pg.78)


Ed. James Curran – Mass Communication as a social force in history: in the Media Context of Study (Open University – 1997) Stuart Price – Media Studies (Longman, 1996) J. Hartley – Understanding News (Methuen, 1982) Roger Folwer – Language in the News *Routledge – 1991) S. Hall – The Manufacturing of News (Owen and Young, 1981)

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