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The argument that the media have an effect on political attitudes and opinions is certainly a contentious one. Although it would be virtually impossible to support a hypothesis that the media has no effect on British politics, it is also very hard to quan

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Introduction

'To what extent do the media determine political attitudes and opinions?' The argument that the media have an effect on political attitudes and opinions is certainly a contentious one. Although it would be virtually impossible to support a hypothesis that the media has no effect on British politics, it is also very hard to quantify the direct effect that it does have. First I am going to discuss the power of the media. To define this I think that the key word is 'influence', whether over the reader (in terms of how influential it is on their thoughts, attitudes and actions) or the government (In terms of influencing the fortunes of the party in office or opposition and the policies). Also one must decide who benefits from the power, whether it is the proprietor, the reader in terms of agenda-setting or, if one does feel that the government controls the media, it must personally benefit from the power. It seems obvious that in many ways the media is very powerful, one of the most highly publicised ways being electoral behaviour. Ownership of many of the newspapers is highly concentrated. 57% of dailies and 66% of Sunday papers are owned by two companies and because so many newspaper owners have multinational and diverse interests the sustaining of "unprofitable newspapers by cross-subsidization for political reasons" (Dunleavy; 1998) ...read more.

Middle

This theory "claims that the media do not create or mould public opinion, but merely reflect or reinforce it" (Budge & McKay,1998). Audiences (or readers), according to reinforcement theory, prefer to select the messages that appeal to them, and so market forces ensure that the media barons supply this to them. Surely people decide what they want to read and then buy a newspaper to reflect that ? Surely the reason that so many papers are of such a low standard and concerned only with personalities and sex scandals is because most people read papers to be entertained and that they watch television news to be informed? One could also argue that it is very patronising to assume that everyone believes all that they hear and read and that there is no concerted action between the government and the newspapers to shape the thoughts of the population. Also the newspapers are just as keen to 'expose' scandals concerning Conservative figures in government, if not more so, and the newspapers were not exactly fulsome in their support for Major. The logical result of this theory is a fairly toothless media, but not enough evidence exists to either prove or disprove this. The second major theory about press bias is agenda-setting theory, which states that the media help to set the political agenda, so while the media does not control what people think, it does influence what they think about. ...read more.

Conclusion

A third of the electorate think that the newspapers do show a political bias, compared to only ten per cent who believe the same about television (all statistics from Budge & McKay,1998) so the evidence does seem to be clear on this matter. To conclude I feel that it is beyond doubt that the media and broadcasting have a large amount of power and influence on our lives. The crucial question is though, who benefits from this power? The newspaper tycoons gain influence and have the opportunity to put their views across and to an extent the citizens of the country have some control as consumers. However I feel that the government can gain most from this situation by filtering information. In terms of accountability also, the BBC and other regulatory bodies are supposed to actually be accountable to Parliament (and therefore the citizens) but in reality are open to government manipulation in worrying ways. The media does indeed have influence over policy makers and can help to dictate government decisions. The level of this influence is however difficult to quantify and falls short of absolute power. The media, unlike the Houses of Parliaments and the Crown, have no rights under the terms of the British Constitution. If the media was ignored, it's significance would be zero. ...read more.

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