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Do the Media have the power to shape public opinion?

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Introduction

Do the Media have the power to shape public opinion? With the rise of the mass media throughout the world, predominantly the Western world, the issue of media influence has become a serious one. With state and capitalist controlled media industries throughout the world how can we be sure that what we are being told is accurate or even true at all? The many forms of media only serve to accentuate such influences; Rupert Murdoch for example owns a huge portion of the British media industry. With his obvious personal interests and huge influential powers is there really anyway of being certain that the media are not just projecting his personal slant upon reality to ensure civil obedience to serve his capitalist interests. The same is true of state controlled media such as in China where people are exposed to only Chinese propaganda. Such issues have created heated debate throughout the world and many theories of how influential media influence is have been proposed. Adorno and Horkheimer developed the theory of a 'Culture Industry', which they believe has lead to the usurpation of public opinion. People's actions are shrewdly influenced by their own subscription to this industry leaving no room for autonomous thought or action. Habermas developed the theory of the 'public sphere' in which people can talk freely of public interest matters such as politics. This freedom has been suppressed by the culture industry. A more recent, but similarly critical account of the media is proposed by Baudrillard who believes the mass media are 'all-powerful, coning the phrase 'hyperreality' which, when summarised basically means that the media no longer represents the outside world, there is no 'reality' as such, instead the media 'redefines what the world in which we live actually is'.[1]coba bar sebabaw orba bak inba foba ba. A more positive view based upon a similar idea to that of Habermas is that of John Thompson who analyses the links between industrialisation and the media. ...read more.

Middle

With our living rooms we are beamed images of wars, humanitarian crises, political developments, basically anything that is happening in the world as attainable on film. This is the process in which representations of things come to replace the things being represented, representations become more important than the "real thing". Baudrillard argues that today we only experience prepared realities such as edited war footage, meaningless acts of terrorism, the Jerry Springer Show. Baudrillard writes 'The very definition of the real has become: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction. The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: that is the hyperreal. . . which is entirely in simulation.'[4] acidicburn83, please do not redistribute this paper. We work very hard to create this website, and we trust our visitors to respect it for the good of other students. Please, do not circulate this paper elsewhere on the internet. Anybody found doing so will be permanently banned. Hyperreality is conducted through simulacra, which are symbols such as television images which have no relation to reality instead they simulate a simulation, they are 'grounded in an external reality'[5] These include television programmes and computer games which seem to have had a profound impact upon children's perception of the world. Critics of Baudrillard state that he fails to take into account the benefits that modern technology has create such as the Internet and entertainment value of both TV and computer games. By insinuating that the media are attempting to deceive the general public he is forgetting that the general public must actually subscribe to viewing/listening/reading their media so, to some extent, they must contain things which the public want to be exposed to. Though it is true that most all media there is an underlying interest but what does one make of the BBC, which strives to provide a neutral, public service? ...read more.

Conclusion

Miller examined voter intentions a month before the election to see whether the propaganda that was printed in the run up to the election would have an effect. He found that the people who had been floating voters had been affected and as a result caused a swing that secured a victory for Mrs Thatcher. Although one can never be sure that it really was the medias influence that caused the swing to the right, if we are to accept that it was then one could say how the media basically moulded public opinion to their interests and secured a their desired result. When the margins are small then media influence can be crucial to determining which direction the result will go. It would seem that none of the evidence or proposals discussed above have enough credibility for me to conclude that the media really do have the power to shape public opinion. The critical theories of the Frankfurt school appear to be blinded by their Marxist ideology and unable see past the capitalist aspect of the media industry. More modern theories such as Thompson and Baudrillard propose new and novel concepts to explain media influence but still fail to substantiate such claims with conclusive empirical support. Of the empirical studies outlined, none of them go far enough to address the issue at hand. This is an intrinsic problem to such an question, no matter what research is conducted one can never know for certain what influences what and to what extent. Correlation might be indicative but that is really as far as we can take such issues. As subjects living within the realms of the media perhaps we are, as Adorno and Horkheimer believe, manipulated by the mass media making us unable to see the problems because of the brainwashing effects. Nevertheless we should remain cautious of anyone who purports that the media really do shape public opinion as it would seem that there is no possible way to substantiate such claims. ...read more.

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