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What do you understand by the phrase 'Trial by Media'? What are the implications of it becoming the norm in Britain?

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Introduction

What do you understand by the phrase 'Trial by Media'? What are the implications of it becoming the norm in Britain? With 27 million newspapers bought and 99 percent of the adult population watching an average of 21/2 hours of television every day, the British Media (mass media) has a massive audience. Since the 1920's, sociological research has been conducted on the basis of concerns about the potentially negative influence over the media consuming public. Early research conducted by the Payne Fund studies found that the mass media had a powerful effect over its audience, which lead to the more recent 'trial by media' debate. 'Trial by Media' essentially translates as media bias. The Sun Newspaper's switch from Conservative to Labour just before the general election in 1997, and Labour's subsequent win, arguably demonstrates evidence of the powerful effect of bias within the media. (Jones M., Jones E. Mass Media 1998 p190) In the case of Jamie Bulger, murdered by two young boys in 1993, blame was attributed to the media for the 18-certificate horror 'Childs Play3' production, from which the boys were said to have 're-enacted' some scenes. (Jones p76) The many studies into media effects on audiences have raised some valid arguments and theories. Belief as to who has more effect over media content (and bias of content) is divided into hegemonic Marxist theory (dominated by elite ideology) ...read more.

Middle

From August 1995 to January 1986 Djik examined news that was of an ethnic nature reported in 3 broadsheets and 2 tabloids (The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Sun). He registered use of frequent adjectives in headlines of newspaper articles, and found that the word 'police' was the most common. Djik concluded that because of their frequency, words such as 'police', 'riot' and 'violence' had an effect on people's preconceptions. 95 'ethnic prejudices are predominantly acquired and confirmed through various communication media' (Djik V. in Jones M., Jones E. p129) Prejudices and racist thinking are considered to be a trait of the political right (elitist ideology). Djik's evidence demonstrates 'trial by media' with the use of elitist perspectives, and it is the audience's perception and subsequent prejudices that emerge as the implications of 'trial by media'. Hall claims that it is the journalist's use of homogenous sources such as parliament, the church, and royalty that help to legitimise their reports and reinforce public opinion. Moreover, hegemonic theorists believe it is this use of official sources that gives the elites of society the chance to amplify their opinion. (Esher (2002) Mass Media, Crime and Ethnicity (http://www.esher.ac.uk) In contrast to the Marxist hegemonic theory, pluralists argue that it is the public that have overall autonomy over media and media products; it is the media that are influenced by the public. ...read more.

Conclusion

in Esher.co.uk) Whilst claiming that the elites used the media to distract fears over economic concerns, Hall adds weight to Van Djik's argument of elitist ideology perpetuated through the media. In this case more ethnic prejudices are subject to inculcation by the audience. The effect on the audience of 'exaggerated and racist reporting' has led Hall to the theory of deviancy amplification. Deviancy amplification theory claims that the media highlight an issue of deviancy i.e.; mugging, the audience then react to this issue, which as a consequence generates further deviance. Stanley Cohen related deviancy amplification to a moral panic and defined it as ' a condition, an episode, person or group of persons emerge to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests' (Jones M., Jones E. p142) He claims society react by creating legislature such as longer prison sentences and stricter laws. Princess Diana's death and ensuing criticism and blame of the paparazzi in 1997 led to tougher privacy laws which clearly demonstrates both moral panics and evidence in support of the pluralist argument of public autonomy. (Whale J. p70) However Goode and Ben Yehuda argue that 'it is interesting to analyse the contexts of moral panics because they invariably occur when powerful interest groups in society are facing troubled times' (Jones M., Jones E. p142) , which thus advocates the elitist autonomy. This essay has sought to provide an insight into the main theoretical debates concerned with 'trial by media' and it's implications. ...read more.

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