Role Of Media In Politics Essay

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The Effect Of Media on Politics - Political Science Essay

Mass media can be defined as venues for messages that are created for consumption by large numbers of people. The media has remarkable impact on politics. However the impact may not always be good. If used against politicians it can easily, but not always, destroy his or her career, but if the media likes that one politician it can take his or her career to new heights. An example of how the media is bad for politics is the recent Dan Rather “report” on George Bush. His report stated the Bush did not serve in the National Guard; however he retracted that statement because of false information.

The media helps to cover up what politicians do not want us seeing, or what activists feel is too violent for us to see. The media can also exploit politician scandals, ruining their political career. The media without a doubt plays a huge role in American political affairs, but it also plays a role in international political affairs as well. The media is not always good for international political affairs though, an example would be the Vietnam War. However the media in international political affairs can have a positive effect, like when the Filipinos were being killed in their native homeland. The media helped to comfort Filipinos living in the United States.

The media has a tremendous effect on politics and the politicians themselves. It is within human nature to believe what is told to us. We tend to believe the media because research is done by them and they are a main source of information. Dan Rather, who does the CBS “Evening News”, was accused of a counterfeit story that could have brought down George Bush, particularly because it was released right before the election. The report focused on George Bush’s service in the National Guard, and weather it actually happened or not. It was later discredited because documents it relied on were artificial. Another example of how the media is terrible for politics is it can be very one-sided. Most of the larger news stations are owned by an extremely rich democrat or an extremely rich republican. Stations such as NBC, Viacom, ABC, CNN, CBS, and FOX and newspaper corporations such as Gannett, Knight-Ridder, The New York Times, Times Mirror, and The Washington Post are all owned by wealthy individuals, and at times can be very biased. “…these ties cannot help but seriously bias and compromise news coverage (1)”; therefore the whole truth is not given. If the media is allowed to have free reign about what they are allowed to say, it could easily bring down the career of any politician it is against.

An example of how the media is good for politics, but bad for the American public is September 11. There were accusations made that the Bush administration and the Saudi Arabians, who had flown the planes into the world trade center, have close family ties and that Bush essentially snuck them out of America. Only a small article was released by the New York Times, and the rest of the media questioned what Bush would do about these atrocious attacks on the United States. Nevertheless, the media can also be good, when it comes to the war we are involved in right now. They cover up what politicians and activists do not want us to see because it may be too grotesque. In 2004 13 political detainees were executed at Abu Gharib, however it was deemed unfit to show the American public. Also in May 2004, businessman Nick Berg was beheaded at the hands of Islamic militants. The media helped the politicians cover up the reality by not letting these graphic pictures be shown. Some argued that it should be allowed to be seen because it affects the American public, others argued that it is too graphic and could disturb the minds of America’s youth. "Excessive violence in the media is a perennial boogeyman trotted out by politicians for each new election cycle. (2)” Sometimes the media is not always good for politicians. It impacted the sex-scandal of ex-president Bill Clinton and his mistress Monica Lewinsky. The media jumped all over the chance to either smash or defend Clinton. The scandal was elaborated on, some accusations were false, and others were just exaggerated. Since the media elaborated on the story, it tainted Clinton’s political record, and now it is something he is known for. The media tries to work its way around the truth, or elaborate on the actual facts.

The media not only plays a role in American political affairs, but international political affairs as well. Sometimes media coverage in international political affairs can be for the better or for the worse. During the Vietnam war, people were all for it as first, but when reporters and television stations started showing what was actually happening the public turned against the war and against president Johnson “…the Pentagon was thereafter much more careful to control what foreign correspondents and TV crews would be allowed to see and report. (3)” When the president of the Philippines, Marcos, was having his people killed, the media stepped in and helped when thousands of Filipinos were dieing. Due to the extensive news coverage 500,000 Filipinos living in Southern California were offered reassurance and did not have to return to their homeland to protect their families. The media is also covering our war with Iraq right now. Many people disagree with Bush’s decision to declare war on Iraq; most are calling it a war for oil. Reporters are over in Iraq filming and doing interviews with soldiers and people who live in Iraq. The media coverage has practically left the country divided on the issue because they withhold some of the information from the American public. The media also covers non-American involvement in other countries that allows us to see what is going on. A recent example of this would be the hostage situation at a school in Russia. Getting up to the minute information like this gave Russian immigrants or those who have family in Russia, somewhat peace of mind. The media plays a vast role in American and international political affairs.

The media should have more clearly defined restrictions as to what they can write or report. Due to the first amendment, they have free reign to write whatever they feel, as long as it is not slander. The media should be obligated to tell the truth and not manufacture or elaborate stories, even if it does not sound as good. It has and will continue to destroy the careers of some and make the careers of others. Even though most of the television news stations are owned by wealthy individuals, they should not be so biased. The media and the politicians only want us to see what a perfect world we live in, so the tend to hide the truth or work there way around it. The media undoubtedly has an enormous role in domestic political affairs; however it does play a role in international political affairs as well. The media additionally covers non-American involvement in other countries. The media has its positive and negative effects but, politics would not be what it is without the media.

An independent media is a vital feature of any liberal democracy. If the government was able to control all the information regarding its own actions then it could most certainly escape all accountability and even have an unacceptable level of influence over its citizen's actions. This is why the importance of a free press cannot be under-estimated. In a liberal democracy, the aim of a free press is to continually scrutinize the government and provide people with accurate and impartial information so that they can act on it accordingly.

Thus, the media acts as an effective check on government power and influence over its citizens. In the last few decades, there has been an unprecedented growth in mass media accompanied by the falling costs of radio, TV, satellite and Internet services. This phenomenon has helped bring political information to a much wider audience. On the other hand, the boom in media services has also allowed various organizations from all over the political spectrum to quickly and effectively reach their target audiences.

A common charge against the media is that it increasingly seems to lack the principles of objective and impartial reporting. Instead, many major organizations seem to be taking one side of the political spectrum and at best provide relatively biased coverage or at worse act like virtual propaganda machines for a particular political party. Certainly, some issues are subjective, hence there can be no universal line of thought, and requiring all news organizations to passively report only what they see and not include an analytical perspective, would to a certain degree, defeat the purpose of having a free press.

While some of the general problems regarding the media and liberal democracies today can be easily identified, it is much harder to come up with an effective remedy. It is very difficult to completely remove political influence and enforce a perfectly neutral position. Indeed, this would be counterproductive. The media today does not just report the news but also represents the views of certain segments of society. As such, many news organizations cater to liberal or conservative lines when it comes to political information.

In theory, this could provide healthy debate because at any given point of time some news organizations will be supporting or opposing government policies. However, sometimes there is a thin line between healthy debate and active intervention and it is common for media organizations to often cross this line. In the process, a negative consequence would be the degradation of accurate political information. Therefore, some issues that can be objectively reported are often distorted to a point that it causes more confusion than clarity to the general audience.

A major concern in many liberal democracies is the emergence of media empires, where a few individuals have managed to concentrate vast amounts of media assets and use them to actively influence political opinion. Thus, these individuals, from whichever point of the political spectrum, can deliver a powerful political message on behalf or against a political establishment through their respective media empires. This is especially damaging if parts of the general public are more exposed to one particular media empire either due to its high popularity or the lack of alternative media sources.

Furthermore, these individuals possess the ability to provoke people or interest groups into mobilizing, simply by highlighting a particular issue. For example, horrific images from the battlefield or a controversial medical study can invoke a massive response. Therefore, even if it could be argued that the media cannot exactly influence people directly, they can most certainly have a strong influence on what issues people are made aware of or exposed to.

The danger in all of this is that it could distort the quality of information that people receive and that in turn could distort their decisions. If positive issues are reported in a negative manner then at least some voters will vote against them even if it is contrary to their own interests, and vice versa. This is made worse when there is a high level of voter apathy, which means people will be less interested in taking part or learning about particular issues that could affect them. However, these concerns are nothing new. In fact, with the emergence of the first TV and Radio networks, governments in the Europe and America put forward legislation that forced broadcast media to adopt a neutral position. In Europe, in particular, the state often intervened to nationalize major broadcasting networks.

Furthermore, the rise of media corporations, whose owners were enthusiastic to express their political opinions, seemed to herald the end of the media empires of yesteryear. Yet, nationalizing major broadcast networks or heavy-handed regulation can open up the media to government intervention or censorship, which is highly damaging as well. Even with such efforts, owners of media empires have adapted by swiftly embracing new technology and expanding to different broadcast media such as private terrestrial and satellite TV. Today media empires continue to dominate much of the mainstream broadcast networks in many liberal democracies.

Follow Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lynch39083

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