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To What Extent And For Whom Does

Media Technology Serve As A Source Of Social Power? Essay, Research Paper

Media technology, television, radio and the printing press. Almost everyone in the industrialised world is subject to exposure to at least one of these forms of media, whether it be a newspaper, or a television or radio broadcast. So who controls these media? In the UK all forms of media were or are subject to some form of government control, either direct or indirect. Before 1836 the printing press had a heavy duty imposed on its purchase (about £200), allowing only those wealthy enough to publish a newspaper. The government also subsidised newspapers by buying column space. Newspapers were only available to the upper and middle classes. “Persons exercising the power of the free press should be men of power and property” (lord Castlereagh). 1831 saw the extension of voting rights and in 1836 the government recognised the need to educate the electorate to be responsible voters, so the duty levied on presses was removed allowing, in theory, anyone to publish a newspaper. The press now has the right to print what they like within the boundaries of libel and blasphemy and anyone is free to publish, although in practise it is still restricted to those who have huge financial resources. Both television and radio broadcasting in this country were pioneered by the BBC. In its’ infancy it was a monopoly under government control. BBC radio broadcasts began in 1922, initially providing entertainment only due to press demands that it broadcast no news before 7 p.m. During the general strike in 1926 the BBC was allowed to broadcast news bulletins during the day, however they were prevented from broadcasting the leader of the opposition’s viewpoint, by government intervention. Television broadcasting too was initially only broadcast by the BBC. Now however, with the advent of local radio and commercial television and radio stations, we have a startling choice of television and radio stations. Both television and radio are subject to licensing, i.e. you need a licence, issued by a government body, in order to broadcast. Also although commercial television and radio generate their own revenue, the BBC is still funded by licence fees and their budget is controlled by government. Government therefore has some control or influence in the content of the television and radio, but is by no means in complete control, it also has no direct influence on the content of the press. So who else has some control over media content. 87% of the national daily and Sunday press are owned by four major publishing companies, themselves part of larger companies with interests in other areas. The people who own the papers, which inevitably reflect their views, are predominantly wealthy people, 70% of the UK press is thought of as politically right of centre. Newspapers are of course commercial ventures and their sources of revenue are from subscriptions and sales, and from advertisers. It is in their interest therefore to try and attain the highest circulation possible, so it follows that their content must reflect the views of the majority or largest minority of people in its’ target audience. Commercial television and radio are in a similar situation, they need to sell advertising space and, in the case of satellite and cable stations, subscriptions in order to maximise their profit, so audience size is a large factor in deciding the content of programmes. Of course the people who generate the content of the media, journalists, actors, scriptwriters, producers, directors etcetera, have an influence over what is included in our papers, television and radio. All these people are ultimately answerable to someone. In extreme cases people can of course strike if they disagree strongly with the viewpoint they are asked to convey, but technology has eliminated the need for much of the skilled labour once needed, as demonstrated by the Wapping dispute. With new technology employed by most major newspapers, it is now possible to write a story, set the page and produce the plastic plate for the presses all via a computer. With the cuts in union power and the current state of the employment market, people cannot risk losing their job over ideology, at present people are too easy to replace. So the whom to which the question refers is not just one person or organisation, but an array of influences, some more profound than others, the government, media barons, advertisers, market forces and of course the consumer. If social power is the ability to influence the actions and opinions of others, despite resistance, how far does media technology achieve this. In 1938 one radio broadcast frightened or disturbed over one million listeners. Orson Welle’s radio play of H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ caused such widespread panic that it precipitated a change in the laws governing broadcasting in the United States of America to prevent it happening again. It is thought that about one sixth of the audience of that programme were influenced by the broadcast, most of these having tuned in late and missed the introduction. It is thought to be the realism of the broadcast (much of it broadcast as news bulletins, with expert opinion from politicians and military leaders) and the nation’s situation at the time, i.e. mentally preparing itself for war, were the key factors in what happened. In short it was the lifelike quality of the broadcast combined with the social and cultural situation of the listeners that brought about such a panic. This is just one example of the effects that can be created by media, although this is admittedly an extreme example. Other effects may be less obvious, created for example by over reporting, for example the ‘Mods and Rockers’ incident in Clacton in Easter 1964, which provoked such headlines as ‘Day of terror by scooter groups’ (Daily Telegraph), and ‘Seaside violence, 97 leather jackets arrested’ (Daily Mail). The reports failed to mention that only a minority of those involved were riding scooters, or that of the ninety seven arrests made most were released without charge and only two were charged with crimes of violence. This kind of exaggeration and distortion as well as other kinds of over reporting, prediction and symbolisation, leads to the formation of stereotypes amongst the media audience, they label a particular image of culture as delinquent. A more contemporary example is that of the ‘New Age Traveller’ , branded by the media as smelly, lazy vandals who are generally undesirable, who were effectively outlawed. Of course, not everyone subscribes to these images portrayed by the media, my own personal experience of travellers is generally good. The influence of media must therefore be dependent upon the experience of the audience and upon how subjective or objective a program or report is. Advertising is another way in which the media is used to influence our opinions and actions. Just how effective it is, is reflected in the sales figures of the products advertised. It would be fair to assume that advertising must have some influence or why would people incur the expense? Audiences themselves are of course sceptical of what they hear and read (especially when it comes to reporting politics or advertising washing powder) and they are fickle. There is such a wide choice available to people, if they don’t like what they are watching or listening to they can switch stations, if they don’t like the paper they read they can buy a different one. People also vary in the way in which they use media, some are looking for entertainment, others for up to date information, others may just have the radio on for background noise or buy a paper for the television. page or the crossword. The extent to which media is effective as a tool of social power is dependent on the wants and needs of the audience itself. In conclusion, the degree of social power wielded by media technology is dependent on many factors, the audience itself being chief amongst these. The influence it has over its’ audience depends on both the social background and the experience of the audience, how the audience uses the media, and of course the content of the media itself. The same program or report will have different effects on some than on others. The different types of media will also have varying degrees of effectiveness. The effectiveness of media technology as a tool of social power is different for all those who use it as such as some groups or individuals have a greater degree of control over it than others. It is impossible to quantify the effects of media technology, but it would be fair to say that the media will at sometimes affect our actions and opinions. It would also be fair to say that some are more vulnerable to the influence of media than others.


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