Examples of right wing media bias from the filthy Daily Mail, from the 2019 general election.
There’s nothing quite like a General Election to reveal the bias in mainstream newspapers, which is a major topic within the media option for A-level sociology.
I mean, we all know that the mainstream news is biased, but during elections, any attempt to report political events in a fair or neutral way just seems to disappear altogether.
In the case of the the UK’s most widely circulated, and most offensive, newspaper, The Daily Mail, even the most cursory discourse analysis reveals a very strong pro Tory and anti Labour stance, often framed as ‘pro-Bexit and anti-Brexit, and also often personablised as pro Boris and anti Corbyn.
Below are a few examples from the filth that is the Daily Mail.
Corbyn in the Dock
Corbyn on trial – implies he’s done something so wrong as to be accused of being a criminal. And next to it an assertion by Boris presented as truth.
Labour’s Brexit Portrayal
So here the headline moves away from the personal attacks, but we’re back to it underneath – with a ‘sneering’ Corbyn, implying he’s somehow evil and arrogant, not caring about the people.
Corbyn’s Two Fingers to Leavers…
This is probably the most disgusting headline of all: as if Jeremy Corbyn is that flippant about how leavers feel, and as if the issue is that simple.
And finally: how to help the Torys win…
Mainstream newspapers may be less well circulated than ever, but they do offer a very easy insight into just how biased they can be. And if this bias is in the print version, you can be it’s in the online versions, and not just at election times, although at less fraught times, the bias will be a lot subtler!
This post focuses on traditional representations of men as reinforcing aspects of hegemonic masculinity before considering some of the changes to male representations in more recent years.
Traditional representations of men reinforce hegemonic masculinity
Traditional representations of men have ascribed certain attributes to male characters such as strength, power, control, authority, rationality and lack of emotion. In other words, media representations of men have reinforced hegemonic masculinity.
Gilmore has summarised this even more simply, arguing that the media stereotype men into ‘the provider, the protector and the impregnator’.
Violence as a normal part of masculinity
According to Earp and Katz (1999) the media have provided us with a steady stream of images which define violence as an ordinary or normal part of masculinity, or in their own words….
“The media help construct violent masculinity as a cultural norm. Media discourse reveals the assumption that violence is not so much a deviation but an accepted part of masculinity”.
Wider representations of men and masculinity
Children Now (1999) conducted research in the late 1990s and found that there were six common types of representation of men in the media
The joker – uses laughter to avoid displaying seriousness or emotion
The jock – demonstrates his power and strength to win the approval of other men and women
The strong silent type (James Bond) – being in charge, acting decisively, controlling emotion and succeeding with women.
The big shot – power comes from professional status
The action hero – strong and shows extreme aggression and violence
The Buffoon – a bungling father figure, well intentioned and light hearted. (Homer). Hopeless at domestic affairs.
(Boys to Men: Media Messages About Masculinity, Children Now 1999).
The Crisis of Masculinity, the New Man and changing representations of masculinity
As with women, the changing roles of men in society are reflected in changing representations of men in the media.
Representations of men are moving away from absolute toughness, stubborn self-reliance and emotional silence with more male characters being comfortable with showing emotions and seeking advice about how to deal with the problems of masculinity.
There are also an increasing amount of images within advertising which encourage men to be concerned with body image and appearance as well as a sexualisation of male bodies, in which they are presented as sex objects for female viewing pleasure, much in the same way as female bodies have been traditionally been used by the media.
Read Item N below and answer the question that follows.
Applying material from Item N and your knowledge, evaluate the pluralist view of the ownership and control of the media.
Commentary on the Question
This seems to be a standard question, with the item picking up on the fact that the media are democratic and provide equality of opportunity and that they respond to the needs of the audience.
Intro – outline Pluralism
content of the media broadly reflects the diverse range of opinions found in any democratic society.
audiences control media content as media professionals and owners produce what audiences demand because they are motivated primarily by profit.
media companies are in competition and if a media company doesn’t produce what audiences want, another company will and will attract more viewers.
In this essay I will evaluate the two points brought up in the item, using Marxist theories to develop my evaluation points.
Media are part of the democratic process
media are an important part of the democratic process: give different interest groups the opportunity to put forward their views (in item!)
Elections/ Brexit – media play a crucial role. no way that parties can get their views across to millions of voters without access to the Media.
The news has commentators from different political parties, suggesting that the people are well represented.
Social media the above seems especially true –political leaders and parties use Twitter and other outlets to voice their opinions, Donald Trump/ Momentum.
However, Marxists argue that there is a subtle bias in news broadcasting which favours right wing views because media owners and journalists are themselves part of the elite.
Gatekeeping used to keep issues damaging to the right out of the news agenda
Agenda setting skews debates in favour of right-wing arguments – the Green Party gets hardly any air time compared to the Brexit Party.
Fiona Bruce is notorious – sides with the right and is barely able to hide her sneering contempt for those on the left (e.g. Dianne Abbot). Perpetuates Dominant Ideology.
Some radical thinkers have been censored by social media platforms – Tommy Robinson is one example of this.
Advertising in political campaigns costs money – so the more money a party can spend, the more of a voice it has – the Trump campaign spent a fortune on the last election for example. Supports the Instrumentalist Marxist view that those with money control media content.
Social media encourages ‘echo chambers’ – while most groups are free to express themselves, they are only ever preaching to the converted – Labour’s views probably won’t be reaching Brexit voters, for example. Thus the media isn’t quite working democratically – it isn’t encouraging debate.
Media respond to the demands of the audience
Advertising is used effectively in the media by a range of companies to advertise their products and provide people with information about what they want.
Amazon, with its cheap products and peer reviews of products provide people with access to consumer goods and useful information more efficiently than ever.
However, from a Marxist point of view, the internet is primarily about advertising, and it is used by companies such as Facebook to manipulate people into buying things they wouldn’t otherwise – creating false needs.
This isn’t helped by concentration of ownership – especially vertical integration and lateral explanation
The fact that advertising revenue accounts for so much profit of the big four tech companies suggest more support for Marxist theories rather than pluralism –most people do not advertise anything online.
Advertising even influences what search results one gets on Google – suggesting that the answer to any question you ask is influenced by money.
In conclusion, while there is some support for the fact that New Media do allow more freedom of expression than traditional media, so there is some support for Pluralism, the content of such media does appear to be biased and limited in subtle ways, so that in terms of what we actually see, there isn’t equality of opportunity, and we are not provided with the information we want or need, so I reject the Pluralist view of the media, it remains too simplistic!
An essay plan covering some of the knowledge and evaluation points you could use to answer this question for AQA A-level sociology paper two: the media option.
You might like to review this post on how women are represented in the media before going through the plan below.
The item refers to three main types of stereotypical representations
A limited range of roles (Symbolic annihilation)
Concern with appearance (The Beauty Myth)
Women needing a partner
Symbolic Annihilation (Tuchman, 1978) = under-representation/ narrow range of social roles, gender stereotypes – housework and motherhood
‘Mouse that Roared’ Henry Giroux – Disney Films – Snow White.
Gauntlett – increase in the diversity of representations, reflects wider social changes.
films with ‘strong’ lead female characters – e.g. Alien, Kill Bill, and The Hunger Games.
However, lead female characters are slim and attractive
The Bechdel Test.
Global Media Monitoring group (2015) – women in news – the overall presence of women as sources was 28%. largely confined to the sphere of the private, emotional and subjective, while men still dominate the sphere of the public, rational and objective.
The Beauty Myth
media present unrealistic and unattainable images of women which encourages women to worry unnecessarily about their looks (Naomi Wolfe).
Tebbel (2000) body and faces of real women have been symbolically annihilated, replaced by computer manipulated, airbrushed, artificially images.
Killborn – women presented as ‘mannequins’ – size zero, tall and thin, and with perfect blemish-free skin.
Orbach – media associates slimness with health, happiness, success and popularity
Recent evidence challenges Beauty Myth…. Backlash to 2015 Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign
Since 2015 increase in the diversity of representations of women in advertising: Dove‘s Real Beauty‘ campaign72 , Sport England ‘ This Girl Can‘ campaign.
2017 – Advertising Standards Authority launched new guidelines on avoiding gender stereotyping in advertising, banned ads 2019.
UN women’s Unstereotype Alliance‘.
Women needing a partner
Ferguson (1980) – content analysis of women’s magazines from the end of WWII to 1980: cult of femininity: caring for others, family, marriage, and concern for appearance.
Ferguson: teenage magazines aimed at girls offered broader range of female representations, but still a focus on him, home and looking good for him.
However, McRobbie – Cosmopolitan has featured positive representations of young women as seeking to control their own lives rather than being dependent on men.
Reception analysis model states there three main types of ‘reading’ which audiences make of media content:
The dominant reading: which is the same as the media content creators.
The oppositional reading: which opposes the views expressed in the media
The Negotiated reading: where people interpret media content to fit in with their own lives.
The reception analysis model is an ‘active audience’ model associated with Morley (1980) who conducted research on how several different groups of people interpreted media messages.
Audiences are polysemic
According to Morley audiences came from many different cultures and thus there were many possible ‘negotiated’ readings. He further argued that individuals had many aspects to their identities, and they interpreted media content in a variety of ways, often chopping and changing their interpretations over time.
Morley thus believed that audiences were active rather than passive and their interpretations were not always easy to predict.
The selective filter model of audience effects (Klapper 1960) holds that media messages pass through three filters before they have an effect.
This is an active audience model which suggests that the audience do not just passively accept what they see in the media as ‘the truth’, as the hypodermic syringe model suggests.
According to this theory the three filters are:
Different groups are exposed to different media content, which will influence the effect the media can have on them.
Audiences actively choose what to watch, which is influenced by their interests, age, gender, education etc.
Censorship may also deny some groups access to certain content, thus denying them exposure. An example of this is with age-graded media content which parents might prevent their children from watching.
Audiences may reject some of the content they are exposed to, for example because what they see does not fit in with their view of the world.
Festinger (1957) argued that people actively seek out media content which affirms their already existing views of the world.
Finally, content has to stick for it to have an effect.
Audiences are more likely to remember content they agree with.
Adapted from Chapman et al: Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 student book
Van Dijk (1991) conducted content analysis of tens of thousands of news items across the world over several decades and found that representations of black people could be categorised into three stereotypically negative types of news:
Ethnic minorities as criminals
Ethnic minorities as a threat
Ethnic minorities as unimportant.
Minority groups as criminals
Wayne et al (2007) found that nearly 50% of news stories concerning young black people dealt with them committing crime.
Cushion et al analysed Sunday newspapers, nightly television news and radio news over a 16 week period in 2008-9 and found that black young men and boys were regularly associated with negative news values – nearly 70% of stories were related to crime, especially violent gang crime.
They further pointed out that black crime is often represented as senseless or as motivated by gang rivalries, which little discussion of the broader social and economic context.
Back (2002) conducted discourse analysis of inner-city race disturbances and argued that the media tends to label them as riots, which implies they are irrational and conjures up images of rampaging mobs, which in turn justifies a harsh clampdown by the police.
There is little consideration given to the view that such disturbances may be the result of legitimate concerns, such as responses to police and societal racism, which need to be taken seriously.
Minority groups as a threat
In recent years media moral panics have been constructed around:
Immigrants, who are seen as a threat in terms of their numbers and impact on jobs and welfare services.
Refugees and Asylum seekers – analysis from the ICAR in 2005 noted that asylum seekers were often portrayed as being a threat to British social cohesion and national identity, with such people often blamed for social unrest.
Muslims – who are often portrayed as the ‘enemy within’
Moor et al (2008) found that between 2000 and 2008 over a third of stories focused on terrorism, and a third focused on the differences between Muslim communities and British society, while stories of Muslims as victims of crime were fairly rare.
They concluded there were four negative media messages about Muslims:
Islam as dangerous and irrational
Multiculuralism as allowing muslims to spread their message
Clash of civlisations, with Islam being presented as intolerant, oppressive and misogynistic.
Islam as a threat to the British way of life, with Sharia law.
Amelie et al (2007) focused on coverage of veiling as an Islamic practice, and found that media coverage tended to present this is a patriarchal oppressive practice, with little coverage focusing on the wearing of the veil as a choice.
Minority Groups as Unimportant
Van Dijk (1999) further noted that some sections of the media imply that white lives are more important than non-white lives.
He claimed, for example, that black victims of crime are not paid as much attention to as white victims of crime.
Shah (2008) claims that that the BBC engage in ‘tokenism’ – Black and Asian actors are cast as presenters or in roles just to give the appearance of ethnic equality, regardless of whether they ‘fit’ into the role.
The result is that many ethnic minorities do not identify with ethnic minority characters,
As a whole the mainstream media pays little attention to the genuine concerns and interests of ethnic minorities, because the mainstream media is dominated by a metropolitan, liberal, while, male, public school and Oxbridge educated, middle class elite.
Changing representations of ethnicity
NB – the photo at the top of this post is actually taken from a recent campaign to challenge the black male criminal stereotype in the media… find out more in this BBC article.
Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book
Postmodernists argue that the media is an integral part of postmodern society. Individuals actively use the media to construct their identities, and there is a sense of playfulness, creativity and unpredictability about how they go about doing this.
Postmodernists criticise other theories of audience effects, especially the Hypodermic Syringe model for assuming that audiences are homogenous (the same) and any models which assume there is such a thing as one dominant or preferred reading of media messages, such as the reception analysis model.
A diverse and active audience
Individuals read media in a diverse variety of ways, and how they read media content depends on a range of factors, including the entirety of an individual’s prior life experiences. Audiences can also change the way the interpret media content over time and make multiple readings of the same content simultaneously.
It follows that of all the models of audience effects, the postmodernist model sees the audience as the most active.
No such thing as an ‘underlying’ reality
Finally, postmodernists also argue that the media is constitutive of people’s realities – there is no deeper reality underneath media representations, media representations are no less real than non-media reality (if indeed there is such a thing!). It is thus meaningless to say that the media has an ‘effect’ on audiences as to make such a claim assumes that media representations and the audience are two different things, in postmodernism they are not, they are one and the same.
This is an example of a 20 mark essay question written for the AQA’s A-level sociology paper 2, Topics in Sociology, Media option.
Read Item N below and answer the question that follows.
Applying material from Item N and your knowledge, evaluate the view that the media have a direct and immediate effect on their audiences [20 marks]
Commentary on the question
A classic essay, asking you to evaluate the Hypodermic Syringe Model, picking up on the relationship between violence and the media as an example.
Introduction – hypodermic syringe model key points
the media can have a direct and immediate effect on the audience, audience as a ‘homogeneous mass’ (all the same), and as passive
content creators can manipulate vulnerable audiences
associated with neo-Marxists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (A and H), from the the 1940s
They noted that there were similarities between the ‘propaganda industry’ in Nazi Germany’ and what they called the ‘Culture Industry’ in the United States.
A and H saw popular culture in the USA was like a factory producing standardized content which was used to manipulate a passive mass audience. The point was to creat false psychological needs and keeping capitalism going.
Pluralists and postmodernists would criticise the above theory – people have diverse needs which they actively meet through media, and especially New Media.
Other evidence that media messages can have a direct and immediate effect on audiences:
Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds‘ in 1938.
However, people are more media literate now.
The ‘beauty myth’, especially the representations of size zero as normal, have encouraged an increase in eating disorders.
However, evidence of women (and men) resisting such messages – and setting up ad campaigns which celebrate diverse body shapes criticises this.
Campaigns behind Trump and Brexit used sophisticated targeted advertising to nudge voters into voting for Trump and Brexit, suggesting the media can have a very direct and immediate effect on specific populations.
However, it is not quite accurate to say this is the media having a direct and immediate effect –they don’t even bother targeting the people who they know will make ‘oppositional readings’ – thus the two-step flow and reception analysis models may be more applicable.
Violence (in item)
There is some evidence that media violence can ‘cause’ people to be more violence in real-life…
The Bandura ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment
However, this experiment was carried out in such an artificial environment, it tells us little about how violence happens in real life.
A more nuanced version is ‘desensitisation’
There are enough criticisms which can be made of the Hypodermic syringe model to say that it is mostly invalid today….
model may have been true in the 1940s when the media was relatively new and audiences less literate, but in today’s new media age, audiences are more likely to criticise what they see rather than just believing it, and to check what they see with other sources.
Audiences are also clearly more diverse, active, and USE media for their own devices rather than the other way around.
Finally, it is just too simplistic a theory to explain social problems – societal violence has many causes, and it’s all too easy to scapegoat the media
This model explains little about how the media and audiences are interrelated in a complex postmodern age.
Cultural imperialists tend to see globalisation as a one way processes, mainly the spread of American power and values to other parts of the world. The cultural imperialist perspective focuses on the negative effects which media globalisation has on local populations.
By generating false needs, mainly through advertising – which encourage people to see relatively high levels of consumption as the norm.
Through encouraging conspicuous consumption – the wide circulation of programmes about the wealthy mean people tend to to think the average level of consumption is higher than the real world norm.
Through commodity fetishism – especially relevant in the age of new media: people increasingly tend to see their smartphones as extenstions of themselves
Media globalisation is Americanisation
Americanisation is a process where America imposes its cultural products on other nations and local cultures. There are several examples of this – Hollywood movies, various sitcoms, sporting events but also advertising.
Cultural imperialists see the effects of Americanisation as being negative. They argue it results in the erosion of local cultures and traditions, as, for example, children around the world increasingly choose American fast foods over locally produced and cooked foods.
Mcdonalidization is also part of cultural globalisation – as working practices become more rationalised, and more focussed on standardised ways of working to promote efficiency of production.
Finally, it can also be argued that Americanization has resulted in a backlash, as with the rise of Fundamentalism.
The political consequences of Americanisation
As with the economic and cultural aspects of globalisation, cultural imperialists also see the political consequences in negative terms.
The spread of data surveillance threatens democracy as governments increasingly use social media data to manipulate populations to vote as they want them to.
Finally, the sue of Smartphones has a ‘dumbing down’ effects, as people are constantly distracted by waves of trivial information.
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