Political bias in the media 2019

Examples of right wing media bias from the filthy Daily Mail, from the 2019 general election.

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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.

‘Vote Boris’

I mean could the pro Tory bias be any clearer?!?

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…

Conclusions

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!

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Representations of men in the media

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.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate the view that the media portray women in a stereotypical way [20 marks]

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

  • 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.

 

The reception analysis model of audience effects

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.png

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

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:

  1. selective exposure
  2. selective perception
  3. selective retention

selective filter model.png

 

Selective exposure 

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.

Selective perception

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.

Selective retention 

Finally, content has to stick for it to have an effect.

Audiences are more likely to remember content they agree with.

Sources 

Adapted from Chapman et al: Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 student book

 

Representations of Ethnicity

black male stereotypes.PNG

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.

Sources 

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book

The postmodernist model of audience effects

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.postmodernism-media-effects.png

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.

Evaluate the view that the media have a direct and immediate effect on their audiences [20 marks]

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.

evaluate view media direct effect audience.PNG

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.

Answer

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’

Conclusion

  • 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.

 

 

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Analyse two reasons why the media portray minority ethnic groups negatively. [10 marks]

Read Item M below and answer the question that follows.

AQA 10 mark question item.PNG

Applying material from Item M, analyse two reasons why the media often portray minority ethnic groups negatively. [10 marks]

Commentary on the question

A non-standard question about representations, focusing on ‘why’ rather than on ‘how’ one group is represented. There are two clear hooks in the item – the first about power and the second just about difference, suggesting that candidates make two points – one from a broadly hegemonic perspective, the other focussing on the public/ pluralism.  Remember that you can pick up marks for evaluating in this type of 10 mark ‘with item’ question.

Before reading the answer you might like to review the material on ethnicity and representation, and some of the theories of ownership and control such as Pluralism, Instrumental Marxism and Hegemonic Marxism, all of which can be applied to this question.

Answer

The first reason why minority groups are represented negatively is because they have different values/ beliefs and practices from ‘mainstream’ society and are perceived by the wider public as not being fully integrated into the ‘British way of life’. The public at large is thus prejudiced against ethnic minorities, and anything which seems to threaten British identity.

By focusing on negative representations of minorities – Islamic terrorists, benefit claiming immigrants, Romanian beggars, for example, newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Mail can sell more newspapers and make more profit – it is easier to do this by perpetuating stereotypes compared to running stories which challenge such negative representations.

It is relatively easy for papers to find stories about ethnic minorities which have many news values because some ethnic minorities do engage in activities which are ‘shocking’, and it’s maybe understandable why newspapers may choose not to publish stories in which minority groups are just ‘being British’ – because there’s nothing ‘newsworthy’ about such stories.

This theory fits in with the pluralist view – newspapers aren’t deliberately prejudiced against ethnic minorities, they just run stories which reflect public bias to increase profits.

Hegemonic Marxists would argue that ethnic minority groups are represented negatively because they are underrepresented in positions of power – both in society/ government and within the media itself.

According to Stuart Hall, ethnic minorities have been used as scapegoats for society’s larger economic problems – knife crime by black youths in London in the late 1970s was turned into a moral panic by negative reporting in the press, even though the rate of that crime was declining.

In a similar way gang crime today is largely constructed in the media as a black problem, rather than a multi-ethnic phenomenon.

A further reason why such negative representations are so common could be the lack of black voices among media professionals, meaning the white majority just go along with the racial victimization of young black youth by the government and police.

However, such negative representations may be changing in the age of New Media, which gives more power to ethnic minorities to challenge stereotypes and power inequalities in society more directly.

What is concentration of media ownership?

Concentration of media ownership is the trend towards fewer individuals and/ or companies owning a higher proportion of the media.

Increasing concentration of ownership has long been a concern of sociologists. For example, In 2004 Bagdikian pointed out the following trend towards increasing ownership of the media:

  • In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the majority of news media in the USA
  • By 1992, 22 companies owned and operated 90% of the mass media

By 2014, United States media ownership was concentrated mainly in the hands of six companies: Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox/ News Corporation, Time Warner and Viacom

In the United Kingdom in 2017 10 companies received 70% of the revenue generated by all media companies, and 40 companies received 92% of all of the revenue (source: Deloitte media metrics, 2017).

 

The following were the three largest media companies by revenue in the UK in 2017

 

How do we measure concentration of ownership of media? 

Looking at revenue share as the above examples do is only one way of measuring concentration of ownership, however, there are several other ways concentration may be occurring which are not measured simply by looking at how revenue is distributed.

Below I outline several different ways in which media ownership can become more concentrated 

Vertical Integration

Where one company owns all of the stages of production of media products – for example a company owning a film production studio, and the cinema where the film is shown.

Horizontal integration

Where one company diversifies to own more types of media – e.g. when a film production company also gets into book publishing.

Lateral expansion or diversification

When media companies branch out into non media areas – e.g. Virgin Media getting into trains and insurance.

Global Conglomeration

Where companies in one country buy up companies in other countries. News Corp, for example, owns media outlets in several different countries.

Synergy

Where a media product is sold in several different forms – often as a form of marketing. For example, a company produces a film for cinema, then a DVD, a T.V. spin off series, a sound track for download, maybe a cartoon strip and some action figures too.

Technological convergence

Where traditional media companies link with IT companies to make sure their media products are available across several different devices.

Final thoughts 

Intuitively it seems likely that there is increasing concentration of ownership, especially with the rise of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, but at the same time it is difficult to say for certain given the complexity of the concept of concentration of ownership