A Breakdown of the Negatives and Positives of Media in the Political Sphere

Greer Brodie-Hall, Staff Writer

3 October 2018

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When trying to establish if media is successfully doing it’s job of accurately depicting politics, a clear answer is difficult to find. As media has changed over time, new ways of analyzing politics and electoral behavior have developed with it. People have conflicting views on how media portrays information to the public. Media is a force that is ingrained in society today, which has the power to educate or manipulate. Depending on how one views its position in society, it becomes clear that media is seen as either informative and democratic or negative and unrepresentative, but is in effect fulfilling its ‘job’.

The internet is an open and unrestrained tool, which gives way for any political thought, question, or desire. While people in Canada, and around the world, have developed their understandings of tolerance and multiculturalism, they are also what is called ‘peek-a-boo’ citizens. They are engaged at points, but then equally disengaged at others.The general public has a lack of interest in longer, more educational pieces, and instead find more interest in quick and flashy headlines. Due to the decrease in our attention span, people now desire instant information and gratification or we will move on.

It has been argued that politics has been dumbed down to entertain the masses instead of educating on actual policy positions. Party policy has been overtaken by strategists, advertisers, and PR specialists, making political parties essentially props managed by people behind the curtain. Election cycles are essentially horse-races that sensationalize news, focusing solely on getting the best story out. Politicians have become so fearful of being criticized or scandalized by media that they stick to the media narrative, and avoid engaging the public in discussing important matters. This leads to a selective and specific way of advertising to voters. It tends to lose focus on the key policy matters, and instead centres around the drawbacks of their opponents.

This new form of elections paved the way for negative ads and articles. Negative ads are highly criticized for their way of making the public form opinions on little knowledge. The technique of negative ads is to effectively play into the fears and emotions of voters, and work to create a false narrative, which has been stated in the ‘fake news’ claims. Voters are viewed to be increasingly disengaging with actual policy issues, and these negative ads that are advertised are some of the only forms of information being consumed. This form of misinformation and misrepresentation was evident in the United States’ 2016 election. Then-candidate Trump effectively depicted Hillary Clinton as a nasty, wicked woman who does not care for the general public, especially with the controversy over her emails. This assertion weakened Clinton’s public image and can be seen as one of her trademarks in the eyes of the American public.

The overall complaint towards media is that the public is not receiving accurate information .They are instead listening to, and reading about, stories that are manipulated to entertain, distract, and ultimately misinform. A journal article concluded that the increasing demoralization of media is likely to keep leading to lower levels of civic knowledge. Accordingly, their research found that American television presents little information about the world outside of the country, making the general public ignorant and uninformed.

The less the public desires accurate news sources, the less the news media is pressured to cover events authentically. According to Statistics Canada, only 51% of youth aged 15 to 19 reported being somewhat or very interested in politics.This reveals a growing problem with public democratic engagement, and some people deem it to be the media’s fault. One of the forefront concerns continues to be that there are large groups of the electorate around the world that are simply not turning out to vote. Academics and researchers have tried to determine why this is. Some suppose it is due to the negativity displayed in ‘fake news’ or negative ads. Whereas others argue that people have lost interest in voting because they do not believe they have the ability to impact the system. Either way, media has an integral job in reporting on political events and how policy changes should encourage people to get to the polls.

In defence of media, the first and foremost argument is that media does not actually affect public opinion as much as people claim it does. According to a Pew Research study conducted in 2016, nearly 79% of social media users say they have never changed their views on a political or social issue based on something they saw from social media. It is argued that political socialization is the primary medium that affects political thought. The main agents that are said to determine our political ties are family, peers, and schooling.These three categories are often the root causes of most people’s inherent political opinions and values, which are unlikely to be changed by media or other factors.

The second reasoning for media is that it is the epitome of free speech. For there to be a well-founded democracy, people must have the ability to speak freely and gain information from an array of sources. Media is the intrinsic middle ground between the public and the government. It is labelled as the ‘fourth estate’ because it fosters individual liberty and autonomy for citizens.While those against media argue that it devalues democracy, it actually withholds the fundamental principles of it.

It is essential to acknowledge that even if media sources may not always report in the most accurate or intellectual way, the freedom prevalent in Western democracies is made possible by upholding the free press and is vastly preferable to other countries’ forms of media. Scholarship on the perilous position of journalism in Pakistani society has shown how the Western form of media is much more desirable. The fundamental freedom of the press and expression that is essential for the news media is constantly threatened and constrained by the Pakistani government and opposition parties. These threats endanger the journalists’ safety, which impacts the information and liberty Pakistani citizens maintain. Journalists are seen as the ‘watchdogs’ of society; they keep the public knowledgeable and autonomous.

In comparison, the availability of opinions and news from around the world, helps citizens discover what they want out of a government. This was seen in the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa where citizens demanded more democratic governance and used social media as a major platform. The internet gives a voice to those that are silenced and has become the stage for social change.A key example is in 2012, the U.S. Congress was defeated by Wikipedia, Google, and thousands of following individuals that protested the vote on anti-piracy bills. SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, along with Pipa the Protect Intellectual Property Act were introduced to require search engines to block anything related to piracy. The legislation was general and broad, leaving many people to feel that the government would begin to infringe upon other areas on the internet. This led sites like Wikipedia and Google to participate in a ‘blackout’, which was meant to encourage people to fight for their freedom of knowledge on the internet. The protest helped to dissolve this issue, becoming a precedent for social change through the power of media.

In conclusion, according to the Pew Research study, 92% of internet users say that the internet is a good place to go for getting information, and 69% say it is a good way to entertain themselves.These both attribute to the ultimate goals of media. Media has granted citizens the opportunity to learn about anything they desire at an accelerated rate. The substantial wealth of social media also allows for a more diverse and open environment for all ages to share and learn. In effect, media stands to uphold democracy, inform the public, give hope to oppressed citizens, and improve democratic governance.