Topic 1-Media, Democracy and Public Opinion

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Models of the mass media
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1. Reporters of objective fact (the ‘mirror’ model) 2. Neutral adversary 3. Public advocate 4. Profit-seeker 5. Propagandist
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Reporters of objective fact (the ‘mirror’ model)
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Journalists are messengers \”sticking to the facts\” – Do not see themselves as active participants in the public communication process – Impractical: there are thousands of events which happen each day + information not always accessible
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Neutral adversary model
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Discover the ‘truth’, and act as a check on government. Watchdog role.
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Public advocate model
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Play an activist role in defining the focus and nature of public debate. Have a social responsibility to engage decision-makers and the public in debates on issues of political importance.
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Profit-seeker model
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No responsibilities except to make profits for their owners/shareholders
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Propagandist model
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Support and advance the interests of those in positions of power. Related to Herman & Chomsky’s model
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Public opinion
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The sum total of opinions held on a particular subject by individual members of society or a mood/emotion that suffuses a society
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Perspectives on public opinion
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– Majoritarian principle: the opinions of the greatest number of people are those that matter – The denial of the existence/possibility of public opinion: ‘Public opinion is based on a fragmentary, often incomplete and distorted, set of pictures’ – Public opinion is not informed – Public opinion evolves through communication i.e. when there is ‘free and full intercommunication’ (Dewey 1927) enabled by the media – An aggregated measurable set of data found in opinion polls and surveys
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Public opinion types (exam)
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1. Mass opinion 2. Activated public opinion 3. Latent public opinion 4. Perceived majorities
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Mass opinion (exam)
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– The sum of individual preferences, as tabulated through opinion polls, elections & referendums. – Unstable and superficial; uninformed opinion. – Vulnerable to media influence because not everyone informed
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Activated public opinion (exam)
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Opinions of engaged, informed & organised citizens. The vocal minority – Media has small influence
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Latent public opinion (exam)
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The fundamental public preferences that underlie the more fleeting & superficial opinions obtained from polls. – What people truly feel but are unable to express.
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Perceived majorities
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Perceptions held by most people of where the majority of the public stands on an issue.
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Media and public opinion arguments
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1. Hypodermic needle model 2. Minimal effects model 3. Contingent effects model
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Hypodermic Needle Model
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The media set the public agenda – the issues emphasised in news reports become the issues regarded as most important among the public. – Assumes cleverly designed stimuli will reach every citizen via the media, and lead to a more-or-less uniform response from all – Creates a disconnect between reality and public opinion
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Minimal Effects Model
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Media does not have a big impact on public, but rather reinforces public opinions – Psychological mechanisms also minimise the extent to which a message changes an individual’s beliefs (e.g. selective exposure etc.)
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Public Opinion: Contingent Effect Model
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Not everyone is equally affected by the media. – E.g. direct exposure to issue, knowledge of issue, trust of information source
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Selective Exposure (exam)
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Tendency to read/watch/listen to messages which are consistent with prior beliefs (e.g. conservatives read a conservative newspaper)
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Selective perception (exam)
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Tendency to interpret messages in ways that are consistent with prior beliefs
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Selective retention (exam)
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Tendency to retain messages which are consistent with their prior beliefs
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Four Categories of News
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-Available news (information easily available) -Discovered News (typically the result of journalistic investigation) -Practical News (serves an individuals pragmatic goals) -Entertaining News (primarily enjoyment value)
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Yankelovich
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Public opinion may be ignorant and volatile when an issue first emerges but then matures and settles down as the public has a chance to learn and deliberate
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Public Opinion and US Defence Spending
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Public opinion and formal policy are reciprocal in their influences. Can’t definitively say one influences the other

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