People base their opinions on information they gather from media coverage. Hence any group or government that influences the media holds a lot of power. In the early years of our modern society, censorship protected the king and church from criticism. The US Constitution (1783) strongly opposed this.
Today a few countries, like North Korea, Iran and China, practice censorship. However, there are other ways of influencing the formation of public opinion than through censorship. Advertising is one way. Through advertising campaigns one may swing votes for or against a proposal. This was done during Bill Clinton's presidency in the 1990s. His drive for health reform had to be stranded because of a very effective counter campaign which used commercials to a great extent, to air opposing views.
Under Barack Obama' presidency a new drive towards health reform was staged. Controlling the media proved very difficult and might explain why it took so long before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or the so called "Obamacare" was implemented.
The media can influence opinions in many more ways than through ads and commercials. Who the journalists interview, which topics they cover, what their angle is, and who they contact are just a few of the factors that may bring a strong bias to a media presentation.
Generally speaking, it is the wealthy, well-established and well-educated who are most likely to have his/her views aired on a news channel. But there are also many political and environmental groups based on big grassroots movements like Greenpeace and WWF that get media attention. The picture is, as always, a bit more complex than at first sight.
Good questions to ask oneself when assessing information are these: Who is behind the information being presented, what is their intention and who may benefit from it being presented?
Tasks and Activities
Compare News Coverage
Look at media coverage of the ongoing drug wars in Mexico. Check various news stations/channels (e.g. the Huffington Post, the New York times, the Washington Post, CNN, Forbes, NPR, the Guardian and BBC and Al Jazeera) and how they cover the drug wars. For each news station, make a list of key words describing their angle or approach.
How may the coverage of a local school issue vary according to who you ask, as well as what type of questions you ask? Write a news article on a local school issue, in which you interview at least two people from your school. Compare articles afterwards with a fellow student, and discuss how these factors may have influenced your angle.
Find examples of big grassroots movements, other than Greenpeace and WWF, that get a lot of media attention.
- Why do wealthy, well-educated people get more attention than the average person?
- What differences in approach and angle did you discover when checking the news coverage of the Mexican drug wars?
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