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Essay: Media Focus on Public Issues

No doubt that media plays important role in the election process. The twentieth century was characterized by the struggle an independent media, as a democratic institution, against propaganda and subjection to the state or interest groups. Today most of the media position themselves as independent and plausible sources of information propelling educated choice and, thus, enabling democracy. However, media has induced a number of side effects: political escapisms from one side and political consumerism from the other, while still arousing doubts in whether media serves the public or is used to the advantage of the candidates and interest groups.

While independent media enabled democratic politics of publicity and gave wide publicity expert opinion, it also confirmed the incompetence of most people to participate political process. Media generate continuing stream of contradictory expert opinion on all issues, both important for voters and minor trivial issues. At the same time, for the sake of “total publicity” or for the purposes of the manipulation, media tend to highlight every accessible information regarding the candidates, whether it relevant to their potential public service or not. This continuous stream of information with value ranging from critical to minor is largely overwhelming for public and often resembles talk-show gossip and petty manipulations, resulting in constant public’s state of agitation or boredom. This boredom results in refusal of multiple citizens to participate in political process (e.g. young people), the phenomena often referred to as “political escapism”. One of the best evidence for the disengagement of public from politics is the long-term decline in political participation, measured by percentage of voting, especially regarding presidential elections. The participation continued to fall throughout the period of growing media coverage with temporary rises during periods of increased tension, such as the Great Depression or the World War II.

At the same time “expert opinions” publications and issue propelling, which often have traits of entertaining show and aim to escalate interest within certain groups. Usually the target groups for such “show” are voters who tend to actively react on artificial issues appealing to personal characteristics (e.g. drugs, family problems, race issue) or exaggerated threats (e.g. external enemy, terrorism, social policies), resulting in “political consumerism”. While independent media enabled democratic politics of publicity and gave wide publicity to expert opinion, it also confirmed the incompetence of most people to participate political process. Mass media diminished political parties’ role from actual work to fundraising machines for advertising and largely turned politics toward the cult of personality. The actual role of media in recent decades increasingly reduced to a game, where interest groups have information to produce news, while need public support, media may influence public opinion, while need coverage and public is an audience, which is ready to make decisions based on information provided by media.

Streams of contradictory information and expert opinions and their overwhelming nature make it almost impossible for regular observer to derive to educated conclusions. Therefore many of the unsophisticated audience may be trapped by manipulative techniques applied by media propelling interests of certain interest groups.

It is unlikely that any measures can be introduced in order to raise media social responsibility as it likely to become another field of manipulation. However as public poles reveal public’s irritation regarding information the media provides regarding the candidates and election and growing alienation of public from political process, consumerism and growing discontent on media manipulations should change media’s approach towards its responsibility.

June 18, 2012Tags: , ,