Media – ways of communicating with large numbers of people
Censorship – limiting the information given to the general public
Press freedom – the ability of the press to give information and express opinions without control
Journalist – a person who gathers news and produces reports for the media
Libel - writing incorrect things about people
Slander – saying incorrect things about people
Press Code – guidelines for the media and journalists about the information they gather and how they obtain and use it.
Bias – to favour one thing over another unfairly
Editor – the person who is responsible for the content of a newspaper, television or radio programme.
Spin doctor – someone who tries to get certain stories into the public eye and to make bad news sound better
Freedom of Information Act – a law that gives open access to information about individuals, business and government
Data Protection Act – A law that limits the way information stored on computer can be used.
Opinion poll – questioning a sample of the population to build a picture of the views of the public on certain topics
Stakeholder – someone who has an interest in a decision that is being made
Media has become a massive industry over the last 50 years. There are many different newspapers and magazines; television is available 24 hours a day – and digital and cable television have increased the number of channels and information available to us.
Radio is another source of getting news as are more recent technologies such as the internet and mobile phones.
The choice of media available to us means that we can select the one that suits us best. 50 years ago families would listen to the radio together, but the amount of radio listeners decreased when TV was introduced.
Although patterns of media use change evidence suggests that all of them are still used at some point in our lives. All forms of media aim to provide what the customer wants.
Some TV channels for example are aimed particularly at young people.
The internet is a popular choice. Many political parties have their own websites and people might get more involved with politics if they could participate online.
The Power of the Media
Media companies have to decide what to tell or not tell people. This means that they can influence the way people think. Very often the decisions people make when voting in a general election are based on things which appear in the media. The media therefore helps people make important decisions. If it is not accurate the effects could be very damaging.
Freedom of press?
If information is withheld from people they will find it hard to make decisions, especially about important things like the government. In a democracy people should have access to all points of view. But some places in the world, such as Zimbabwe, enforce Censorship on the press.
This means that they can prevent people from hearing the truth and only tell them what they want them to know. Freedom of press is often the first thing to go when a government is determined to prevent a democracy from working.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights “ Everyone has the right to the freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers”.
In today’s world China also has strong controls on what people are told. There is however an argument which suggests that sometimes it is ok to control the press.
For example; when Britain was at war with Argentina in 1981 there was a news blackout. Instead a government official appeared on TV every night telling the public only the information the government thought we should know.
It was believed on this occasion that national security was more important than freedom of press. Sometimes it is not appropriate for the public to know everything.
However some people strongly disagree with this view.
There are strict laws about what the press can publish about people. Celebrities in particular are often targets of the media.
The Press Complaints Commission attempts to prevent the invasion of privacy but it is not always successful. It has drawn up a Press Code, which provides guidance for journalists working in the media.
However there is nothing they can actually do to prevent such things from happening, even though they can say that the code has been broken.
On some occasions the information which appears about people in the media can be wrong. When this happens the newspaper of television channel in question could find itself in court facing a libel or slander case. Laws prevent anyone for making the public statements about people that are not true.
Tabloid or Broadsheet?
The UK has two different types of newspaper. Tabloid papers are those such as The Sun, The Mirror and The Daily Express. Broadsheet newspapers are those such as The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph – these papers are much larger than tabloid papers and are often associated with businessmen. Referred to as ‘popular’ and ‘quality’ newspapers; four times as many tabloid papers are sold than broadsheet.
The quality press often takes a more serious view of the world and their headlines reflect this. In comparison on days where dramatic world events have taken place popular newspapers have often published less serious stories on their front pages, headlining with footballers, celebrities or money. Popular papers often push the limits far more than broadsheets. As such they often find themselves in front of the Press Complaints Commission far more. But whose fault is it really? The more juicy the headline the more we want to buy the paper!
Who controls the news we see?
Newspapers and television news programmes not only choose which stories to tell, but how to tell them. Newspaper editors have the power to make such decisions and are often appointed to their jobs because they have the same opinions as the owners. Television news works in the same way.
Most newspapers are in the hands of companies owned by shareholders. The main priority is to make a profit. As a result lots of companies want to advertise their businesses or products in the paper because a lot of people will see it. Television adverts work in exactly the same way.
A large proportion of costs are therefore covered by the money companies pay for their adverts. This makes both TV and newspapers very powerful.
Spinning the news
Politicians in particular often want the centre stage when it comes to newspapers and TV. They employ spin doctors who write stories about them to get them in the news. Common stories include new government spending in areas such as education or health. In actual fact this could be something which is not new at all, but a story created by spin d-octors to make us think something is changing or happening.
In the same way individuals have opinions and points of view, so do newspapers. It can be difficult for journalists to hide their bias on certain subjects, and UK papers are often associated with political parties.
The Daily Express is a supporter of the Conservatives and often has headlines criticising the Labour government. The Sun is a supporter of the Labour party and frequents headlines in support of the government or condemning the Conservatives.
Television has changed vastly over the last 20 years with the introduction of cable and satellite TV. 100s of channels are in competition for viewers. This is increasingly important for channels which have advertising time, such as ITV. They have to prove that they have lots of viewers.
The BBC on the other hand is funded by a licence fee. This is called a TV licence and we pay to watch it. They are not so concerned with viewing figures as they are already funded.
TV is used by parliament as a way of keeping people informed, you can often see news footage from the House of Commons on national news programmes. But strict rules ensure that all parties are represented. Footage must be balanced, fair and accurate. This can be particularly useful in helping people make decisions in the run up to a general election.
It can be difficult to control what is put onto the internet, so the UK has laws which say we cannot download certain things. People’s use of the internet has been used to prove their guilt in all sorts of cases from paedophilia to terrorism.
The Freedom of Information Act allows everyone to see their personal records. It also means information held by public bodies should be available – each government department has its own website to inform the public what is going on.
In countries where governments want to limit information they can limit internet access. In China all content providers must be registered with the government and they are issued with a licence if their material is acceptable. But there are strict rules on about religious and political information and harsh penalties for anyone who breaks the rules.
The media is full of opinion polls. Questions are asked, often about politics, to a section of society. Surveys are published almost everyday.
Some people have questioned the use of opinion polls. If a survey suggests one party is very popular people might not vote for them on election day.
In some countries opinion polls have been banned in the weeks leading up to an election