How Media Shape People’s Perceptions of World Events

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Media content influences audiences – the effects manifest in opinions, attitudes, knowledge and world view. This paper will try to explain how media shape the audiences’ perceptions of world events.

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How Media Shape People’s Perceptions of World Events

  1. 1. SHANDONG UNIVERSITY 山东大学 School of Political Science and Public Administration MASTERS IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS TERM PAPER How Media Shape People’s Perceptions of World Events Presented By Bright Mhango (M2013071) Presented To Zhu Guichang, Professor (International Relations Theory) April 2014 How Media Shape People’s Perceptions of World Events 1
  2. 2. The University of Fairleigh Dickinson published research which purports that Americans who watch Fox News Television know little compared to people who do not watch news at all. Some Fox News viewers sampled in the study thought that it was the United States that bailed economically bailed out Greece and some failed to correctly point that Egyptians successfully overthrew their government, (PublicMind, 2011). The University of Maryland also found that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed (Mirkinson, 2010) – there must be something, therefore, about Fox News that makes its viewers more ignorant of world events. Media content influences audiences – the effects manifest in opinions, attitudes, knowledge and world view. This paper will try to explain how media shape the audiences’ perceptions of world events. Many people know of events via the media and most of them believe what the media say and some even take it as well balanced gospel truth (Carron, 2010). But not all the media says is true and balanced, every story is told from an angle, either the journalists’, the advertisers’, the politician’s, the source’s or the media house’s, and as filmmaker and journalist Ruth Broyde Sharone said at a UN roundtable in Geneva in 2008; “There is no truly neutral story or truly objective story, every story is told through the eyes and ears of whoever is covering the story…” (Sharone, 2008) Psychologists such as Bandura (1976) with his bobo doll experiment, Silver et al (1969) and Wolfgang and Ferracuti (1967) all support the fact that social learning- where audiences copy what their role models do – happens. Social learning supports the assertion that media influences people since many people depend on media not just for gratification but also surveillance and interpretation among other uses. And if the media is or provides the role models and we know people tend to copy role models, the media therefore probably influence masses, (Wiener et al 2003:593 and Dominick, 1994). 2
  3. 3. Media can also influence audiences through a number of ways such as priming, agenda-setting, framing and cultivation (CommGap, 2009: 2-3). Priming is when media text trigger recalling of stored ideas, knowledge, attitudes and experience related in some way to the media message at hand. Media houses remind audiences of a lot when they mention 9/11, Tiananmen Square and Berlin Wall, an effect that can be used to subtly alter opinion on some issue. Agenda-setting is when the media influences what people think about via the choice of which topics to cover and what things to emphasize. It’s the editors and the journalists that decide what to leave out or what to include in the news casts and in so doing they champion certain things – a good example would be right after Sept. 11, CNN repeatedly ran the Saira Shah documentary, "Behind the Veil," against the Taliban to raise public support for then President Bush's plan to go to war in Afghanistan (Koolbreeze, 2011). The other way in which media influence people is via the concept of framing – frames are the particular treatment or “spin” an individual media organisation gives to a text. Unlike agenda- setting which is about choosing what to tell the audience, framing is about how to tell that which has been chosen. Frames may “promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation,” (CommGap, 2009:2). In 2006, controversy erupted when a Reuter’s photographer was found to have altered a photograph of burning Beirut to make it seem as if the Israeli bombing was extensive (BBC, 2006). This is a classic example of framing – Adnan Hajj- the photojournalist, was trying to raise a case for Hezbollah, to draw sympathy to Beirut via Photoshop and for any normal being, seeing a dark smoke from a city would easily have caused them to react with concern. Media has power to influence, it can raise or lower support for an issue of person via coverage and non-coverage (Zaller, 1999:164) 3
  4. 4. The media also cultivates beliefs. Since George Gerbner’s work back in the 70s it’s not very difficult to see the effects of television and cultivation analysis especially after watching a horror movie, it is as if the world becomes filled with zombies and usually the walk to the bedroom after the movie is a scary one. Cultivation is where heavy consumers of media text start believing that the real world is similar to the television world. Ask any man on the streets about African Americans and he will speak of Hip Hop and crime, a view which has been cultivated via television - which through its repeated portrayal of African Americans as rappers and criminals has made that view stick. The same can be said of Muslims- the really typical ones; with beards and robes, sitting next such a man on a plane and then seeing him play with a black Smartphone really works one up, it’s as if the phone is a detonator and that the guy is a terrorist- a stereotype being scaffolded by the media- through movies and television’s emphasis on terrorism images/stories. As Peterson and Steen (2002:250) state: “Television’s proclivity for ruminating in its news coverage compounds a tendency to magnify stories of violence in a self-serving way that may slant factual presentation… Unfortunately, the distortions in permanence and pervasiveness that serve the interest of the networks do not serve the best interests of young viewers who may adopt the pessimistic explanatory style to which they are repeatedly exposed.” When the Twin Towers were struck in the US, it was as if evil was let loose, the world felt so in danger, stepping on a public bus was a risk and images of death kept ringing in many a television viewer’s head, but really it was just like any other day, the media chose to speak about it and the rest of the world started discussing it. The influx of Vietnam War movies in the 80’s is a good example of how media can help shape audiences’ perception of world events. To this day many Malawians can still be heard saying that the United States army is not to be played with, that one US Marine is capable of doing what can take many Malawian soldiers- such sentiments are obviously just movies like Bye Bye Vietnam, Cross Bone Territory, Platoon Leader and Missing in Action speaking. 4
  5. 5. The movies did a public relations function for the Americans who are said to have struggled with the Viet Cong, instead there stands a flowery picture painted about the war with of course America winning it with the smallest effort and manpower possible. The same can be said of the Iraq invasion by the United States in 2003. Many Americans supported the war because by watching news outlets like Fox and CNN, they were made to believe the untruths that Iraq was supporting Al Qaeda and that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon program on-going somewhere in his tightly guarded lairs. Most 24/7 US cable networks tended to provide highly sanitized views of the war. These networks rarely showed Iraqi causalities, Arab outrage about the war, global anti-war, anti- U.S. protests, and the negative features of the war; they only beamed pro-military patriotism, propaganda, technological fetishism, celebrating the weapons of war and military humanism, highlighting the achievements and heroism of the U.S. troops (Carron, 2010). It thus can be said that as in the case of the Iraq Invasion that if one watched Al Jazeera they would likely have an Arab centric view of the war and those on the side of Fox News would have the opposite. It all proves, arguably, that media shape audiences perception of world events. The media does this by way of setting the agenda, by framing, by priming and by cultivating beliefs. The media, which according to Stuart Hall are vehicles of those in power, take advantage of the fact that audiences trust them to sell the same unsuspecting audiences ideology. People are intelligent, yes, and they can read between some lies of the media, but after all is said, the media still has power in shaping people’s perceptions of world events by simply highlighting, championing, twisting or ignoring issues. 5
  6. 6. Bibliography BBC, 2006 Reuters Drops Beirut Photographer [Online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5254838.stm Broyde Sharone, Ruth (2008) UN Roundable [sic] on Media's Influence on World Events [video] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rafhEQtNjsQ Carron, Francine (2010) A Content Analysis of “Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War” by Kull, Ramsay and Lewis [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.scribd.com/doc/44234140/Media-Politics-Framing-the-Iraqi-War ChallengingMedia (2006) Constructing Public Opinion [video] viewed on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvodhsMc2QM&feature=player_embedded#! CommGap, 2009, “Media Effects” Technical Brief, Communication for Governance and Accountability, [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVACC/Resources/MediaEffectsweb.pdf Dominick, J,R, (1994), The Dynamics of Mass Communication, McGraw-Hill, Anthens Koolbreeze, Angus (2011) How Does TV Convey Information & Influence Public Opinion? [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.ehow.com/info_8712701_tv-information- influence-public-opinion.html Mirkinson, Jack (2010) Fox News Viewers Are The Most Misinformed: Study [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/17/fox-news-viewers-are-the- _n_798146.html Peterson, C and Steen, T ‘Optimistic Explanatory Style’ quoted in Snyder, C and Lopez, S (Editors) (2002) Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford: OUP PublicMind Poll (2011) Part Deux: Many think US is bailing out Greece; NPR, Jon Stewart Out-Fox Cable News [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://publicmind.fdu.edu/2011/outfox/ Weiner, I, Lerner, M and Millon, T (Eds) (2003) Handbook of Psychology (Vol. 5) New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Zaller, John (1999) A Theory of Media Politics: How the interests of politicians, journalists and citizens shape the news, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 6
  7. 7. Bibliography BBC, 2006 Reuters Drops Beirut Photographer [Online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5254838.stm Broyde Sharone, Ruth (2008) UN Roundable [sic] on Media's Influence on World Events [video] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rafhEQtNjsQ Carron, Francine (2010) A Content Analysis of “Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War” by Kull, Ramsay and Lewis [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.scribd.com/doc/44234140/Media-Politics-Framing-the-Iraqi-War ChallengingMedia (2006) Constructing Public Opinion [video] viewed on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvodhsMc2QM&feature=player_embedded#! CommGap, 2009, “Media Effects” Technical Brief, Communication for Governance and Accountability, [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVACC/Resources/MediaEffectsweb.pdf Dominick, J,R, (1994), The Dynamics of Mass Communication, McGraw-Hill, Anthens Koolbreeze, Angus (2011) How Does TV Convey Information & Influence Public Opinion? [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.ehow.com/info_8712701_tv-information- influence-public-opinion.html Mirkinson, Jack (2010) Fox News Viewers Are The Most Misinformed: Study [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/17/fox-news-viewers-are-the- _n_798146.html Peterson, C and Steen, T ‘Optimistic Explanatory Style’ quoted in Snyder, C and Lopez, S (Editors) (2002) Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford: OUP PublicMind Poll (2011) Part Deux: Many think US is bailing out Greece; NPR, Jon Stewart Out-Fox Cable News [online article] retrieved on 04/05/2014 from URL: http://publicmind.fdu.edu/2011/outfox/ Weiner, I, Lerner, M and Millon, T (Eds) (2003) Handbook of Psychology (Vol. 5) New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Zaller, John (1999) A Theory of Media Politics: How the interests of politicians, journalists and citizens shape the news, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 6

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