Historically, people have always searched for meaning by asking questions such as “Who are we?”, “Where do we fit in?” or “How does the world work?”. The question to ask is, where do people get the answers to these questions? Typically, it was from institutions such as the church, schools and family. However, people are now turning away from these institutions and turning to the media to handle these question of “meaning”. This raises the question as to who is controlling this production of meaning?
We need to focus on the power within the media and their role as the creators and distributors of meaning within society. There are three main area we need to focus on:
- The distinction between Liberal pluralist and Marxist approaches to this creation of meaning
- The different approaches to the analysis of media
- The different accounts for media power located in contemporary Marxist studies of the media
“The media are a ‘means of production’, which in a capitalist society tend to be in the ownership of the ruling class” – Chandler
According to Marxist theorists, the mass media circulate the ideas of the ruling class (the bourgeoisie) and deny any alternative ideas. This is known as the Hegemonic Model, it is believed that the hegemonic view of society is that there are significant inequalities in power between social groups. These means, the groups with the most power are able to put forward their influential views culturally rather than forcefully.
Within fundamentalist Marxism, the media can be said to product “false consciousness” within the working class (the prolateraite). Due to the power of the media and the power in which is holds, it is able to broadcast the dominant ideologies within society, this is typically the ideologies of the people who own and control the media.
For example, the protestors side of the water charges is rarely broadcast in the media. Instead, broadcasting time is given to the politicians and Dennis O’Brien (Owner of Irish Water) who put forward the idea that the water charges are for the better good of our country, therefore, the prolateraite are hearing the same argument continuously without hearing an opposing argument. In order to hear this opposing argument, a viewer will have to research for themselves – doing this will lead them to see the protesting side of the story, which involves violence and how the water charges are affecting the public.
According to the pluralist model, liberalists believe that the media produce content as narrowly ideological and that there is diversity and choice. They believe that the media mirrors society with a range of interests, ideologies and points of views. They also believe if the media produce dominant content, this is because this content is dominant within society as a whole, this is because media production is essentially based on the need to please and maintain and audience. If an audience is ignored, then they will seize to continue following that form of media, and this leads to commercial failure.
It is when the media represent political issues, it is the most obvious contrast to see the differences between the pluralist and hegemonic perspectives. Historically, it has been evident that some political content in the media qualifies as propaganda, this can be seen in history in times of war with examples such as Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin using the media at the time to disseminate their dominant ideologies to the masses. In more recent news, we can see how the media represents the “good” aspects of the war rather than the negative aspects of war. They tend to show successes and deny failures.
While there are alternative media institutions who produce opposing news to the dominant media institutions, these alternative views receive little broadcast time in comparison to the dominant views of the media. Television and radio are required by law to be politically impartially, however, the news is not a neutral product. The media are constantly broadcasting the dominant views of those in power, so therefore, they have already produced a specific meaning within their audience. This is again the naturalisation process, the audience fail to notice the manufactured meaning created within broadcasts.
However, again, the pluralist viewpoint is that the main television news channels have done their best to present a fair, balanced and accurate account. They believe that there are occasional mistakes within the media but they generally offer their audience a reliable and dispassionate news service.
It is important to know who is behind these news corporations, and what their views and beliefs are. Do we really know who is behind the content we are receiving and are we looking hard enough to receive the other side of a story?
It can be argued that the media are part of the social fabric of contemporary society i.e. An institution. If we examine the basic elements of institutions, we can see how the media can be classed as an institution
- Economic: Concerned with the production and distribution of material goods and wealth
- Politics: Concerned with the exercise of power and processes of social regulation
- Culture: Concerned with the production, exchange and reproduction of meaning
From the three basics elements above, we can clearly see that the media can be classed as an institution. The question still remains, who owns these institutions? Irish man Denis O’Brien owns Communicorp which currently owns 42 radio stations in 8 different counties, including Irish radio stations 98fm, TodayTM, Newstalk, Spin 103.8. As of May 2012, O’Brien holds a 29.9% stake in Independent News and Media which includes the Herald, The Independent, The Sunday independent, and the Irish Daily Star.
With O’Brien owning so many of the media outlets in the world, it is important to ask – Is it Denis O’Brien’s views and ideologies that are encouraging the preferred meaning in these companies? Are the Irish public conforming to his views? With his power he has a large responsibility to be neutral, however, it is hard to differentiate his political, economic and cultural views, and with this his views will start to become the most dominant.