Identification of issue and justification
For my activity, I will be looking at the influence of mass media. I will be mainly focussing on Dutch politics and on how Dutch mass media, like newspapers and television, influence the political views of the citizens of the Netherlands. The research question of this report is “To what extent does mass media influence the political views of society?”
I think that this is an interesting topic, because of the huge impact the issue can have if we allow it to. This means, if we are unaware of biassed media our (political) views might unconsciously be modified causing for example voting in referendums to have a different outcome. In our global politics IB course we have discussed (soft) power. This issue is all about the use of soft power. Newspapers, celebrities, politicians and all other people with a big audience through mass media have power they can use. The issue is, however, do they employ that power in the first place, and if so; do they use it responsibly?
During our global politics IB course we have discussed the key issues
What is power?
How, and to what extent, has the nature of power changed? (Andrew Heywoods, 2011)
We have come to the define power as “The ability to change or effect actions or opinions. We have also discussed power as capability, where we have learned that power can be seen as an attribute or possession. (Andrew Heywoods, 2011) I think my research links to both of these topics as it discusses the usage of power through mass media and it might answer to what extent the nature of power has changed (with the introduction of mass media and social media).
Explanation of the engagement
For my activity I have chosen to interview Raoul du Pré and Elisabeth van den Hoogen, both of them with almost the same questions. This was done to learn more about the different views on the use of the mass media in the shaping of opinions and to evaluate this in order to answer the research question.
Raoul du Pré has worked for the Volkskrant for almost 18 years and is currently the chief editor of the political pieces in the Volkskrant. Elisabeth van den Hoogen has been involved with journalism for 24 years. She has done a lot of political reporting for multiple regional broadcasts like RTV Utrecht (regional radio and TV), omroep Flevoland (regional radio and TV), BNR news radio and the AD (Dutch newspaper).
Analysis of the issue
One of the biggest issues involving mass media is that there is competition between different companies, political parties and celebrities using mass media. To most people, sharing things through mass media, from a newspaper to a tweet, is a way to gain audience. In case of newspapers it applies that the bigger their audience, the more money they earn. This is why there is competition in mass media, because the parties involved all aim at having the biggest audience. In order to achieve this they need to appeal to them, which is often done by grabbing their attention with, for example, bold statements.
Discussing this from the perspective of journalists, Elisabeth van den Hoogen confirmed during our interview that there is competition between reporters when she said “reporters nowadays only attend important political conferences when there is something big happening. This could be because there is not enough money to attend much meetings, but mostly because, they want to write about big topics for more readers.” The effect of this is that news might be exaggerated and interesting, though fake, details are added in newspapers in order to draw the reader’s attention. This causes the reader’s opinion to be influenced as they have new information to process, which might not be true. (Michael Barthel, Amy Mitchell and Jesse Holcomb, 2016) Research has even shown that 64 percent of adults in the U.S have experienced a great deal of confusion because of news that was made-up and 24 percent have experienced some confusion due to fake news. (Pew research center, 2016)
Raoul du Pré formulated this as “of course we make choices that might be influential. Big political parties often get more attention in the media than the smaller ones, for example. That is because of the natural tendency of journalists to control the power. Who has less power, has a smaller catch.” This is the perfect example of my point. He works in the mass media and wants as much readers as possible, so he wants his newspaper and himself portraid as good as possible. That is why he adds “the natural tendency”, where Elisabeth did not use such words. He justifies himself in order to maintain his readers and his good image. Also, in the interview Raoul du Pré not once admits to the fact that the media have a lot of power. (Tom Rosenstiel, 2007) Raoul says “We, at most, have influence on the political views of our readers, but that is not our ambition. We just try to get all the political news as complete as possible to our readers. They are intelligent enough to then make up their own conclusions from it.” Here he again justifies himself and his newspaper.
So as I have just stated, journalists, have influence on the political views of citizens by the use of agenda-setting, priming and addition of (fake) news. But also politicians have influence on the political views of citizens by these theories. This is notable when we take a look at figure 1 (Dirkje Schobben, 2016) where we see the total amount of followers on social media of a couple of the Netherland’s biggest political parties in 2016. To evaluate if the amount of followers has any impact on the amount of votes that they get, we will take a look at these political parties. According to Kristof Jacobs, Partij voor de Dieren and GroenLinks were doing better than the political parties such as PvdA and VVD looking at their amount of votes in 2010. Then, in 2012 the PvdA and VVD started to use their social media more actively. Subsequently, they also gained more votes than D66, Partij voor de Dieren and GroenLinks. (Kristof Jacobs, 2016)
From this research we can see that also the politicians themselves use media to influence politics by their own sort of priming, like talking about their goals repeatedly so people start to believe in them. By their use of social media they try to appeal to the people so they will vote for their party. They can do this by for example portraying other parties in a bad light, or by unfairly putting themselves in a good light. Therefore political parties use the media to try to influence people’s opinions and views in such a way that they will vote for them.
Now that we have discussed two different parties, journalists and politicians, that use mass media and certain theories to influence people’s opinions we can identify another big issue. This concerns that it is seen as the duty of newspapers to share the news, for political parties to explain their policies, and for celebrities to entertain. This means that agenda-setting, the media discussing certain important issues to point the public’s attention to them (University of Utrecht, 2017), is inevitable. As Raoul du Pre said “If everybody is talking about a certain topic, it’s tempting to write about that topic and leave other topics for what they are”. But I wonder who makes the decision what is important to point the public’s attention to?
Also, often agenda-setting involves the media discussing one topic repeatedly. This could lead to priming, which is when the media creates a certain image or situation of something that is considered normal after they have read about it often (University of Utrecht, 2017), and therefore people are more likely to copy the image or situation. This means that the media has the ability to influence or change one’s thoughts and actions. This is the definition of power. Therefore the media has a lot of (soft) power, although they might not always be aware of it and be responsible with it. Another example of priming is, as Elisabeth van den Hoogen said “when someone gets arrested and this person is Turkish, should that be mentioned?”.
By the use of these theories, consciously or unconsciously, mass media have a lot of impact on the views of their audience, directly or indirectly. Rens Vliegtenhart once wrote “A big part of the politicians (and much less so journalists) admit that the power of the media is quiet big”. (Rens Vliegtenhart, 2013) In my opinion journalists are therefore most responsible for the issue concerning opinion shaping of citizens. This is because as politicians admit that media has a lot of power, and therefore also have a lot of power, they are more likely to think about how to use it and most importantly how to be responsible with it. However, I also think that one party we have not discussed as thoroughly as the others are not as responsible as they should be; celebrities. Celebrities also, unconsciously do agenda-setting because of the topics they discuss in interviews or what they publish on social media. Also, the difference between how man and woman are portrayed by celebrities in, for example, movies influences the opinions and views of the audience. This is an example of priming with a serious effect. To illustrate what other serious effects mass media can have by alternating people’s opinions we take a look at the Brexit. As Vyacheslav Polonski wrote “not only were there twice as many Brexit supporters on Instagram, but they were also five times more active than Remain activists”. (Vyacheslav Polonski, 2016) From this, one can speculate that the Instagram-(but also other social media-) users have influenced the outcome of the referendum. This is because when one shares their ideas on the internet it is available for others to read and to maybe eventually decide to agree to the opinion. When one opinion is more present on the internet than the opposite opinion this might eventually influence the outcome of the referendum.
So, the media has influence on the opinion of the audience as they need to compete and because they seem to have a duty. This influences the opinion of the reader as the parties using mass media have a lot of (soft) power. They either employ this power by agenda-setting, priming or adding (fake) news. Here the statement from the IB course global politics “Power can be seen as an attribute or possession” (Andrew Heywoods, 2011) comes in. The parties (with big audiences) that publish through mass media are in possession of (soft) power and they often employ this. However, they need to consider how they employ it and if they do it responsibly. Another question from the IB course global politics was “How, and to what extent, has the nature of power changed?” (Andrew Heywoods, 2011). I believe that since the introduction of mass media and social media there is more power accessible for people as an attribute or possession. This is because since the introduction of social media it takes just one click to publish your opinion, plans or information. This can influence the opinion of the readers as they take in the information they read and they process it to form or adjust their opinion.
Then last but not least we take a look at the research question of this report; “To what extent does mass media influence the political views of society?”
Mass media influence the (political) views of society, because when one has a big audience through mass media, one has power, as they can easily spread their opinion or information amongst a lot of people. However, this big audience is often unaware of biassed media which means that their (political) views might unconsciously be modified. This can lead to a different outcome in referendums, or conflict and disagreements amongst citizens.
So in my opinion, based on what I have learned from my research and activity, mostly journalists, but also politicians and celebrities should be more aware of their power and use it responsibly. Also, I believe it is important that people are aware of the power of people through mass media. I have attempted to achieve that by handing out flyers concerning this issue, but it should get more attention.