Why should we and How can we Study the Media

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Media are critically important in our lives. We decide how, and sometimes whether to vote based on TV images of candidates and issues. We learn about other countries and cultures around the world from movies, newspapers and the internet. We may even come to know ourselves and our own cultures – to form our own identities – through interaction with music, film and television. It is essential then, that we understand how media institutions and media images work so that we can become critical and discriminating producers and consumers of media.

Media texts are constructed, often by organisations; they use specialised language and have distinctive ways of telling stories. They have distinctive narratives and genres and are primarily commercial. The media have specific ways of looking at the world and consequently construct their own representation of reality. These representations carry messages and values which are interpreted by audiences in a variety of ways, media industries and institutions have an influence on the products created.

I believe that part of the reason why people study the media is because they are interested in the whole intellectual culture, and the part of it that is easiest to study is the media. It comes out every day. You can do a systematic investigation. You can compare yesterday’s version to today’s version. Many people would suggest that there is a lot of evidence about what’s played up and what isn’t and the way things are structured. You look at the media, or at any institution you want to understand. You ask questions about its internal institutional structure. You want to know something about their setting in the broader society. How do they relate to other systems of power and authority?

The media has so many different aspects to its structure. There are different media which do different things, like the entertainment/Hollywood, soap operas, and so on, or even most of the newspapers in the country and it would be suggested the majority of them are directing the mass audience. For example, the Sun (the biggest selling newspaper in the UK). The reason for this ‘mass audience direction’ is essentially and most importantly to make a larger profit.

However, I would argue that once the corporation has ‘entrapped’ the reader into reading their paper every day, they are then in a better position to persuade and influence the views of their readers. These sorts of media corporations are the ones with the big resources; they set the framework in which everyone else operates. The Times Newspaper Corporation is a clear example of this. According to David Brinkley, (an American newscaster), ‘News is what I say it is. It’s something worth knowing by my standards’ (Brinkley.D cited in Marris, 2002, p639)

It is not clear if this is merely arrogance or if he is trying to make a point about the definability of news, but it represents to many people the most likely explanation of news output. In this case, the newscaster is the merely the visible point of the news production plant, the bit which we see. However, he is only a small part of the process and really the news is handled by people biased and opinionated, just like the rest of us, but being in the position that they are, they have more power to control our opinions that we do theirs.

If you’ve read George Orwell’s Animal Farm which he wrote in the mid-1940s, it was a satire on the Soviet Union, a totalitarian state. It was a big hit. Everybody loved it. It turned out he wrote an introduction to Animal Farm which was suppressed. It only appeared 30 years later, someone had found it in his papers. The introduction to Animal Farm was about Literary Censorship in England and what it says is that obviously this book is ridiculing the Soviet Union and its totalitarian structure. But he said England is not all that different. People who have independent ideas or who think the wrong kind of thoughts are cut out.

He asks why this happens; well it could certainly be argued that it is because the press is owned by wealthy people who only want certain things to reach the public. The other thing he says is that when you go through the elite education system, when you go through the proper schools in Oxford, you learn that there are certain things it’s not proper to say and there are certain thoughts that are not proper to have. That is the socialization role of elite institutions and if you don’t adapt to that, you’re usually out. Those two sentences more or less tell the story. As you can see, by the intervention of the content in this book being published at the time, the public were being prevented from having information. Whether the information was subjective or not is irrelevant, the point is that the information was censored. When studying the media, the question we need to ask ourselves is this kind of intervention appropriate?

So, from what I have suggested so far, we have established that the media are potentially not only a dominant force in persuading our own ideas and opinions, but they can also be a regulated text through which the Government for example, can prevent the public from knowing any important political facts. Surely this is reason enough to have an excuse for studying the media? To me, this kind of regulation is a form of corruption by the so – called ‘elite’. How can institutions like the Government have the right to control what the public can and can’t know? Likewise….why should media corporations like The Times Newspapers be allowed to have such a strong effect on the views of their audience?

Some might argue that this is an argument ‘for’ the media, they help us to take a position on issues in our culture and the ‘varied’ choice of right to left wing Newspapers is a good enough feature to allow us to make a decision of our own. However, I would argue that this is not the case, especially since many of the newspapers are owned by only once corporation. The Sun, The Herald, The Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail, The Mercury, The Weekly Times and many others are all owned by Rupert Murdoch’s famous News Corporation. Effectively, the content of each of these newspapers are controlled by the same person and the same set of rules, this can’t be a good thing surely?

I would suggest that as the media has been seen to become recognised as a form of communication and in some cases, a way of giving people access to political theories and ideas is it not right that it should be studied and monitored? Particularly as there seems to be such a large amount of censorship and regulation by big corporations and the Government (both of which are potential corruptors in the media).

‘All media entail is a process that involves senders, messages and receivers as well as a specific social context in which they operate’ (Briggs.A and Cobley.P, 2002, p1).

I believe that this quote from this book effectively sums up what the media is all about. – ‘a process that involves senders, messages and receivers’ – a form of communication, and one that I believe should be challenged and studied by the audience as well as the producers.

When talking about why we should study the media, it is important to note how we should study, and the methods with which we use to study the media. This is because to me, much of the media today is subjective (which in itself is not a bad thing). However, if all the media we experience is subjective and regulated then it will be very rare that we as the ‘audience’ ever get many true facts. It is our job to continually question the intentions of the media producer so that we are in place where we can take our own position and understand our position from a relatively objective viewpoint.

Continuing with his ‘anti-politicised ‘ theory, George Orwell once again indirectly refers to the effect of the media power on the audience (although he is slightly unaware of this at the time). His famous quote ‘Big brother is watching you’ (Orwell.G, 1987, p4)

is a clear reminder of the fact that the belief that we have complete freedom and privacy in this country is a dangerous fallacy. As alluded to in 1984, such a place as Oceania would not be possible without technology or, at the very least, would be much more difficult to establish. How many people really contemplate what actually happens when they send an email, talk on a cell phone, purchase online via credit card, etc, etc. The same technologies that grant one more freedom have the same capacity to harm and to enslave if not respected. Like many, I used to think 1984 was simply a great work of fiction with little chance of actually becoming a reality. The frightening truth is that to a large extent, it seems like it already has and this is why we as the audience must continually question the motives of the producers.

Within the media there are three major sociological methodologies which have several basic principles which we use in our every day lives to look at the world and they can also be used as tools consciously or subconsciously to understand and study the media.

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