Sample Essay on How the Media Influences Politics

How the Media Influences Politics

The media plays an important role in reporting political matters to the masses. Political reporting is among the fundamental functions of the media, and at the moment of intense political activity such as elections, the media also intensifies its reporting on such issues according to the political atmosphere. In political journalism, it is the expectation of the public and journalistic ethics that journalists will report with truth and fairness regardless of their political standing or affiliation. Largely, what is expected of the journalist in reporting on politics is fairness to the readers or viewers as well as the professional process of information gathering to ensure fairness, completeness, and accuracy in the final reporting. Regardless of these ethical principles, there have been cases where the media has been accused of unfair representation of facts and events as a means of garnering readers and viewers. Suffice to say, the power of the media is especially strong in influencing voters’ decision and helping or failing specific candidates. Thus, the media has not only the professional responsibility to report actual events in their occurrence in debates and political races; it also has the moral responsibility to present events objectively without the covert intention of swaying the voters, helping or hurting a specific candidate.

One of the fundamental needs for a democracy is an unbiased media that reports events as they happen. Journalistic professionalism demands that journalists report events with accuracy, fairness and completeness with some level of fairness for those concerned with the news being reported (Fog 1). The media’s position as the main supplier of political information and debate means that the media has to do a better job in their reporting for voters to make informed decisions. Additionally, in its traditional role, the media identifies problems within the society and acts as a medium for the discussion of these problems. The role of the media transcends the social sphere to the political landscape; where the media is the watchdog that the public relies on to uncover errors and wrongdoings among those who hold public office (Fog 1).

The dictates of media professionalism expects that in their coverage, the media will be fair and unbiased in reporting debates and political events without portraying the very events in a manner that will increase their reader or viewership. Over the past few years, the media has come under scrutiny and fingers have been pointed over their biasness in reporting political events and debates. According to Niven, the public depends on the media for information touching governance and politics (311). However, Niven informs that the public does not necessarily believe in the news delivered by the news outlets owing to the inherent flaws in the collection processes, presentation and individuals concerned in delivering the news to the public (311). A poll looking into the honesty and ethics of people in various professions conducted by the Gallup Poll indicated that more than 20 professions were more trusted than journalists were (Niven 312). In the poll, nine out of ten people believed that members of the media lacked objectivity in their reporting of political events and debates, and were largely prejudiced by their personal view in political reporting (Niven 312).

While it is normal for an individual to have his or her own personal view and opinion on a subject, the media holds a unique position as it relates to its power. Van Dijk enthuse that the media has social power due to its privileged access to socially valued resources such as information (10). The media’s power is therefore symbolic and persuasive in that it has the ability to control to some degree, the minds and perceptions of readers or viewers (van Dijk 11). It is such influence of the perception that many have accused the media of using in pushing a particular candidate, and in essence, assisting such a candidate to sail through in political races and debates.

Perhaps the media’s influence and reporting in politics is much more pronounced when the media constructs a political frame for reporting events during debates and political races. A frame in this case is a pivotal idea for which the citizenry makes sense of events as well as suggests the main issues in play (van Dijk 13). Given that information and news is values unless it hinges upon a meaningful context that organizes it and gives it logic, the media usually uses this stance to take advantage of its power and to help the readers, listeners and views to understand the reported items, within the context that the media wants (van Dijk 13). Known as the persuasive power of the media, the media can therefore only report events that serve this established contextual frame. Often under such circumstances, the media only cares about garnering a larger reader/viewership.

Under the influence of an established frame, the content reported is of less importance than the interpretive debate that accompanies it. The establishment of a frame is so evident in television, which is full of catchphrases and other suggestive devices, which provide a leeway into the underlying storyline. Niven provides an instance of such in the 1996 elections when defectors from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party were bashed in the media, while their Democrat counterparts got a favorable representation from the media (Niven 311).

The objectivity of the media has in the recent past come under scrutiny with the claims that the media is not performing its functions. Listed among the functions of the media are following sociopolitical developments and accurately reporting on them, finding the most relevant issues, providing a stage for debate on a wide variety of issues and holding politician to account (Fog 2). Critics of the media have however argued that the commercialization of the media, especially through ownership by multinational conglomerates has watered down objectivity in the media in support of the status quo (Barnett 405; Fog 2). The critics claim the media has sunk to sensationalism with the reporting being more entertaining than updating. In its totality, according to the critics, news only supplies gossips, sex, scandals and violence. Moreover, “Political news is more about personalities than about their ideologies. In the absence of serious debate, voters are left with paid political propaganda containing only meaningless slogans making them disinterested and cynical about politics” (Fog 2).

By reporting on scandals, especially during scandals and political races, the media tends to ignore pertinent issues such as the consequences of the politicians’ policies (Barnett 405). Even more is that by painting a grim picture of one politician, they only help to wound or even destroy the political career of the politician, while assisting that of the rival politician.

While critics continue to bash the media over their biasness aimed at garnering viewers, evidence from newspaper and television analyses suggest otherwise. An analysis of the television coverage of the 1972 US presidential election shows a neutral coverage of the two candidates – Richard Nixon and George McGovern of the Republican and Democratic Parties respectively (Niven 313). Newspaper content analysis of the 1996 presidential campaign additionally showed little imbalance in the representation of the two candidates in the then presidential elections (Niven 313). Although these findings contrast sharply with critics’ sentiments of biasness in reporting on political issues, evidence from most media outlets shows a different picture. Most of the media reporting thrives on bad news, sex scandals and violence, with major headlines in newspapers carrying some form of controversial information on a politician or politician’s affiliates (Barnett 405; Fog 4; Niven 313).

Most critics are averse to this kind of reporting, given the power, as aforementioned, of the media on the citizenry (van Dijk 11). From van Dijk’s argument, it is evident that the media shapes the way in which the citizenry understands and perceives the political environment. Additionally, the media’s reporting also helps the public comprehend the causes and solutions to some fundamental political problems. This control and power perhaps also influences the voting patterns of the public. By highlighting issues, problems and misappropriations in the establishment, the media plays an important role in informing the voters on the cause of their woes, and in the same breath dissuade or persuade the voters against or towards a particular candidate.

The media’s news framing additionally helps in informing the public on political issues. By paying attention to particular issues within the context of the frame, the media determines what the public believes to be important to them. This the media does by paying little or no attention to other issues that may yet be of importance to the public. By bringing to the fore, the issues that they believe are important; the media may hurt and at the same time help candidates in political races. Negative issues brought to the fore and associated with a particular candidate have the effect of harming the candidate, while any positive news associated with the candidate work to the help the candidate. A case in question was Hilary Clinton’s use of her official email during her tenure as the Secretary of State. The release of the emails have hurt her approval ratings from 48% favorable to 41% favorable towards her, while her Democrat counterpart Sanders favorable ratings have increased from 24% to 35% (Schouten n.p.). This point to the power the media has on the voter and its ability to not only sway the opinion of the voters towards or against a candidate, but also harm or help a candidate.

The media remains one of the strongest pillars of a democracy. The presence of the media in a democracy points to a voice of reason and unbiased coverage of issues that are of concern to the public. Recently however, the media has come under criticism over its biasness in representing issues during political campaigns debates. Most critics have argued that the media only presents issues in a way that helps them garner more viewers. Although evidence shows some form of sensationalism in the media, contrasting evidence shows the maintenance of fairness in the representation of issues by the media. What however is evident is the power of the media and its ability to sway voters towards or against a candidate. It is important, therefore, that the media uses this power to highlight issues pertinent to the public, and not use it for economic gain, sensationalism and highlighting of non-issues.

Works cited

Barnett, Steven. “Will a Crisis in Journalism Provoke a Crisis in Democracy?”
The Political Quarterly 73 (2012), 400-408. Web. 19 November 2015

Fog, Agner.The supposed and the real role of mass media in modern democracy.Working paper, 2013.Web. 19 November 2015

Niven, David. “Objective evidence on media bias: newspaper coverage of congressional party switchers.” J&MC Quarterly, 80.2(2013), 311-326. Web. 19 November 2015

Schouten, Fredreka. “Poll: Most Americans ‘tired’ of hearing about Clinton’s emails.” USA Today, 2015.Web. 19 November 2015

Van Dijk, Teun. Power and the News Media.University of Amsterdam, n.d. Web. 19 November 2015