4.2 The influence of the media Flashcards Preview

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What has happened to the oldest form of media, the newspaper press?


Circulation of most newspapers had declined in recent years - voters have increasingly turned to the internet (from the ’90s and social media from the 2000s).


How has the importance of the press continued?


Many people now read newspapers online - TV and radio news programmes take up stories that the press had publicised, newspaper journalists are often quoted and interviewed on other media.

TV still dominates election coverage - most important means by which voters obtain political information.

  • Estimated 9.6 million watched 1st of leaders’ debates in 2010
  • 7 million viewers watched the leaders’ debate on ITV in 2015
  • Just 3.5 million in 2017 - May deputised for by Home Secretary Amber Rudd

Which parties did newspapers endorse in 2015?

The Sun - Conservative
Daily Mail - Conservative
Daily Mirror - Labour
Daily Express - UKIP
Daily Telegraph - Conservative
The Guardian - Labour
The Times - Conservative
The Independent - Continuation of coalition/Liberal Democrat

What are opinion polls?


Polls run by firms such as Ipsos MORI, Populus and YouGov - aims to gauge to popularity of political parties by asking a sample of people how they intend to vote - ask the public more detailed questions about their opinion of party leaders and their policies.

Have become an integral part of election campaigns. The parties take note of their findings and conduct their own polls.

Exit poll - asks voters how they have voted as they leave the polling station - doesn’t take account of people who have voted in advance by post.


How aren’t opinions polls always accurate?


In 1992, most failed to predict Major’s 21-seat majority - instead majority of polls predicted either a narrow Labour victory or a hung parliament.

Reasons suggested include - ‘boomerang effect’ - polls had shown Labour in the lead early in the campaign - ‘shy Tories’ - people who intended to vote Conservative didn’t want to declare themselves in public because they felt self-conscious about supporting the ‘uncaring’ party.

Wrong in some places in 2015, as well - didn’t predict the Tories would win a majority - inquiry found that the polling firms had not surveyed a representative selection of the nation’s voters - didn’t question enough retired people


Did the internet play a significant part in politics in the first decade of its existence?


No - as late as 2000 only 26% of households had internet access - had risen to 82% by the time of the 2010 election.


How did increased used of the internet from 2000 to 2010 change politics?

  • Lead political parties to make extensive use of the internet to reach the electorate
  • Most MPs had their own websites - became the most important way for the public to learn about their activities and to communicate with them
  • Established media outlets such as the BBC set up their own websites, major newspapers started to appear online as well as print

How has the rise of social media been important in politics?


Sites such as Facebook and Twitter:

  • By 2015 - these platforms had been joined by Snapchat and Instagram - widely expected to be first election in which social media would play a major role
  • Parties aware of potential of new media - learned from success of Obama in making extensive use of social media to target groups in 2012
  • E.g. - 2015 - Tories reportedly spent £100,000 a month on Facebook advertising

How has the rise in social media impacted political participation?

  • Has helped parties reach young people in particular
  • Survey on eve of 2015 election - indicated that 79% of 18-24 relied almost totally on online sources to inform themselves - 59% depended on social media to discover others’ opinions on politics
  • Decline in newspapers for young people - too expensive, less convenient - not fully up to date - in era of 24-hour news coverage

How has the rise in social media been limited in some senses?

  • Doesn’t apply with the same force to older people - much more likely to turn out to vote
  • Continue to derive news from the press and TV - to read contributions of columnists and commentators for interpretations of political events
  • Little evidence that social media played a major role in shaping overall outcome of 2015 election

What evidence is there that political parties believe in the continued importance of press and television?


2015 election - Conservative-supporting newspapers repeated Cameron’s claim that if voters didn’t choose his party, they risked putting a weak Labour govt in office - propped up by the SNP

Telegraph printed appeal from 5,000 small business owners not to place economic recovery in jeopardy - to give Cameron mandate to finish what he had started under the coalition.

Cameron was anxious - in 2015 - to make sure that, if he could not evade participation in televised debates, the timing and format of these events should work in his favour


In terms of the media, how have political leaders changed?


Have become more conscious of the importance of projecting a favourable image in the media - and seeking to control the news agenda as far as possible

  • Reach peak under new Labour - took business of news management seriously - era when the term ‘spin doctor’ was coined
  • Blair appointed Campbell is the 1990s to cope with arrival 24-hour news
  • Blair’s Number 10 developed ‘grid’ of forthcoming events - so that news announcements could be made around them - presenting govt in best light

How have later governments after new Labour been no less controlling?

  • In memoirs - Kenneth Clarke - tells story that illustrates this
  • Early in 2014 - informed by Downing Street that he wasn’t need for Question Time - programme makers had inadvertently booked another minister to appear - called programme makers to verify story - expressed surprise - had been told by Number 10 Press Office that he couldn’t be on the panel as he was unwell
  • Only possible conclusion - preferred to have spokesperson who could be relied on to toe the agreed govt line

In relation to policy announcements, what has been an important development recently?

  • Sign of importance of the media - governments have been increasingly making important policy announcements in television studious rather than in the Commons
  • Ministerial speeches often summarised in press before they have been delivered

Why is the free media a vital feature of a healthy democracy?

  • Can play an essential role in holding govt to account - especially when parliamentary opposition it weak - during new Labour, for example

Why are there concerns about the role of the media in politics?

  • Popular newspapers, in particular, tend to present an unduly simplified interpretation of political issues, focusing excessively on personalities
  • Newspaper owners primarily interested in boosting their circulation figures and cannot be held to account in the same way politicians can

How are newspapers notoriously partisan?

  • Will antler their allegiance in response to changing circumstances as much as to any ideological loyalties
  • E.g. - The Sun - began as Labour - switched to Tories in 1979 - Murdoch responded to Thatcher’s hard-line approach to trade unions (in line with his business interests) - run up to 1997 election abandoned Tories, supported Blair - Labour claimed - business had nothing to fear from Labour - returned to Tories in 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019


  • Less based in its coverage than newspapers - Terrestrial TV must be balanced
  • The BBC Charter - insists on political neutrality - is by and large followed by other terrestrial channels
  • Parties allocated agreed amounts of time for their election broadcasts, based on their voting strength in the last contest and number of constituencies they’re contesting

TV’s importance lies in the way it projects visual images - helping voters to form an impression of the party leaders.


Websites and social media platforms

  • Not subject to control of their content - are likely to be more biased than traditional broadcasters

What is the best known example of the press causing people to change their voting behaviour?


The Sun - on day of 1992 - picturing Ninnock’s head in a lightbulb and arguing readers ‘If Kinncok wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights’
- After Labour lost - the paper celebrated with a headline: ‘It’s the Sun wot won it’

Its best, though, to be sceptical of claims that newspapers have decided outcomes of elections


What is counter-argument to newspapers having influence in determining election results?

  • Most people read newspapers that broadly reflect their outlook - so papers usually confirm their readers’ existing political views

Why shouldn’t the influence of the press be discounted?

  • The press is still a reflection of public opinion
  • The winning party at each recent election was supported by the majority of the press
  • 2010 and 15 - the Daily Mirror was only major popular national daily that still based Labour
  • The press may also shape the political agenda through the way it covers political issues - may be more important in an age of class and party dealignment - when voters loyalties to parties are more challengeable

Why is the influence of TV hard to judge with certainty?

  • Survey found that 62% of respondents cited TV as the strongest influence in helping them form an opinion in the run-up to the 2015 election - while only 25% put newspapers first
  • Figures for other forms of media were much smaller

HOWEVER - it’s important not to exaggerate the role of TV - 2010 - Clegg enjoyed a boost in the polls following an impressive performance in the first televised debate

  • Proved to be temporary - Lib Dems won fewer seats in 2010 then 2005 in the end
  • But - the raising of Clegg’s profile may have helped to deny the Conservatives an independent majority and so had an indirect influence on the outcome

Corbyn and the media

  • The relentlessly negative coverage of Corbyn during his time as Labour leader is Sept 2015 - centred as much on his personality and appearance as on his policies
  • Didn’t damage his reputation among the party faithful - chose him as leader in preference to his more conventional parliamentary rivals
  • It may have prevented him from becoming established with the wider public

What conclusions can be made about the influence of electronic media

  • Reasonable to conclude that electronic media, like the press, reinforces rather than changes political attitudes
  • So many differing views available on websites, blogs and other online forums - unlikely that many will deliberately seek out those that conflict with their own views

Social media more often - provides a vehicle for tribal political stories - rather than a serious forum for debate
- It’s hard to make a case that it has so far done much more than register the increasingly fragmented, personalised nature of modern politics