6.4.3 Media Organisations in Politics
Media organisations – newspapers and broadcasters – influence both the public and politicians; they can sometimes mislead them.
They have a wider reach than is available to individual members of the population. They can report news and opinions through radio and television, in addition to print and the Internet. They can provide a useful channel for a two-way exchange of views between politicians and the people:
● They can enable politicians to explain their policies, especially in economic matters and foreign affairs.
● They can also provide a platform for people and interest groups to inform politicians of their opinions and requirements.
Politicians need to hear criticism, to know what the population is thinking and to see how it is being influenced. The public needs to be kept informed so that it can hold politicians to account.
Media organisations are losing people’s trust, partly because of repeated attacks by politicians, as pointed out by Helen Lewis in a New Statesman article headed How Britain’s political conversation turned toxic:
“There are good reasons for this poisonous tango between politicians and the media. The former are the least trusted profession in Britain, according to Ipsos Mori: just 17 per cent of us trust them to tell the truth. Journalists are not far ahead, on 27 per cent. The temptation is for each group to purchase credibility by attacking the other. The effect, though, is an overall loss of respect for democracy and its institutions.”
There is a similar picture across the Atlantic. In a leader entitled America Divided on 3 November 2018, The Economist reported that
“Just 11% of strong Trump supporters believe the mainstream media, whereas 91% of them trust Mr Trump, a CBS News poll found in the summer”.
Many people now are now more strongly influenced by what they read on the Internet – as described previously (184.108.40.206) – despite the lack of accountability of such material.
Commercial media organisations are not without power, though, and they are not always neutral service-providers. They can employ professional journalists to express the owner’s opinions, and they can choose what is published on their platforms. This raises a number of issues, as explored in the following sub-sections:
● They exert influence over the public and politicians (220.127.116.11). They can have a significant impact on election results, and they affect politicians’ decision-making.
● It is therefore important who owns them (18.104.22.168).
● Their reporting sometimes distorts public debate (22.214.171.124). People may be unaware of media bias, for example, or that they are being given information which does not stand up to fact-checking.
● An impartial source of news would be helpful, to give people unbiased information with which to make up their own minds when holding politicians to account (126.96.36.199). People would have to know that they could trust it, as is the case with the BBC for example.