6.4.3 The Role of the Media in Politics

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/643a.htm)

Media organisations have a wider reach than is available to individual members of the public.  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 population:

  • 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.

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 its leader on 3 November 2018, America Divided, 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 (6.4.2.6) – 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 can wield political power, by choosing the direction in which they want to tilt public opinion (6.4.3.1).
  • It is therefore important who owns them (6.4.3.2).
  • Their reporting is sometimes distorted (6.4.3.3).
  • An impartial source of news would be helpful (6.4.3.4).

Back

Next

Next Section