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Dangers posed by lack of diversity and representation in the mainstream media’s coverage Essay

Essay Topic:

One of the talking points among the intelligentsia is the dangers posed by lack of diversity and representation in the mainstream media’s coverage, especially that of Television. This situation gives rise to production of news content that serves the interests of select media elite. This concentration of power in the hands of large media conglomerates makes it easy for them to set the political agenda on the national scale. It is no surprise then that the issues that they cover are infested with their personal biases, prejudices and interests. The general public, made helpless by this system, are presented a narrow political agenda that holds no real significance for them. In other words, while the Television media has the power to elicit a policy response from the government, the outcomes tend to benefit the media elite rather than people. (Potter, 2006, p.69)

Added to this imbalance of power between the media and its consumers is the relative lack of alternative sources of information for the latter. A majority of Americans depend on the mainstream media for information on the political developments of their country and the world. With lack of alternative representation in the media, a distorted world view can be imposed upon an unsuspecting viewer. That is the American public is steadily losing confidence in mainstream media, presumably because of the general public’s realization of the biases inherent in its organization. The theory that the media sets the agenda for government policies is weakened by the fact that news coverage is generally superfluous and that their main source of information is the government agencies themselves. When seen in light of this knowledge, we see one basic flawed argument that the media significantly influences public opinion. To the contrary, it is the government, which perpetrates its bureaucratic interests by exploiting the opportunities provided by the media. (Burrell, 2000, p.148)

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Ideology as a sociological term has been interpreted in many different ways. But the following is an approximate definition of the term: Any system of beliefs, values and habits that are based on a particular political or religious school of thought. Media in general and Television in particular has always been used to propagate ideologies. Although the word “ideology” has come to carry negative connotations, the propagated ideas need not necessarily detrimental to the well-being of the audience. A very good example of this positive use of ideology is the British government run propaganda machinery during the First World War. As the strength of the British army grew weak in confronting an imposing German hostility, the military administration had to resort to Conscription as a means of restoring its strength. But a glimpse at the history of Television media in the backdrop of public administration and consumerism will show that the positive application of ideological propaganda is an exception than the rule. (Frisby, 2002, p.58)

Almost every known media type is susceptible to ideological undercurrents, whether as a result of design or accident. The Television as a medium of communication and entertainment allows sophisticated application of ideological persuasion. It has to be remembered that television is a product of the twentieth century. The centuries prior to its invention were not devoid of prevalent ideologies or their imposition on the masses. However, the imposition of the desired set of beliefs and habits were achieved through brute force. These centuries saw colonialism at its peak; and where imperialism existed violence followed. But the twentieth century is different in that empires were giving way to independent republics, especially after the Second World War. (Burrell, 2000, p.148)

Soap Operas, which form the bulk of cultural programming, are truly representative of the rest of the Television media. A careful study of soap operas helps us understand media in general and media’s role as vehicles of ideological propaganda in particular (History Today, 2001, p.10). The soap operas serve as vehicles of ideology in two different ways. The more obvious way is through advertisements and sponsorship. Advertisements are essentially messages to the target audience as to what is good for them, what is it they should aspire for, what it that will gain them respect, etc., is. Of course, the process is not based on force but manipulation and exploitation. (Potter, 2006, p.70)

In a study conducted by Cynthia Frisby for the Journal of Advertising Research, the relationship between male psychology and consumption patterns were studied in the context of soap operas. The results show that every advertisement is an exercise in exploiting the male psychology. This fact in and of itself might not be anything new, but there is one aspect of advertisements that don’t find a place in public discourse. Psychology being a social science is inherently imperfect. And the basic theories are not universally applicable to everyone. In that case, there is “no one way of life” that is deemed psychologically healthy. But advertisements try to inculcate into the viewer ideas and beliefs about “the ideal life”. In other words, an objective belief system (ideology) is stated as the means of achieving a highly subjective experience (Frisby, 2002, p.58). It is possible that soaps and other cultural programming help maintain the existing social order by catering to the fantasies of the viewers. In other words, the soap operas might instruct women to the kind of power they are allowed to have. Such perspectives are seen in other target audience as well. Women’s dislike of the talk-show genre seems to imply that when faced with a bleak reality the viewers are put off and lose enthusiasm for the subject (Frisby, 2002, p.57).

While the general population of any country seems to take a centrist stand in their political beliefs, this is not always reflected in Television portrayals. The most prominent case is the right wing dominance of giant media houses in the United States. As a result their conservative political ideology gets portrayed in the programs they produce. While the United States is a prime example, many other markets fall under this category. The conservative owners of leading media houses want to “preach” their viewers what is good conduct and what is not. The way they do it is by “showing” what acceptable conduct is. While the moral merits of their beliefs are irrelevant to the essay, their role as the moral custodians of society is highly objectionable. The worrying aspect of this subtle coercion of values into the citizenry is that the viewers are not even aware of it, which makes them vulnerable to ideological indoctrination. (Marcus, 1997, p.348)

The portrayal of crime and violence in Television media is also subject to ideological manipulation. For example,

“Television crime dramas are part of the media presentation of crime and criminals, and they represent an element in the construction of reality about crime by the viewing public. A review of the portrayal of homicide in TV crime dramas is not completely consistent with the official data. An adequate explanation of cause, beyond the plot motive, is lacking in the dramatic portrayal of homicide. Viewing audiences are left with plot motives to explain homicides, and plot motives often legitimize crime fighting proposals and placement of responsibility consistent with an individually oriented explanatory ideology.” (Fabianic, 1997, 196)

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