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About this book

This widely used and popular text provides a broad-ranging analysis of the relationship between the media and politics. Revised and updated throughout, this second edition includes coverage of the mediatization of politics; of E-politics and governance; of the impact of 'reality TV'; and of issues raised by the reporting of war in Iraq.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
When the first edition of this book was published in 2001, none of us owned an iPod or an iPhone; there were no social networking sites like Facebook or video streaming sites like YouTube to occupy our time; we had not heard of Twitter or Wikipedia. Back then Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Yet by the decade’s end, Obama was living constitutional law, having won the US presidency on the back of a campaign that deployed Facebook, YouTube and many of the other communications innovations that have become part of everyday life for many — but significantly, not all — citizens of the modern world.
John Street

Representing Politics

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Political Bias

Abstract
Words matter. They affect us in any number of different ways. They make us laugh and cry; they make us angry and they make us smile. Each year I do an experiment with my students. They are given a policy choice. It is the same for everyone in the class, but it is worded in two different ways. Invariably, students faced with one wording make a different decision from those with the other wording. The experiment is a variant on research (Fischoff et al., 1983) which shows that that how a risk is presented to us affects our willingness to accept or reject it. It serves to remind us of the impact of words — and by implication, of images and sounds. Put simply, they do things to us and hence to our world. It is this thought that lies behind the importance attached to media content and its politics, the topic of this and the next two chapters.
John Street

Chapter 2. Telling Tales: The Reporting of Politics

Abstract
When media report politics, they are telling stories about the world. They are not just holding up a mirror to events or pointing a telescope at them. They do not simply describe what happens; they create narratives with plots and actors. Just as they create a story for ‘the Iraq War’ or for the ‘Obama victory’, so they create the political process itself, the context in which such things take place. Movies use the artifice of cinema to tell a story, to create characters in a believable world; news does a similar job for the events that are its concern. News reporters are storytellers too. They recount the pursuit of political ambition, the rivalries and pacts, the human frailties and strengths. Political careers sometimes assume epic form, ending in tragedy or triumph; more often they take the guise of soap opera. This is not simply a metaphor; this is how news is told. ‘News’ is, in this sense, an art form and news reporting an art, and political coverage is one particular genre of this art, in which competing realities are constructed (Starkey, 2007). This is the central theme of this chapter, which looks at the various ways the story of politics is narrated.
John Street

Chapter 3. It’s Just for Fun: Politics and Entertainment

Abstract
In a candid description of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch once remarked: ‘We are in the entertainment business’ (quoted in Shawcross, 1992: 261). With this aside, Murdoch called into question an assumption that lurks in much analysis of the politics of the media: that any such discussion should be confined to news and current affairs. Television schedules and newspaper layouts draw seemingly neat boundaries around what is ‘politics’ and what is ‘entertainment’. These boundaries are marked in a variety of ways: by a tone of voice and a style of writing, by format and layout. As viewers and readers, we are given clues as to how to respond to what is before us, whether we should take it seriously as information or political debate, or whether we should be amused by it. In thinking about the representation of politics in mass media, there is a strong temptation to reproduce this distinction, and to concentrate exclusively upon those areas of mass media that deal with what is formally designated ‘politics’ (that is, news, documentaries and current affairs). But this formal distinction between what is and what is not ‘important’ is mistaken. As Jonathan Burston (2003: 165) argues, it assumes that only information changes the world, when in fact fun and pleasure may do so too. Or as James Curran and Colin Sparks (1991: 216) observe, ‘entertainment has an important ideological dimension’. Such claims have far-reaching implications. If we want to understand how politics is represented in mass media, we need to look at the full range of media, and at the full range of broadcasting and newspaper content.
John Street

Chapter 4. Media Effects

Abstract
So far our attention has been focused on media content and its politics. This has meant looking at the arguments about media bias, at the ways in which coverage of news frames a picture of ‘politics’, and at the political character of popular entertainment. These are clearly important topics in their own right, but for many commentators their significance derives from a more fundamental set of issues, which have to do with what the content does to us and to our world. Content matters, it is argued, only because it has an effect. ‘Bias’ is important precisely because of the further supposition that it blocks or distorts people’s capacity to act as citizens, their ability to make political judgements and to act upon them. Bias serves relations of power which thwart democracy. In the same way, popular entertainment’s engagement with politics matters because of how it shapes political values and images, which in turn influence perception and experience of the world.
John Street

The Political Economy of Mass Media

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. State Control and State Propaganda

Abstract
When the question of the state’s involvement in mass media arises, there is a strong temptation to portray this in one of two ways. Either the state is represented as dominating and deploying the media for its own ends, or the media are seen as embodying a rival source of power, challenging rather than succumbing to state power. And typically this simple divide is mapped onto that between dictatorships and democracies, with the latter being defined as those societies that enjoy a ‘free press’ and the former where there is a subservient one (Siebert et al., 1956). So when it was announced that the Olympics were to be held in China in 2008, the Western media’s immediate response was to ask whether they would be curbed in the same way that the Chinese media were. In this moment, two stereotypes of state-media relations were evoked.
John Street

Chapter 6. Conglomerate Control: Media Moguls and Media Power

Abstract
The evil villains in James Bond movies typically represent the anxieties of their era. During the Cold War, 007 battled against Soviet megalomaniacs and their fiendish plans for world domination. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the owners of the Bond franchise looked elsewhere for his nemesis. So it was that in the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond’s rival was Eliot Carver (played by Jonathan Pryce), who — like all his predecessors — was hell-bent on global power. Carver was head of the Carver Media Group, a multimedia conglomerate, and he was using his company to ensnare governments with fake newscasts and other devious ploys. World peace once again hung in the balance, and it was a wicked media mogul who threatened the future of humankind. Who can the filmmakers have been thinking of?
John Street

Chapter 7. Watchdogs or Lapdogs? The Politics of Journalism

Abstract
There are those who view journalism, not as a guarantor of democratic accountability and representation, but in wholly cynical terms. As one ex-BBC news executive told Nick Davies (2008: 135): ‘News is a way of making money, just as selling bread is a way of making money. No one believes that news and journalism are simply a service to democracy.’ Such attitudes are not confined to those who have left the profession. The news presenter Jon Snow is quoted as saying that ‘Journalists are lazy, they live in a goldfish bowl, they’re not interested in breaking out and breaking this stuff [controversial stories] themselves’ (Edwards and Cromwell, 2006: 184). Pierre Bourdieu shared some of this disenchantment, seeing journalism as being driven by the obsessive need to avoid what is boring and to provide amusement wherever possible, which leads to a ‘tendency to shunt aside serious commentators and investigative reporters in favor of the talk show host’ (1998: 3). For Bourdieu, it was less a matter of seeing journalism cynically, but of seeing the cynicism in journalism: ‘The journalistic field represents the world in terms of a philosophy that sees history as an absurd series of disasters which can be neither understood nor influenced’ (ibid.: 8).
John Street

Chapter 8. Dream Worlds: Globalization and the Webs of Power

Abstract
In July 2005, huge pop concerts were staged in eight countries around the world under the banner of Live8. They all had one aim, to persuade the leaders of the G8 nations to reduce the debts of the developing countries. The two prime movers, Bono and Bob Geldof, claimed that they had a mandate from the people of the world for their cause. Twenty years earlier, again at the instigation of Geldof, rock stars had also assembled for a good cause. This time it was to help the victims of famine in Ethiopia. The event was Live Aid. Once again the stars claimed a global mandate, this time in song: ‘We are the world’. Although the impact of these events is much debated, few would deny that they both represent examples of the presence and potential of a global media, a media that straddles the world, creating new communities and creating new political possibilities. Without such a media, neither Live8 nor Live Aid could have happened.
John Street

Mass Media and Democracy

Frontmatter

Chapter 9. Transforming Political Communication? The Rise of Political Marketing and Celebrity Politics

Abstract
In the last part of this book, the focus is upon the relationship between mass media and democracy. This is an issue that has been present throughout. After all, why else are people interested in media bias or corporate ownership, if not because of the worry that systematic distortion or media concentration harm the capacity of citizens to judge and respond to the exercise of power? The next four chapters confront directly the question of how, in a democracy, the relationship between the political process and the mass media should operate. Each chapter considers a different dimension of this relationship. We begin with the business of political communication itself, how ideals and values are conveyed by parties, politicians and political movements. In particular, the focus is on the changes in political communication that have occurred over the last few decades, and the extent to which they have enhanced or damaged the quality of democratic discourse.
John Street

Chapter 10. New Media, New Politics?

Abstract
The growth of the internet has been extraordinary by any standards: from a local secret among scientists at the beginning of the 1990s to the topic of everyday conversation at the end of the decade, from an anarchic information network for the bizarre and the banal, to a chaotic economy of self-made (paper) millionaires and inflated share prices, to a world of Twitter, Wikipedia, social networking sites and a media political economy which is fast becoming the domain of Google and its like. The figures for internet use — not an exact science — suggest that, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, numbers have grown by over 380 per cent. There were some 360 million users in 2000; at the end of the decade there were 1.7 billion — one in four of the world’s population (http://​www.​internetworldsta​ts.​com/​stats.​htm). The accompanying rhetoric has been similarly dramatic, with talk of every aspect of human life, including politics, being transformed by this new form of communication.
John Street

Chapter 11. Power and Mass Media

Abstract
Reflecting on George W. Bush’s presidency, William Connolly (2005a) argues that it entailed a particular alliance of ‘cowboy capitalism’ and ‘evangelical Christianity’. But crucial to Connolly’s story is the role of the media — without it, the alliance would not have been forged. The three elements formed what he describes as ‘a resonance machine’, amplifying and echoing each other’s concerns to create the power base and ideological support upon which Bush depended, not as a coherent doctrine, but as ‘affinities of sensibility’ (Connolly, 2005a: 871). Media, according to Connolly, constituted and circulated the sentiments and sensitivities that gelled as popular support for the Republican programme. Whether Connolly is right to characterize US politics in this way or to attribute this specific role to media is open to debate. The key, though, is the thought that any account of the circulation of power in modern society, and hence any attempt to assess its claims to being democratic, inevitably leads to claims about the role of media. And for some writers, media is the key to power. ‘Communication power’, writes Manuel Castells (2009: 3), ‘is at the heart of the structure and dynamics of society.’ This chapter looks at this general claim and at the various perspectives on media power. In particular, it explores a central theme of this book: the extent to which media are transforming politics.
John Street

Chapter 12. A Free Press: Democracy and Mass Media

Abstract
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (1988: 517–18) wrote: ‘I am far from denying that newspapers in democratic countries lead citizens to do very ill-considered things in common; but without newspapers there would be hardly any common action at all. So they mend more ills than they cause.’ Though these thoughts were published in the first half of the nineteenth century, de Tocqueville’s cautious acknowledgement of media’s contribution to democracy might resonate with many modern commentators who feel a similar ambivalence.
John Street

Conclusion

Abstract
This book began by reflecting upon the dramatic changes that have marked modern forms of communication, and about how many of these had been harnessed by Barack Obama’s campaign to become the 44th president of the United States. Together these changes and Obama’s success lead to the thought that politics is being transformed, and that the key agent of this transformation are the mass media in both their traditional and new guises. It is certainly true that the forms of political communication now in use are dramatically different from those deployed fifty or so years ago; it is also true that the issues faced by those who make (or debate) media policy could not have been anticipated in the days of the press baron. To this extent, there are clear signs of transformation, but there is, too, evidence of continuity.
John Street
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