The news media functions as one the central foundations of our lives and provides society with information about what is happening in the world and their communities. Many people find themselves in front of the television set, behind a newspaper, or beside the radio listening to the news media, waiting to find out what significant events have already happened, or are currently taking place. The problem with this reality is that society has become dependent on the media providing us what is important information, and, because of this, the media itself has acquired the power to manipulate its viewers. I believe that the news media industry is posing a threat to democracy and consequentially making society worse off. The news media provides information that is filtered in many levels in a way that removed the traditional integrity of media norms. The Internet is now becoming the primary form of media access, and through its innovative technologies, it allows some forms of democratic participation, while at the same time creating problems of its own.
One filter of the current media that presents a threat to our democratic lifestyle is the bias caused by advertising and the control these people have over the media. The media has become more than just a conduit of information, and now a way to exert capitalist ideals in society. Information provided through the news media is made available through advertisement funding. In return for the capital provided to the network, newspaper, or radio station, the advertiser’s products are presented with the expectation that sales will increase by doing so. By allowing this situation, an organization or advertiser who sponsors media companies can gain manipulative power over what is fed to the public. For example, if a popular news provider that is sponsored by a major airline discovers a story about terrible service on said airline; it is likely that a story regarding the topic will be overlooked to ensure that funding from their sponsor continues. It would be in a news media’s interest to not condemn their sponsor’s activities, and rather exaggerate their accomplishments through the news. As long as the views of private investors filter what news makes it to the general public, a fully democratic news media will never exist. The media should abide by the United States Constitution and have a “press with content of which is not determined or manipulated by those in power” (Ferkany).
One may argue that this is not the case and that a news company inevitably has to cover a topic regardless of its popularity on other networks or newspapers. This may be correct in particular situations, but it does not minimize the fact that advertisers still have an active role in what is being broadcasted in different types of media. Media companies know what interests the majority of viewers and that topics such as sex, violence, conspiracy, and other issues that bring basic emotion and attract and retain viewers. This condition explains why you will rarely see a front page headline about a twelve year old boy winning the spelling bee over a possible sex scandal with the local mayor. The media company may know that the boys story enriching, but are aware that a sex scandal will bring more viewers, effectively increasing advertising revenues. This focus on basic emotion is also evident during political seasons, as showcased by the coverage about Hillary Clinton and her husband’s past relations and Barack Obama’s trouble with his pastor. The media falls short in terms of ethics, knowing that there are better suited stories that have moral value but would rather provide something contentious.
The media has also caused a divided viewership through filtration of partisan viewpoints. The news media now has created a divide in terms of a left and right view of the news, where democrats and republicans go to receive their news. This is very evident with the television news media and CNN and Fox networks. Many people have argued that Fox and CNN, right and left viewpoints, do not exist, but are merely ways for people to find controversy. Many research studies on the topic have been conducted and present data that is quite the contrary. However, in studies presented by Shanto Iyengar, and Richard Morin in their article “Red Media, Blue Media,” they demonstrate that republicans will almost undoubtedly use FOX as their source for political news and the same for left-sided liberals and CNN (Red Media, Blue Media). One may argue that this is merely because this is in regards to politics, but the research also found that the viewers also tended to use the same media source for other news information as well (Red Media, Blue Media). This bias is sometimes overlooked, creating a greater issue of feeding viewers only polarized views that do not involve appropriately balanced opinion. This point was determined in a similar study when they tested users with BBC, a non-partisan news feeder, resolving that there was no tendency in user affiliation (Red Media, Blue Media). This is because BBC’s success is based around individual journalism (Red Media, Blue Media). This demonstrates that the more we let the people provide the news, rather than parties with agendas, the better off we will be.
In addition to the traditional forms of news media, the Internet is rapidly growing as a primary resource for news. The Internet offers the end user capabilities that no other media has been able to before it. Internet technology allows for a great amount of customization, such as through RSS(Really Simple Syndication) feeds and software programs like Google Reader. These software programs provide efficient, customizable, and breaking news in an unprecedented fashion. In addition to customizable news media filters, users also have “on-demand” access to an extended library of pictures and videos on the Internet, which are also not available through the original news media forms.
Many people have Utopian views towards this technology and feel that the Internet “will increase exposure to new ideas, making people more tolerant and enlightened” (Ferkany). I disagree with their argument and believe that the technologies that the Internet provides will lead to an anti-democratic digital divide. Cass Sustain argues that people should be given news with a great range of topics that one wouldn’t normally have set on their agenda to what they would be reading (Sustain). He believes that through variety, the news helps eliminate the divide because it doesn’t segregate what people are viewing, and that "in designing your own preferred newspaper" you are just choosing among how you want to be associated with in society in terms of media coverage and are only becoming more sheltered from other issues in the world (Sustain). I agree with Sustain and believe that through customization of news media through online software such as Google Reader, one only becomes isolated from the community, and less able to collaborate on current topics affecting the world.
With the media functioning as one the central foundations of our lifestyles, society places a lot of trust in media corporations in that they provide information that is correct and unbiased. It has become apparent that traditional media forms have become biased through the vast amount of forces that affect what viewers finally see. It is becoming difficult to experience a mainstream variety of news that one can find in the newspaper, on television, or over the radio. The Internet is now on the forefront of news media, and society has to make sure that the power of the media stays in the hands of the people and not the major corporations and politicians. The Internet provides an open slate for democracy as long as people do not isolate themselves in their own beliefs.
Ferkany, Matt. "The Internet and Democracy." Michigan State University. Giltner Hall, East Lansing. 10 Apr. 2008. 10 Apr. 2008.
Iyengar, Shanto, and Richard Morin. "Red Media, Blue Media." Washington Post 3 May 2006. 1 May 2008 .
Sunstain, Cass. "Exposure to Other Viewpoints is Vital to Democracy." The Chronicle of Higher Education. (2001). 1 Apr.-May 2008 .