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Contemporary British Politics pp 156–169 Cite as

The mass media and politics

  • Bill Coxall ,
  • Lynton Robins &
  • Robert Leach  

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T he communication of political information is an important process in the political system, and the mass media play a central role in this activity. The mass media provide most of the electorate with a framework for understanding past, present and future events. Yet there is extensive debate about both the extent and the character of the impact of the mass media on politics. Some theorists believe that the mass media in Britain facilitate democracy by allowing a wide variety of views to be expressed. Some believe that the media are anti-democratic because of their power to manipulate the way people think about politics at home and abroad. Others are more concerned with discovering the meaning of media content through analysing interaction between media messages and the culture of specific audiences. Many critics have accused the mass media of trivialising politics. Because different television channels and newspapers find that they are competing for a limited number of viewers and readers, there is the tendency to make the news more attractive by treating it as entertainment rather than as a serious business.

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Curran and Seaton (1990) and Seymour-Ure (1974) both provide interesting discussions of the position of the media in society. Whale (1977) provides a comprehensive discussion of the political context within which the media operates and which it influences. Stokes and Reading (1999) reviews a range of empirical and analytical material concerning media studies. Tunstall and Machin (1999) analyses Britain’s partnership with the USA and subservient media roles, and Anderson (1997) provides an interesting case-study of the environment and the media.

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© 2003 Bill Coxall, Lynton Robins and Robert Leach

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Coxall, B., Robins, L., Leach, R. (2003). The mass media and politics. In: Contemporary British Politics. Palgrave, London.

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Mass Media and Political Communication in New Democracies

Profile image of Marius Do

This book examines how political communication and the mass media have played a central role in the consolidation of emerging democracies around the world. Covering a broad range of political and cultural contexts from Eastern and Southern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, this new volume investigates the problems and conflicts arising in the process of establishing an independent media and competitive politics in post-autocratic societies. Considering the changing dynamic in the relationship between political actors, the media and their audience, the authors of this volume address the following issues: • Changing journalistic role perceptions and journalistic quality. • The reasons and consequences of persisting instrumentalization of the media by political actors. • The role of the media in election campaigns. • The way in which the citizens interpret political messages and the extent to which the media influence political attitudes and electoral behaviour. • The role of the Internet in building a democratic public sphere. This book will be of great interest to all those studying and researching democracy and democratization, comparative politics, political communication, journalism, media and the Internet. Katrin Voltmer is Senior Lecturer of Political Communication at the Institute of Communication Studies, University of Leeds, UK.

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The Linguistics of Mass Persuasion: How Politicians Make “Fetch” Happen (Part I)

Inspired by the Gretchen famous line in the film Mean Girls, Chi Luu explores how politicians mobilize language to sway public opinion.

Stop trying to make fetch happen

Politicians of all stripes and the irrepressible Gretchen Wieners, a character from the cult film  Mean Girls , have one surprising thing in common: they all want to make “fetch” happen . That is, in a world of high-stakes politics (high school or otherwise), they’re all trying to make friends and influence people—through the magic of language manipulation. Sadly for Gretchen, “fetch” just isn’t going to happen, but at least the notion of “making fetch happen” (meaning to successfully start a cultural/linguistic trend) probably has—and it turns out politicians are pretty good at it. Throughout political history, scholars have been fascinated by the powerful words—speeches, slogans, catchphrases, and political cant—used by public figures to sway their audiences into massive undertakings, from matters of war to peace to defining the national identity. But can language really be used as a weapon of mass persuasion—and just how easy is it to accomplish?

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“Language is an important force in shaping the political,” according to Daniel T. Rodgers, who views American political language throughout history as “a field of combat: words are weapons to be used, battlegrounds to be conquered or defended.” In the matter of swaying public opinion, political rhetoric can get pretty vicious. It’s easy enough to trade well-worn slurs and suffer the social consequences. But what we’re beginning to see is that the more subtle the manipulation of language and the more unobtrusive the word-as-weapon becomes, the more insidious its effect on an unsuspecting public.

How to Make Neologisms Happen

So how does this all work? The answer is naturally more complex than we can cover here. Let’s first look at how neologisms might catch on in a language. Unfortunately, we don’t exactly have the secret formula for how to make fetch happen. However, if certain conditions are met, a new term or word sense can have a pretty decent chance of loitering with intent in a language. Linguist Allan Metcalf in Predicting New Words   cooks up  what he calls FUDGE, a handy mnemonic for the main factors necessary for a new term to thrive in the language:

F requency – The term should be used repeatedly U nobtrusiveness – The term shouldn’t be too noticeably weird, so it’s easy to pick up D iversity – The term should be used across different groups G enerating new forms and meanings – The term should be able to be used flexibly in different ways E ndurance – The concept the term refers to should be long-lasting

“On Message”

So how does this play out in political language, propaganda, and mass persuasion? Public figures like politicians have a huge advantage over the Gretchen Wieners of the world when it comes to making political fetch happen. For one thing, well-known powerful figures automatically have the attention of the public. Mass media institutions, from the press to social media, follow them around, broadcasting, sharing, and reinterpreting their every word, on repeat, even if they actively disagree with their agenda and ideology .

In the realm of political theater, if you want to “make fetch happen” you crucially have to stay “on message”. As we consume that message again and again, we are also being taught how to receive it. Against the “shock and awe” onslaught of mass repetition, new phrases and meanings are rarely questioned, and are picked up and used without much pushback. However, staying “on message” once meant robotically repeating the same easily digestible party-line slogans and carefully crafted catchphrases. You’ll always have your obvious “ cheese eating surrender monkeys “-type political slurs, but can we always track the political intentions behind more benign phrases like “ climate change “—a politically motivated term that sneakily replaced the use of “global warming” when our backs were turned? These days, subtlety is key, especially with growing public awareness and a certain level of cynicism. Once this trick of political rhetoric is made too obvious , it becomes much less effective . Mass persuasion has to be linguistically unobtrusive.

Clearly, without mass media to report and shape “the message” and encourage its general use, it’s harder for new terms to catch on. As Michael Silverstein, in his study on the poetics of politics , puts it:

We, the potential electorate […] learn how to listen to and look at political communication […] always over the shoulders of media commentators and shapers of ‘message.’ We have to appreciate, then, how political speech in the multi-layered jumble of the mass media is like articulate noise shouted into a chasm, a canyon. If it doesn’t just dissipate and disappear, it echoes in particular ways as it is picked up and selectively repeated and interpretatively reshaped by a mediating press and other institutions in the public sphere.

As an example, in 2006, media commentators , such as Hendrik Herzberg of the New Yorker , observed the emergence of a new, “ungrammatical” term being used called “Democrat Party”, in place of the official “Democratic Party”. “Democrat”, a noun, was being used as an adjective, which served to sever the central notion of democracy from the party’s name and turn it into a party of Democrats. It was a minute change, but Herzberg suggested that “there’s no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming. ‘Democrat Party’ is a slur, or intended to be—a handy way to express contempt.” He attributed the near uniform use of it among Republicans like Frank Luntz and New Gingrich, who was responsible for the infamous 1990 memo, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” And the mainstream media followed suit, using the term “Democrat” as an adjective rather than as a noun in similar ways and in new contexts, spreading it even further.

Who Are You and Who Do You Fear?

In politics, it’s really not just a matter of ushering in a neologism for the pure joy of seeing language change. You also have to somehow make people want to own and use these new terms. In the political realm, the most successful terms are often noun phrases composed of common words instead of newly coined words. The new terms and nuances being introduced are calculated to frame and control the narrative that’s being told, to deflect opposition and obscure information, to bring up positive or negative images—ultimately to further a political agenda. Somehow, these new terms are chosen, widely disseminated, and instantly infused with persuasive symbolism or emotive nuance that is not always clearly defined—yet clearly works.

When it comes to making a new political catchphrase stick, emotions can run high. The subtle rhetoric in these terms seems to almost force a stance on identity and the values you hold. This boils down to two basic emotional systems; namely, deciding which group you belong to and which group you fear. It’s the timeless question of us vs . them. Take note of recent constructions such as “anchor babies ,” “liberal media,” “anti-union,” “tax relief ,” or the phrase, “the war on terror/women/Christmas/etc .” Virtually any issue can be re-jigged to be more positive or negative. Depending on who you identify with, you’ll tend to use and share that group’s communication styles.

It’s clear that politics has learned a lot from advertising. Michael Silverstein sees  branding and political messages as closely related in their abilities to manipulate values and identity.

‘Brand’ implies potential stories, the most important being how people, as potential and actual consumers, project cultural values onto the commodity so as to organize their relationship of use of that commodity.

So brands persuade people to buy them and buy into them (and not their competitors), which also projects a particular lifestyle choice. Just like brand advertising, political language shapes an audience’s emotional identity by giving them something to be a part of (with ideological goals to work towards), and something to watch out for (a competing force to fight against or values to despise). This fascinating linguistic manipulation of emotion and identity is particularly effective in an age where information can be shared across vast distances in a split second, and in increasingly sophisticated and subtle ways.

So in politics, it’s not just a question of making fetch happen for the fun of it. New terms, new meanings, are carefully chosen to exploit your hopes and fears. But exactly how is language weaponized? You may be surprised at how little it actually takes.

In part two, Lingua Obscura will delve deeper into the art of political persuasion through language. (It turns out it involves linguistic cliffhangers…and a leap of faith.)

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Table of content

Coverage of meetings and rallies on television channels

Newspaper reports and providing political information, magazines as a part of mass media, social media as a part of mass media.

Political parties and party leaders use mass media as a platform to influence the political opinion of citizens. They also use mass media to influence and control public opinion on their behalf. Similarly, mass media can play a vital role in completely changing public opinion about a political party or its leader. In other words, political information accessed by the people plays a crucial role in improving or strengthening their perspective regarding the objectives of certain political parties. There are many more aspects of the relation between mass media and politics. Some of these features have been discussed below.

Moreover, political leaders often use various mass media platforms like newspapers and television to inform the public about multiple agendas and programs, to be held by them. Live coverage of rallies and political meetings on television news channels also tells the people of the political condition of the nation. People evaluate what the   political leaders   are speaking about in the sessions. It also gives the viewer a chance to understand the objectives of political leaders. The public is informed about the political status of the nation, based on how these gatherings are aired on television, Say, for instance, a television channel compares the turn out in of one party's political meeting with another. In such a case, the viewer can quickly identify the collective opinion of the public. It can thus be concluded that the list of the political party, which has seen a better turnout, is favored by the public. The viewer can then decide what stance to take based on public opinion. He can either choose to oppose or support the public view. Hence, coverage of political meetings and rallies by various television channels can go a long way in consolidated public opinion regarding the political condition of a country.

Another mass media platform preferred by political leaders in newspapers. Newspaper reporters must provide the public with accurate and authentic information about various incidents. This will help people develop unbiased political perspectives. If a political event has occurred in a far corner of your country, then you will get information about it through newspaper reports. Based on these incidents, you can form an opinion regarding the socio-political condition of your nation. The onus of reporting the incident with honesty lies with the news reporter and the newspaper editor. However, in most cases, the reports provided by newspapers are genuine and free of prejudices. Unbiased newspaper reports play a vital role in influencing the political opinions of citizens of a country. Thus, a paper not only provides readers with information but is a bridge between the public and political parties.

Moreover, newspapers often carry out elaborate interviews with political leaders. These interviews give the newspaper reader an insight into the objectives and agendas of the political leader and his party. This, too, can help influence the political perspective of the readers. Political leaders often use interviews and media conferences to get their standpoint and position across to the public. Media conferences and how the political leaders have answered the questions posed by the reporters help shape public opinion about a political leader and his party.

Magazines are not just extensions of newspapers. Reports published in magazines can help influence the political opinion of citizens of a country. Opinions voiced by social scientists are often printed in the form of editorials in magazines. Although these are personal opinions, readers often accept these implicitly. That is because the opinions voiced by social scientists are unbiased and free of prejudices. They use the views of great thinkers, to develop their own. Social scientists provide various perspectives on a unique political situation. This can help people understand the political condition of their country in a better manner. This, too, can help influence the political thought process of a nation as a whole.

With the advent of various social media platforms, political leaders have started using these to shape the political opinion of people. The younger generation of voters mostly accesses social media platforms. Yet the impact of political information sent through these platforms can prove to be quite permanent. In other words, if a political leader uses the social media platform intelligently, he can convert public opinion on his behalf.

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Similarly, if unfavorable information about a political leader is aired on social media platforms, then public opinion will go against him. Thus, the political information released by political parties on social media platforms should be carefully evaluated before being made public. Social media platforms also provide news and information regarding the political condition of a nation. Since social media became accessible through mobile devices, its coverage became greater. Anyone with a mobile device and an internet connection can set up profiles on social media platforms. Once the profile is created, he can access all types of information through these platforms. Sometimes social media platforms also have forums where people can carry out political discussions. By participating in such studies, people can become politically aware. Thus, with the expansion of social media and its impact on people, the various social media platforms have become a part of mass media. Moreover, the ability of social media platforms to influence public opinion has also been accepted by   politicians , social scientists, and statisticians. Hence, it is not possible to underplay the role played by social media, as a part of mass media, to shape the political opinion of the public.

Thus, various mass media platforms play crucial roles in influencing the political opinions of the people of a nation. Without these platforms access information, political and otherwise would be impossible. So mass media plays a significant role in ensuring the political stability of a country is maintained. It will also not be very wrong to say that one is dependent on one another for both information and survival.

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Mass Media Role in Social, Political, and Cultural Life Essay

Nowadays the role of mass media is gaining more importance, as it serves as a means of communication and information proliferation. Its ubiquitous intrusion into social, political, and cultural life makes television and radio programs the main monitors of current events occurring in this societal realms. However, the desire to remain on the peak of popularity and to maintain high rates, there has appeared many programs that use some radical methods of information submission. In the constant quest for sensations and celebrities, the radio and TV anchors forget about moral and ethical norms; instead, they are more focused on grabbing the viewers’ attention. Hence, the Koenheiser’s case described in Chris Chase’s article brightly illustrates this problem.

The problem of violation of moral and ethical norms are revealed in the article called ESPN suspends Tony Kornheiser for criticizing anchor’s wardrobe . In particular, the article discloses Kornheiser’s comments on the clothes of Hannah Storm, Sport Center host in his program Pardon The Interruption (PTI). His rough and scandalous remarks raised a ‘storm’ of indignation among the ESPN regular listeners. However, Kornheiser’s intentions are explicable and can be hardly justified, as his show success is based on sarcastic display of sport celebrities and events. In the article, Chris Chase inserts two direct remarks of famous anchor to compare his motives before criticism and after it. Judging on his speech, Kornneiser recognizes his mistakes and apologizes for his inappropriate behavior but the real motive is hidden in his implicit desire to maintain his job. In the concluding part of the article, the author puts an emphasis on that fact the criticism imposed on the anchor was explained by ESPN policy that forbid to criticize ESPN members.

The article has a well-organized structure with introducing and concluding part. In the main body, one can pursue the display of arguments supported by direct remarks. However, it is hard to identify the main purpose and idea of this article, as it is a piece of new rather than an evaluative paper. On the other hand, the author implicitly imposes his opinion by the following concluding phrase: “…Kornheiser might say similar comments about any number of people. He got in trouble this time because ESPN has a strict policy about criticism within the network” (Chase n.pag.). This is, perhaps, the only phrase that reveals Chase’s subjective attitude to the event, which is again supported by following phrase as well: “…what usually gets those guys into trouble is the stuff you wouldn’t have found offensive upon first listen” (n.pag.). At the same time, he still prefers to take a neutral position to provide more space for outer discussions, which is another aim of this piece of information.

I believe that the article reveals many points for discussions in terms of social and moral problem existed on the radio. In particular, it highlights the role and negative influence of sarcasm and satire on TV and radio target audience. A special consideration requires the analysis of commercial value of such television project as PTI whose format allows imposing an audacious criticism of people. To my mind, the criticism imposed on the commentator is justified but partially, as channel owners still allow using this sarcastic behavior and comment for the channel nonmembers, which is not morally justified. Such an evaluation brings me the idea that both parts are more interested in the commercial success of the program until it concerns network members.

These issues also concern the introduction of sarcasm notes an inherent component of popular culture. The author recognizes that such form of criticism “may have a drawback though” but still justifies his point this incident “insensitive news” insensitive comment (Chase n.pag.). Viewing the problem from another angle, sarcasm, and sensational news is a contemporary underpinning of media culture and ESPN Media Empire who tries still tries to protect their respectable image. In this respect, such notes do imply negative intentions, as they aimed at entertaining people only neglecting the real consequences. Therefore, Kornheiser only depicted or emulated emotions which are opposed to his true feelings. Such a behavior may provoke confusions in the audience that often fails to distinguish a real sarcasm from real commentator’s intentions. In that regard, the Koerheiser’s statement proves this concept: “If you put a live microphone in front of someone, eventually that person will say something wrong” (Chase n.pag.). I guess that it is a bit confusing statement but it still does not contradict the PTI format standards. In this respect, Kornheiser’s suspension from the radio programs is rather justified.

Due to the fact that the main function of radio programs is to entertain rather than to inform, PTI programs fully covers this requirement thus grabbing absolute attention of the listeners. Therefore, the occurred problem is the guilt of ESPN channel, as well. However, current listeners have a vague image of real offences and sarcastic comments where Koerheiser justifications turn out to be false and unsubstantiated. To my mind, his real intention was to gain more popularity and recognition among mere people so that he did not think about the consequences.

The negative influence of the commentator’s sarcastic utterances is also viewed in a deeper context. Hence, it reveals the necessity to consider moral sarcasm from immoral where the latter conforms to this case. His response to suspension was predetermined by his reluctance to leave the program but by moral realization of his guilt. This point is brightly supported by the idea in the interview:

As a result of this, I have been sent to the sidelines from PTI for a while and when I’m allowed back on PTI I will happily go back because I really love the PTI show and love all the people on the PTI show (Chase n.pag.)

Koenheiser’s case is a bright example of how mass media corrupts a people’s social stereotypes and moral norms. His fault is even more proved, as media culture has now penetrated to each layer of society where the radio and television broadcasting are veritable sources of information. The commentator, therefore, provides a negative example thus cultivating a sarcastic behavior that can be taken for granted.

Drawing a conclusion, it is necessary to state that Koerheiser suspension was a right decision due to many reasons. First, Koerneiser’s behavior contradicts the main principles and policy strategies of ESPN channel that does not allow to assault network members. Second, this Koenheiser’s comments can lead to the decrease of PTI popularity and image, as this audacious criticism raised a range of scandalous discussions undermining ESPN reputation. Finally, the speaker’s attitude was morally and ethically unjustified thus cultivating social disturbances and proliferation of immoral behavior within the society. Therefore, PTI program is not interested in advocating ethical norms and cultural behavior but revealing a distorted vision of criticism.

Works Cited

Chase, Chris. ESPN suspends Tony Kornheiser for criticizing anchor’s wardrobe. Sports Blogs. 2010. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021, December 11). Mass Media Role in Social, Political, and Cultural Life.

"Mass Media Role in Social, Political, and Cultural Life." IvyPanda , 11 Dec. 2021,

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Mass Media Role in Social, Political, and Cultural Life'. 11 December.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Mass Media Role in Social, Political, and Cultural Life." December 11, 2021.

1. IvyPanda . "Mass Media Role in Social, Political, and Cultural Life." December 11, 2021.


IvyPanda . "Mass Media Role in Social, Political, and Cultural Life." December 11, 2021.

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Special Issue: Propaganda

This essay was published as part of the Special Issue “Propaganda Analysis Revisited”, guest-edited by Dr. A. J. Bauer (Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Creative Media, University of Alabama) and Dr. Anthony Nadler (Associate Professor, Department of Communication and Media Studies, Ursinus College).

Propaganda, misinformation, and histories of media techniques

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This essay argues that the recent scholarship on misinformation and fake news suffers from a lack of historical contextualization. The fact that misinformation scholarship has, by and large, failed to engage with the history of propaganda and with how propaganda has been studied by media and communication researchers is an empirical detriment to it, and serves to make the solutions and remedies to misinformation harder to articulate because the actual problem they are trying to solve is unclear.

School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds, UK

mass media and politics essay


Propaganda has a history and so does research on it. In other words, the mechanisms and methods through which media scholars have sought to understand propaganda—or misinformation, or disinformation, or fake news, or whatever you would like to call it—are themselves historically embedded and carry with them underlying notions of power and causality. To summarize the already quite truncated argument below, the larger conceptual frameworks for understanding information that is understood as “pernicious” in some way can be grouped into four large categories: studies of propaganda, the analysis of ideology and its relationship to culture, notions of conspiracy theory, and finally, concepts of misinformation and its impact. The fact that misinformation scholarship generally proceeds without acknowledging these theoretical frameworks is an empirical detriment to it and serves to make the solutions and remedies to misinformation harder to articulate because the actual problem to be solved is unclear. 

The following pages discuss each of these frameworks—propaganda, ideology, conspiracy, and misinformation—before returning to the stakes and implications of these arguments for future research on pernicious media content.

Propaganda and applied research

The most salient aspect of propaganda research is the fact that it is powerful in terms of resources while at the same time it is often intellectually derided, or at least regularly dismissed. Although there has been a left-wing tradition of propaganda research housed uneasily within the academy (Herman & Chomsky, 1988; Seldes & Seldes, 1943), this is not the primary way in which journalism or media messaging has been understood in many journalism schools or mainstream communications departments. This relates, of course, to the institutionalization of journalism and communication studies within the academic enterprise. Within this paradox, we see the greater paradox of communication research as both an applied and a disciplinary field. Propaganda is taken quite seriously by governments, the military, and the foreign service apparatus (Simpson, 1994); at the same time, it has occupied a tenuous conceptual place in most media studies and communications departments, with the dominant intellectual traditions embracing either a “limited effects” notion of what communication “does” or else more concerned with the more slippery concept of ideology (and on that, see more below). There is little doubt that the practical study of the power of messages and the field of communication research grew up together. Summarizing an initially revisionist line of research that has now become accepted within the historiography of the field, Nietzel notes that “from the very beginning, communication research was at least in part designed as an applied science, intended to deliver systematic knowledge that could be used for the business of government to the political authorities.” He adds, however, that

“this context also had its limits, for by the end of the decade, communication research had become established at American universities and lost much of its dependence on state funds. Furthermore, it had become increasingly clear that communication scientists could not necessarily deliver knowledge to the political authorities that could serve as a pattern for political acting (Simpson, 1994 pp. 88–89). From then on, politics and communication science parted ways. Many of the approaches and techniques which seemed innovative and even revolutionary in the 1940s and early 1950s, promising a magic key to managing propaganda activities and controlling public opinion, became routine fields of work, and institutions like the USIA carried out much of this kind of research themselves.” (Nietzel, 2016, p. 66)

It is important to note that this parting of ways did  not  mean that no one in the United States and the Soviet Union was studying propaganda. American government records document that, in inflation-adjusted terms, total funding for the United States Information Agency (USIA) rose from $1.2 billion in 1955 to $1.7 billion in 1999, shortly before its functions were absorbed into the United States Department of State. And this was dwarfed by Soviet spending, which spent more money jamming Western Radio transmissions alone than the United States did in its entire propaganda budget. Media effects research in the form of propaganda studies was a big and well-funded business. It was simply not treated as such within the traditional academy (Zollman, 2019). It is also important to note that this does not mean that no one in academia studies propaganda or the effect of government messages on willing or unwilling recipients, particularly in fields like health communication (also quite well-funded). These more academic studies, however, were tempered by the generally accepted fact that there existed no decontextualized, universal laws of communication that could render media messages easily useable by interested actors.

Ideology, economics, and false consciousness

If academics have been less interested than governments and health scientists in analyzing the role played by propaganda in the formation of public opinion, what has the academy worried about instead when it comes to the study of pernicious messages and their role in public life? Open dominant, deeply contested line of study has revolved around the concept of  ideology.  As defined by Raymond Williams in his wonderful  Keywords , ideology refers to an interlocking set of ideas, beliefs, concepts, or philosophical principles that are naturalized, taken for granted, or regarded as self-evident by various segments of society. Three controversial and interrelated principles then follow. First, ideology—particularly in its Marxist version—carries with it the implication that these ideas are somehow deceptive or disassociated from what actually exists. “Ideology is then abstract and false thought, in a sense directly related to the original conservative use but with the alternative—knowledge of real material conditions and relationships—differently stated” (Williams, 1976). Second, in all versions of Marxism, ideology is related to economic conditions in some fashion, with material reality, the economics of a situation, usually dominant and helping give birth to ideological precepts. In common Marxist terminology, this is usually described as the relationship between the base (economics and material conditions) and the superstructure (the realm of concepts, culture, and ideas). Third and finally, it is possible that different segments of society will have  different  ideologies, differences that are based in part on their position within the class structure of that society. 

Western Marxism in general (Anderson, 1976) and Antonio Gramsci in particular helped take these concepts and put them on the agenda of media and communications scholars by attaching more importance to “the superstructure” (and within it, media messages and cultural industries) than was the case in earlier Marxist thought. Journalism and “the media” thus play a major role in creating and maintaining ideology and thus perpetuating the deception that underlies ideological operations. In the study of the relationship between the media and ideology, “pernicious messages” obviously mean something different than they do in research on propaganda—a more structural, subtle, reinforcing, invisible, and materially dependent set of messages than is usually the case in propaganda analysis.  Perhaps most importantly, little research on media and communication understands ideology in terms of “discrete falsehoods and erroneous belief,” preferring to focus on processes of deep structural  misrecognition  that serves dominant economic interests (Corner, 2001, p. 526). This obviously marks a difference in emphasis as compared to most propaganda research. 

Much like in the study of propaganda, real-world developments have also had an impact on the academic analysis of media ideology. The collapse of communism in the 1980s and 1990s and the rise of neoliberal governance obviously has played a major role in these changes. Although only one amongst a great many debates about the status of ideology in a post-Marxist communications context, the exchange between Corner (2001, 2016) and Downey (2008; Downey et al., 2014) is useful for understanding how scholars have dealt with the relationship between large macro-economic and geopolitical changes in the world and fashions of research within the academy. Regardless of whether concepts of ideology are likely to return to fashion, any analysis of misinformation that is consonant with this tradition must keep in mind the relationship between class and culture, the outstanding and open question of “false consciousness,” and the key scholarly insight that ideological analysis is less concerned with false messages than it is with questions of structural misrecognition and the implications this might have for the maintenance of hegemony.

Postmodern conspiracy

Theorizing pernicious media content as a “conspiracy” theory is less common than either of the two perspectives discussed above. Certainly, conspiratorial media as an explanatory factor for political pathology has something of a post-Marxist (and indeed, postmodern) aura. Nevertheless, there was a period in the 1990s and early 2000s when some of the most interesting notions of conspiracy theories were analyzed in academic work, and it seems hard to deny that much of this literature would be relevant to the current emergence of the “QAnon” cult, the misinformation that is said to drive it, and other even more exotic notions of elites conspiring against the public. 

Frederic Jameson has penned remarks on conspiracy theory that represent the starting point for much current writing on the conspiratorial mindset, although an earlier and interrelated vein of scholarship can be found in the work of American writers such as Hofstadter (1964) and Rogin (1986). “Conspiracy is the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age,” Jameson writes, “it is a degraded figure of the total logic of late capital, a desperate attempt to represent the latter’s system” (Jameson, 1991). If “postmodernism,” in Jameson’s terms, is marked by a skepticism toward metanarratives, then conspiracy theory is the only narrative system available to explain the various deformations of the capitalist system. As Horn and Rabinach put it:

“The broad interest taken by cultural studies in popular conspiracy theories mostly adopted Jameson’s view and regards them as the wrong answers to the right questions. Showing the symptoms of disorientation and loss of social transparency, conspiracy theorists are seen as the disenfranchised “poor in spirit,” who, for lack of a real understanding of the world they live in, come up with paranoid systems of world explanation.” (Horn & Rabinach, 2008)

Other thinkers, many of them operating from a perch within media studies and communications departments, have tried to take conspiracy theories more seriously (Bratich, 2008; Fenster, 2008; Pratt, 2003; Melley, 2008). The key question for all of these thinkers lies within the debate discussed in the previous section, the degree to which “real material interests” lie behind systems of ideological mystification and whether audiences themselves bear any responsibility for their own predicament. In general, writers sympathetic to Jameson have tended to maintain a Marxist perspective in which conspiracy represents a pastiche of hegemonic overthrow, thus rendering it just another form of ideological false consciousness. Theorists less taken with Marxist categories see conspiracy as an entirely rational (though incorrect) response to conditions of late modernity or even as potentially liberatory. Writers emphasizing that pernicious media content tends to fuel a conspiratorial mindset often emphasize the mediated aspects of information rather than the economics that lie behind these mediations. Both ideological analysis and academic writings on conspiracy theory argue that there is a gap between “what seems to be going on” and “what is actually going on,” and that this gap is maintained and widened by pernicious media messages. Research on ideology tends to see the purpose of pernicious media content as having an ultimately material source that is rooted in “real interests,” while research on conspiracies plays down these class aspects and questions whether any real interests exist that go beyond the exercise of political power.

The needs of informationally ill communities

The current thinking in misinformation studies owes something to all these approaches. But it owes an even more profound debt to two perspectives on information and journalism that emerged in the early 2000s, both of which are indebted to an “ecosystemic” perspective on information flows. One perspective sees information organizations and their audiences as approximating a natural ecosystem, in which different media providers contribute equally to the health of an information environment, which then leads to healthy citizens. The second perspective analyzes the flows of messages as they travel across an information environment, with messages becoming reshaped and distorted as they travel across an information network. 

Both of these perspectives owe a debt to the notion of the “informational citizen” that was popular around the turn of the century and that is best represented by the 2009 Knight Foundation report  The Information Needs of Communities  (Knight Foundation, 2009). This report pioneered the idea that communities were informational communities whose political health depended in large part on the quality of information these communities ingested. Additional reports by The Knight Foundation, the Pew Foundation, and this author (Anderson, 2010) looked at how messages circulated across these communities, and how their transformation impacted community health. 

It is a short step from these ecosystemic notions to a view of misinformation that sees it as a pollutant or even a virus (Anderson, 2020), one whose presence in a community turns it toward sickness or even political derangement. My argument here is that the current misinformation perspective owes less to its predecessors (with one key exception that I will discuss below) and more to concepts of information that were common at the turn of the century. The major difference between the concept of misinformation and earlier notions of informationally healthy citizens lies in the fact that the normative standard by which health is understood within information studies is crypto-normative. Where writings about journalism and ecosystemic health were openly liberal in nature and embraced notions of a rational, autonomous citizenry who just needed the right inputs in order to produce the right outputs, misinformation studies has a tendency to embrace liberal behavioralism without embracing a liberal political theory. What the political theory of misinformation studies is, in the end, deeply unclear.

I wrote earlier that misinformation studies owed more to notions of journalism from the turn of the century than it did to earlier traditions of theorizing. There is one exception to this, however. Misinformation studies, like propaganda analysis, is a radically de-structured notion of what information does. Buried within analysis of pernicious information there is

“A powerful cultural contradiction—the need to understand and explain social influence versus a rigid intolerance of the sociological and Marxist perspectives that could provide the theoretical basis for such an understanding. Brainwashing, after all, is ultimately a theory of ideology in the crude Marxian sense of “false consciousness.” Yet the concept of brainwashing was the brainchild of thinkers profoundly hostile to Marxism not only to its economic assumptions but also to its emphasis on structural, rather than individual, causality.” (Melley, 2008, p. 149)

For misinformation studies to grow in such a way that allows it to take its place among important academic theories of media and communication, several things must be done. The field needs to be more conscious of its own history, particularly its historical conceptual predecessors. It needs to more deeply interrogate its  informational-agentic  concept of what pernicious media content does, and perhaps find room in its arsenal for Marxist notions of hegemony or poststructuralist concepts of conspiracy. Finally, it needs to more openly advance its normative agenda, and indeed, take a normative position on what a good information environment would look like from the point of view of political theory. If this environment is a liberal one, so be it. But this position needs to be stated clearly.

Of course, misinformation studies need not worry about its academic bona fides at all. As the opening pages of this Commentary have shown, propaganda research was only briefly taken seriously as an important academic field. This did not stop it from being funded by the U.S. government to the tune of 1.5 billion dollars a year. While it is unlikely that media research will ever see that kind of investment again, at least by an American government, let’s not forget that geopolitical Great Power conflict has not disappeared in the four years that Donald Trump was the American president. Powerful state forces in Western society will have their own needs, and their own demands, for misinformation research. It is up to the scholarly community to decide how they will react to these temptations. 

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Cite this Essay

Anderson, C. W. (2021). Propaganda, misinformation, and histories of media techniques. Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review .


Anderson, C. W. (2010). Journalistic networks and the diffusion of local news: The brief, happy news life of the Francisville Four. Political Communication , 27 (3), 289–309.

Anderson, C. W. (2020, August 10). Fake news is not a virus: On platforms and their effects. Communication Theory , 31 (1), 42–61.

Anderson, P. (1976). Considerations on Western Marxism . Verso.

Bratich, J. Z. (2008). Conspiracy panics: Political rationality and popular culture. State University of New York Press.

Corner, J. (2001). ‘Ideology’: A note on conceptual salvage. Media, Culture & Society , 23 (4), 525–533.

Corner, J. (2016). ‘Ideology’ and media research. Media, Culture & Society , 38 (2), 265 – 273.

Downey, J. (2008). Recognition and renewal of ideology critique. In D. Hesmondhaigh & J. Toynbee (Eds.), The media and social theory (pp. 59–74). Routledge.

Downey, J., Titley, G., & Toynbee, J. (2014). Ideology critique: The challenge for media studies. Media, Culture & Society , 36 (6), 878–887.

Fenster (2008). Conspiracy theories: Secrecy and power in American culture (Rev. ed.). University of Minnesota Press.

Herman, E., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. Pantheon Books. 

Hofstadter, R. (1964, November). The paranoid style in American politics. Harper’s Magazine.

Horn, E., & Rabinach, A. (2008). Introduction. In E. Horn (Ed.), Dark powers: Conspiracies and conspiracy theory in history and literature (pp. 1–8), New German Critique , 35 (1).

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of late capitalism . Duke University Press.

The Knight Foundation. (2009). Informing communities: Sustaining democracy in the digital age.

Melley, T. (2008). Brainwashed! Conspiracy theory and ideology in postwar United States. New German Critique , 35 (1), 145–164.

Nietzel, B. (2016). Propaganda, psychological warfare and communication research in the USA and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. History of the Human Sciences , 29 (4 – 5), 59–76.

Pratt, R. (2003). Theorizing conspiracy. Theory and Society , 32 , 255–271.

Rogin, M. P. (1986). The countersubversive tradition in American politics.  Berkeley Journal of Sociology,   31 , 1 –33.

Seldes, G., & Seldes, H. (1943). Facts and fascism. In Fact.

Simpson, C. (1994). Science of coercion: Communication research and psychological warfare, 1945–1960. Oxford University Press.

Williams, R. (1976).  Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society . Oxford University Press.

Zollmann, F. (2019). Bringing propaganda back into news media studies. Critical Sociology , 45 (3), 329–345.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that the original author and source are properly credited.

Essay On Mass Media

500 words essay on mass media.

All kinds of different tools which come in use to help in distributing and circulating information and entertainment to the public come under the term of mass media. In other words, everything including radio, newspapers , cable, television and theatre are parts of mass media. These tools include exchanging opinions and public involvement. Through essay on mass media, we will go through it in detail.

essay on mass media

Introduction to Mass Media

In today’s world, mass media embraces internet , cell phones, electronic mail, computers, pagers and satellites. All these new additions function as transmitting information from a single source to multiple receivers.

In other words, they are interactive and work on the person to person formula. Thus, it revolves around the masses i.e. the people. It is true that radio, television, press and cinema are in the spotlight when we talk about mass media.

Nonetheless, the role of pamphlets, books, magazines, posters, billboards, and more also have equal importance if not less. Moreover, the reach of these tools extends to a huge amount of masses living all over the country.

Television, cinema, radio and press are comparatively expensive forms of media which private financial institutions or the Government runs. These tools centre on the idea of mass production and mass distribution.

Therefore, newspapers, television and radio cater to the needs of the mass audience and accommodates their taste. As a result, it will not always be refined or sophisticated. In other words, it displays popular culture.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

The Function of Mass Media

The main function of mass media is to reach out to the masses and provide them with information. In addition to that, it also operates to analyze and observe our surroundings and provide information in the form of news accordingly.

As a result, the masses get constantly updated about not just their own surroundings but also around the world. This way mass media spreads and interprets information. For instance, weather forecasts equip people and farmers to plan ahead.

Similarly, fishermen get updates about the tidal activities from the news. In addition to this, mass media also strives to keep the fabric of our social heritage intact which showcasing our customs, myths and civilization.

Another major product of mass media is advertising. This way people learn about the goods and services in the market. It also spreads social awareness. For instance, anti-smoking campaign, women empowerment, green earth clean earth and more.

Most importantly, with the numerous mediums available in multiple languages, the masses get entertainment in their own language easily. Millions of people get to access a cheap source of relaxation and pass their time. In fact, it also helps to transport momentarily from our ordinary lives to a dream world. Thus, it remains the undisputed leader in reaching out to the masses.

Conclusion of Essay on Mass Media

All in all, while it is an effective tool, we must also keep a check on its consumption. In other words, it has the power to create and destroy. Nonetheless, it is a medium which can bring about a change in the masses. Thus, everyone must utilize and consume it properly.

FAQ on Essay on Mass Media

Question 1: Why is mass media important?

Answer 1: Mass media is essential as it informs, educates and entertains the public. Moreover, it also influences the way we look at the world. In other words, it helps in organizing public opinion.

Question 2: How does mass media affect our lives?

Answer 2: Mass media affects many aspects of human life, which range from the way we vote to our individual views and beliefs. Most importantly, it also helps in debunking false information.

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Sample Essay On Mass Media, Political Messages And Advertising

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Politics , Media , Trump , Political , Immigration , United States , Donald Trump , America

Published: 03/08/2023


Mass media, political messages and advertising

Summary of experience Candidates campaigning to succeed outgoing United States president Barack Obama have been using mass media and advertisement to relay important political messages in a bid to appeal to the electorate. The policies advanced by these candidates have sharp ideological differences. The most radical candidate who has caught my attention is the republican front runner, Donald Trump. Mid last year, Mr. Trump surprised the world when he made public his policy on immigration. The candidate declared that once he is elected president, he would put an end to the problem of immigration (Bymmes, 2015). He observed that most of the crime carried out in the United States is committed by illegal immigrants who lack documentation. Trump added that one of the measures to stop immigration would include construction of a wall along the US border with Mexico. He outlined plans to cut unfair trade with the southern neighbour. Trump’s immigration policy and apparent hatred for immigrants irritated the NBC which officially cut the relationship with the politician. Nevertheless, the irrationals and insensitive comments by Donald Trump has increased media attention as the race for the White House shapes up.

Personal reaction

In my opinion, Donald Trump’s comments amount immigration throughout the electioneering period has not pleased millions of Americans. The United States has a history of diversity. It is a history made of millions of former slaves who were driven by their masters to work in the plantations and factories in America. These people came from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds to form the United States of America. I believe that America’s strength has always been contingent upon her rich diversity and resilience in the face of adversity. This proposition was tested in 2001 when the nation was united in wake of terror attack that led to the death of thousands of US citizens. In this regard, political communication and rhetoric should not be seen to divide the country. Rather, the communication should be premised on the values that bring Americans together. Donald Trump could be right when he mentioned that the perpetrators of crime are immigrants. However, problems of immigration may best be solved by formulating policies that would regulate the influx of immigrants into the country. It may also involve strengthening the criminal justice system to firmly deal with issue of crime. I strongly believe that what Americans require is a leader who has demonstrated sufficient capacity to deal with diversity. Donald Trump’s remarks are intolerant and grossly undermine the gains that the country has made throughout her journey towards emancipation.

Scholarly analysis

Studies have elucidated the centrality of mass media in the political development process. Iyengar & McGrady observed that individuals who seek various political positions must utilize the news media. The author’s cited the declaration of victory of Al-Queda by former US president, George Bush, and Schwarzenegger’s announcement as indicators of the political reliance on the news media. Most democracies around the world places emphasis on the public perception on the leaders who aspire for office. These leaders can only be known to their voters when they are exposed to the highest possible media scrutiny. The authors argue that campaigns do not necessarily influence the outcome of a political process. Instead, the influence of media on the campaign period is instrumental to politician’s success or failure. Thus, the decision by the NBC to cut links with Donald Trump could negate his chances of becoming president. Political communication can also be expressed through advertisement. On his account, Chang observed that advertisements contain comedy, humour and memorable music which are appeal to the consumers. Thus, the consumers of political communication may be influenced by the emotional appeals in most political advertisement.

Bymmes, J. (2015, June 29). “Trump: NBC ‘stands behind Brian Williams,’ not people who tell it like it is. The Hill. Retrieved from Iyengar, S., & McGrady, J. (n.d). Mass Media and Political Persuasion. Print.


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    The mass media plays a very important role in everyday life. It is often the only form of education which is available to some, and as such has a very powerful influence over people"s beliefs and opinions. This influence is never more evident than when analysing the relationship between the media and politics.

  16. Democracy and mass media collection essays

    Democracy and the Mass Media A Collection of Essays. $45.99 (P) ... In this volume a group of distinguished legal and political theorists and experts on journalism discuss how to reconcile our values concerning freedom of the press with the enormous power of the media--especially television--to shape opinions and values. The policy issues ...

  17. Propaganda, misinformation, and histories of media techniques

    This essay argues that the recent scholarship on misinformation and fake news suffers from a lack of historical contextualization. The fact that misinformation scholarship has, by and large, failed to engage with the history of propaganda and with how propaganda has been studied by media and communication researchers is an empirical detriment to it, and

  18. mass media and politics

    View Full Essay. Mass Media and Politics The Advantages and Disadvantages of the "New Medias" Such as the Internet and Talk Radio for Democratic Governance in the U.S. Mass medium has always functioned as the much-need link between the people and government in a democracy. The print media had been providing this link traditionally in the United ...

  19. Role of Mass Media in Politics Essay

    1770 Words. 8 Pages. Open Document. Role Of Mass Media In Politics. In this discussion I call upon two movies as examples and evidence to examine the role of mass media in politics. The two movies I will use for this basis are The Candidate and All the Presidents Men. Today, the art of governing a society seems to be much dictated or prescribed ...

  20. Inside Biden's 2024 campaign media strategy that bypasses the ...

    President Biden, along with former presidents, Obama and Clinton, sat with the comedy podcast, "Smartless," hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett.

  21. Essay On Mass Media for Students and Children

    In today's world, mass media embraces internet, cell phones, electronic mail, computers, pagers and satellites. All these new additions function as transmitting information from a single source to multiple receivers. In other words, they are interactive and work on the person to person formula. Thus, it revolves around the masses i.e. the people.

  22. Sample Essay On Mass Media, Political Messages And Advertising

    Mass media, political messages and advertising. Candidates campaigning to succeed outgoing United States president Barack Obama have been using mass media and advertisement to relay important political messages in a bid to appeal to the electorate. The policies advanced by these candidates have sharp ideological differences.

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