Monday, March 1, 2010

Media & Politics

by Samantha Goodman

19th century political cartoons by Daumier combined politics and entertainment, evident today in UK's Private Eye.

Hallin and Mancini “identified a number of political system variables that [they] believe are relevant to the comparative analysis of media systems” (63). They hypothesize that these variables can be summarized in terms of five main dimensions: (1) the relation of state and society, with particular distinctions made between liberal and welfare-state democracies; (2) distinctions between majoritarian patterns of government and consensus patterns of government; (3) distinctions between corporatism (or organized pluralism) and liberal pluralism as related to marjoritarian and consensus patterns of governing; (4) the development of “rational-legal authority”; and (5) the differences between moderate pluralism and polarized pluralism.

They key question that the authors are trying to answer, or more accurately address, is how “principal characteristics of political systems… can influence the structure of media institutions” (46). The five dimensions previously mentioned are examined, somewhat briefly, through the lenses of the three media system models that are continually referenced throughout the rest of the book: The Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Model, the North/Central European Model, and the North Atlantic or Liberal Model.

The most important information derived from this chapter is the definitions provided in each of the five dimensions to help the reader further understand the role that government plays in shaping media institutions, and that that role is not the same throughout each model of systems, nor is it even quite the same in each country within the three respective models. This chapter acts as a guide to the political context of media systems, providing on overview of how strongly governments and specifically political parties play a role in directing the media, specifically newspapers and television, in terms of the content and their party ties and opinions. This varies from country to country depending on the degree of deregulation that has taken place and the degree of professionalism among journalists.

The authors point out that there are many differences between US and European Political Press, mainly party campaigning over candidate campaigning

Chapter 4, on a slightly similar note, provides a segue from the groundwork provided in chapter 3 to an introduction into how politics will play roles in each of the specific models. This chapter reads more like an introduction to a book than anything else: the authors introduce (again) the three models and note that the models will serve as a form of organizing their “empirical discussion of the media systems of particular countries, and second, by posing the question whether the patterns observed here can be understood in terms of differentiation theory” (66). As we have seen in previous readings in the textbook, Hallin and Mancini go into extreme detail of the media systems and political involvement in each; therefore, the remainder of this chapter discusses the terms of differentiation theory.

The authors cite definitions of differentiation by Durkheim, Parsons, and Niklas Luhmann as their main comparative sources of differentiation and how it plays a role in politics and media. According to Durkheim, “modern societies become increasingly complex as functions are divided among social bodies that speicialize in particular functions” (76-77). This idea that “society requires functional differentiation of social roles and institutions” (77) ties into the Parsons’ evolutionist theory of differentiation, which he defines as “the division of a unit or structure of a social system into two or more units or structures that differ in their characteristics and functional significance for the system” (77). This second idea of differentiation is seen more from an evolutionary standpoint, and is not as much of a focus for the authors as Luhmann’s theory who says that “the difference between social knowledge produced by a specialized media system and that produced by ‘sages, priests, the nobility, the city, by region or by politically and ethnically distinguished ways of life… is so stark that once can speak neither of decline nor of progress’ (2000:85)” (77).

Differentiation is understanding the different sources of information and how those sources influence reliability. While some suggest we have increased in differentiation others propose that capitalism and the internet have resulted in de-differentiation, blending information from all sources.

This then leads Hallin and Mancini to the role of differentiation in mass media, saying that public opinion is organized by mass media systems, which draw attention to important problems, but that it is left to the governing bodies of a country to make decisions about those problems. This means that for this to function without problem the means of communication need to be autonomous from the political system for which they develop their agendas. Here, the idea of professionalism comes into play, varying within each of the geographical models, with the Liberal Model seen as the ideal form of professionalism and autonomy within journalism.

To conclude, the authors argue that differentiation theory “takes [them] a certain distance in understanding the broad differences in media systems, particularly in its emphasis on the historical fusion of media systems with the system of political parties and social groups based on class, religion, ethnicity and the life, and the different degrees to which systems have moved away from these relationships” (85).

Papathanassopoulos, ch 6: Politics in the Television Age.
Unlike Hallin and Mancini who focus on the role politics play in controlling media, Papathanassopoulos examines the relationship between television and politics. He places emphasis on four points of focus in the intertwining relationship between politics and television: (1) television and politics; (2) television and election campaigning; (3) television and politicians; and (4) television and politics in the era of modernization and digitalization. The author states from the beginning of the chapter that there is no clear answer to whether it has been television that changed how politicians relate to the media, or if has been politics that has changed television.

Important in considering the relationship of politics and television is that Americans are more comfortable with politicians as media figures, in an era of what the author calls videocracy.

American politics and media seem are contrasted by the European system although Charles de Gualle below saw television as an advantage in the 1960's.

In the first section on television and politics, Papthanassopoulos argues that the “growing indifference of the public towards politics should be attributed to the decline of politics in a new post-Cold War era rather than being considered as the outcome of television’s dominance” (125-126). He argues that political parties tailor their agendas to the needs of television, such as time limits during political debates and conferences. In the second section on television and election campaigning, “the importance of television has resulted in a change in both politicians’ style of political communication and in the way they contact their supporters” (138). The author states that politicians have had to turn their campaigns into popularity contests, often trying t out-do one another in the number of their celebrity supporters in an attempt to gain support from their constituents. Because most of their constituents gather their information on political candidates from what they watch on television, politicians must hire image consultants to play up their personal appeal to voters rather than emphasize their focus issues and proposed policies.

Society has also changed along with media. People are now more educated. This means while people used to depend on the party to make informed decisions, now citizens are more informed and making issue based decisions. The online website EU Profiler allows people to answer questions and determine party preferences.

Victory for Romano Prodi in 1996

Some suggested that Helmut Kuhl's celebrity endorsements hurt his campaign

Papthanassopoulos states that, “European politicians have turned heavily to television for their public communication” (140). Viewers see a candidate on television and feel as if they know them on a personal level due to the fact that the messages political parties and specific politicians are trying to convey have been presented in “simple formulas,” which leads the electorate to vote based on personality rather than capabilities (140).

The final section argues that, “the rise of a ‘modernized’ relationship between the media and politics does not seem to be making a positive contribution to the health of democracy” (126). The author believes that there has been a shift from traditional forms of election campaigning in favor of more modern ways, especially in the television sector of media. He notes that many modern techniques have been borrowed from American political communication, such as the “journalistic use of public opinion polls and extreme simplification of the issues” (143-144).

Top, from left, right wing candidate Valery Giscard d'Estaing (L) and socialist Francois Mitterrand in 1974 and 1981. Bottom, from left: right wing hopeful Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterrand in 1988, and socialist Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac in 1995. During the presidential campaign in 2002, Chirac refused to attend a televised debate with far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

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