Interactions of the Media, Reader, and Corporate Greed–Blog #4
Active participants in a democratic society need reliable, accurate, and diverse news in order to create their own opinions, and to make educated political decisions.
However…in a capitalist society, media corporations have economic incentives to becoming the dominant provider in the industry. Eat or be eaten. Crush the competition. Corporate conglomerates purchase independent companies, and integrate horizontally and vertically in order to cross-promote and increase the synergy of production.
Ultimately, the majority of content chosen by these major media sources is influenced by profit. If the majority of the audience enjoys the content, or the way the content is framed (such as with cutting edge political campaigns), then the media will air it—regardless of providing viewers with diverse perspectives.
It is crucial for democratic citizens to be informed and to be exposed to diverse ideas; yet, it is difficult to achieve this goal with the existence of such strong economic competition. This struggle compels me to be interested in the theories of both media economics and media effects.
Within the media effects models, I think that the Media-Reader Interaction Theory is the most accurate theory. Rather than suggesting that the media directly “injects” the viewer with a message (silver bullet theory), the viewers are “active agents” in receiving media. Furthermore, media is only one part of the viewer’s source of information; the other part is interpersonal communication (235).
Thus, people are influenced by conversations they have day-to-day with their friends, family, co-workers, colleges, and community members; but are also influenced by the information they receive from the media. I want to extend this theory by saying that the amount of interpersonal communication and media exposure vacillates within each individual, so there is no determinable amount of media influence per person.
The Media-Reader Interaction Theory is an umbrella for other sub-theories including the Political Socialization Theory (adolescents are increasingly more influenced by media in the formation of their beliefs, values, and political views) as well as the Two-Step Flow of Influence Theory (“interpersonal contact is more influential than the media in affecting a change in belief because it involve[s] the desire for social acceptance that is part of all direct human interaction”) (232). Basically, within media-reader interaction, both the media and interpersonal contact are recognized as influences in shaping the reader’s opinions.
Furthermore, the Media-Reader Interaction Theory does not claim any causality relationships—which are difficult, if not impossible, to prove.
For example, Cultivation Theory explores the impact that television cultivation has on the political belief system, and says: “on economic issues, heavy viewers are more likely than moderate or light viewers to adopt the conservative call for lower taxes, but they are also more likely to support a populist call for more social services,” (236). What if the “heavy” viewers already had the same political views as the media figures that are controlling the media, before even watching the television show? Television could be reinforcing political ideals that already exist, rather than influencing or directly causing people to think a new way.
Ultimately, individuals are influenced by their interpersonal relationships—including other peoples’ political and social ideals—and media also influences individuals. All individuals are active participants in consuming information, and are accountable for forming their own opinions. Media outlets should also be accountable for the value and diversity of the news they provide—regardless of their own economic incentives. Yet, in a capitalist and politically polarized country, accountability is hard to achieve.