Current Issues & Media’s Influence on Audience and Democracy.

Current Issues & Media’s Influence on Audience and Democracy.

How and in what way the media influences human behaviour is difficult to judge. Sociologists may take one of three approaches.

User gratification: When research focuses on the purpose for which the media was consumed. Are people, for example, looking to be entertained, educated on a topic or kept up to date with the latest news?

Viewer decoding: When sociologists consider the viewer as an active decoder of the information provided by the media. Two people may be watching the same episode of EastEnders, for example, but their interpretation and understanding of the action will differ according to their background, experience, social class, education and culture.

The ‘hyperdermic syringe’ approach: This approach was adopted as long ago as the 1930s and views television as a drug that is drip fed into our consciousness. It understands television to have a strong direct effect on the way we think and behave. There is some evidence to support this. For example, following the broadcasting of This Life, a fictional series that followed the lives of legal professionals, the number of people applying to work in law increased dramatically.


Democracy and the Internet

Some sociologists argue that the Internet will help to remove some of the power from media moguls and redistribute it to the average person. The Internet enables larger numbers of people to express their views and opinions to the world. Anyone with access to the Internet and a little bit of know-how is able to research a range of political subjects, set up their own website or contribute towards political debates on Twitter, Facebook or other well attended forums.

Pressure groups like Greenpeace have made use of the Internet to recruit members, spread their message and lobby the government.


Media issues of the day

The mass media is regarded by some with suspicion and as having a harmful impact on society. There are fears that

      • On-screen violence may lead to actual violence or even copycat violence.
      • The Internet has exposed people to fraud, especially identity fraud.
      • Children are able to access Internet material inappropriate for their age.
      • The mass media has helped create a ‘dumbed down’ society.
      • The Internet facilitates an invasion of privacy.

Sociologists like Gauntlett have countered these arguments by saying that there is little evidence to show that screen violence leads to actual violence. They have argued that children are more sophisticated than we think in their understanding of what is real and what isn’t. Some sociologists have also argued that the fear of new media forms is just another example of moral panic.