Should we trust and who to trust?

Public opinion is the aggregate opinion of the masses. It is the opinion sum or the estimated view of the masses. However, the meaning of the concept ‘public opinion’ has changed over the time. There is no defined proper definition of the term, and it is employed in various ways. Often it includes the sense of public control that is a way to look at public opinion from the mass media point of view.

Media effects on public opinion he been widely researched and explored, however the degree on which it is actually taking place is not confirmed. There are many theories that look at the opinion of public and its causes. Media is claimed to be the watchdog over the public affairs in order to provide the public with a range of differentiated and well supported opinions. However it is often the case that media can’t be trusted over curtain topics as there are many obstacles to objective reporting.

If media has the power to cultivate our opinions, to what extent can we know that those are not altered and aren’t covering facts? That is a scary concept of public opinion, and there is a question about who sets the opinion, and how much power do we have to resist it? Humans need to satisfy their interests – the need to be recognised and respected, which are advantages of being informed and following the public opinion.

In my opinion, the cultivation theory and the concept of public opinion are worrying effects of media, because they produce a direct effect on our actions and beliefs. Public opinion can be a mean of control, and it can be a resource in order to integrate with the society. However, in my opinion it is important to distinguish where the curtain public opinion comes from, and to what extent it is a trustworthy source.

Unanswered questions

Jennings Bryant’s and Susan Thompson’s book „Fundamentals of Media Effects” describes agenda setting as a function that may not be successful to tell people what to think, but rather what to think about. It is strongly linked to the way how media has to sort out the information and decide which information will be covered in the news. Arguably those are the issues that will set the agenda for the public. Or does it happen the other way around?

I personally think that a lot of the things I think and talk about in my everyday life is set by the media. The topics with the biggest coverage will be the ones I will be talking about with my friends and family. However, it is not media that sets my opinion. Media in this case serves as a initiator of this conversation, as it has been widely covered, therefore it calls for a discussion. The biggest headlines and biggest stories are often the ones that are talked about the most. And in my opinion, these discussions are what form the opinions of individuals, not the news coverage.

However, this would somehow mean that news and articles with smaller coverage would not be discussed among groups that often. The lack of „in your face” coverage would result in less people informed about the topic, therefore less discussion. Would that mean that in this case lack of the two step flow interaction would result in media actually being able to tell people what to think? I think it is a scenario that exists, especially for people who are heavy news consumers. There is no time to discuss most of the ideas consumed through the media; therefore the news can often be the main source of information and opinion related to the topic.

Agenda setting is an interesting concept, with many real-life examples observed from our lives. However, for me the question who are actually the agenda setters remains unanswered. I often think it is the media, as it seems to be the obvious answer. But aren’t there theories that state that consumers follow messages matching their existing ideas? Don’t we only read the things we are interested in?

Cultivate and harvest

ImageI am sure we all have that grandmother or grandfather that spends his or her day in front of the television. In my opinion, those are the strongest examples where we can see the cultivation theory coming to life. My grandfather complains a lot. He thinks that the world is evil and my country is corrupt. He has lost the sense of what is happening in the world because of the images that media has planted in his mind. My grandmother is similar. She thinks that the world is violent, and doesn’t approve the fact I am living and studying abroad because “did you see what happened to the girl in this TV show?”

These are just some of the messages that can be cultivated in people’s brain, and I believe that we have all seen some of the effects and experienced them on ourselves. What bothers me about this topic is the extent to which these ideas are actually caused by the television. There are so many more things that influence our opinions – our experiences, our opinion leaders, even the street art or graffiti we see on the building. It is hard to distinguish the point that changed the way we look at one particular thing.Image

I can see the initial discussion on cultivation in the era of television. However, we live in a century where messages are exchanged through too many means to be sure of the effect of one single media. But there are trends that can be seen in all the media that have been cultivated in our brain. The concept of beautiful/ugly is one of the most cultivated concepts in our brain, and it is one of the hardest one to harvest from our brain. Any common stereotype, prejudice or common-sense assumption would fall in the same category. And those are hard to change, even if the strongest of the opinion leaders would set the new trend.

It is extremely hard to tell where these ideas – so cultivated in our brain come from. I would sometimes be frustrated when seeing the mainstream community around me. But I can’t blame the television, because it cannot be proven that these ideas are caused by it.

Democracy in news

To be honest, whpillars-of-democracyen studying the effects of mass media, I get many arguments for and against it. I have always liked the topics with a long list of arguments, and here comes another aspect of how we might look at media, this time – from a bit more political view.

Western-style democracies live with a system of representative democracy, which is a principle that elected individuals represent a group of people. This system gives the elected people a power of decision making regarding the group that has elected these individuals. The people in power are watched over and often judged by the people who elected them. And these people require a complete transparency towards the people in power. It is required to have knowledge about their actions as they are affecting the lives of the others

Michael Schudson, the author of the book “Why democracies need an unlovable press” gives six primary functions of journalism in a democracy: information, investigation, social empathy, provision of a public forum and service as an advocate for political programmes. Last but not least, journalism should publicize and promote representative democracy. This should be done in a way that it is taken a step forward from simply providing society with free exchange of ideas. There is a need of democracy to engage in a conversation and it is press that contributes to a democratic conversation.

Powerful journalism is needed because of several reasons. For a democracy to occur there should be no corruption. And corruption is less likely to occur where there is more exposure from the media. People in power are limited in their shady actions where there is powerful journalism taking place. Good transparent relationship between those in power and the society can be achieved through quality journalism and good exposure. Journalists need to be watching over the current affairs and act as informants in order to provide the transparency that is needed in democracy.

We can all admit that the big headlines can be a pain in the ass, but it is not the only thing that journalism provides us with. There are many examples of a quality journalism that is exposing the acts of those in power. And often these people will be most often represented in the media, as they are the ones who affect our lives in the same spectacular way we have affected their positions. And the affect we have on each other is very significant.