Tag Archives: freedom of the press

How do we decide which media sources we can trust?

For our first test in Mass Communications class, we were asked to pick two questions from four offered and write at least a page on each. I’m going to take a risk and put these out there before they are graded because it might be a week before I get the graded test back and I don’t want to sit on this for that long. I’m spoiled and too used to the instant gratification that comes with self-publishing I suppose! If I decide to make any changes after grading I’ll indicate what I changed so you can see the corrections.


3. Explain Propaganda Theories. Contrast Lasswell’s Propaganda Theory and the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ perspective. How do you see propaganda currently?

Mass society theorists have been fearful about the influence of mass media on average people since mass media first became prevalent (Baran and Davis 56). World Wars I and II along with the rise of totalitarian governments around the world caused researchers and critics to study how oppressive regimes used propaganda and to explore whether propaganda could be used to preserve and promote democracy instead (Baran and Davis 56). Behaviorism was an early theory that proposed that most human behavior could be explained by external conditioning rather than conscious choice (Baran and Davis 46-47). Freudianism was another theory that was also skeptical about the abilities of humans to use reason to control their actions. To Freudian thinkers, the rational mind was called the Ego. They believed media could be used to cause either the Id or the Superego to become dominant and undermine the Ego, resulting in people losing reasoning ability or giving up control to others (Baran and Davis 47-48).

Harold Lasswell was a political scientist who believed that the mental state of the subjects of propaganda was more important than the actual media content. In his view economic problems, war and conflict induced a form of psychosis that made people more susceptible to being manipulated (Baran and Davis 48). Democracies are designed so that it’s necessary to debate ideas in order for voters to decide which is the most rational. In his time as well as today, political discussions could become verbally rancorous and sometimes even escalate to physical violence. Lasswell believed it was too risky for people to engage in or witness such contention because it would induce psychosis that could lead to the adoption of subversive ideas (Baran and Davis 48). It would in his view be safer to expose people to benign propaganda crafted by a scientific technocracy rather than allow open debate (Baran and Davis 48-49). He advocated for long-term campaigns, possibly lasting months or years, that utilized every possible form of media to associate meanings with symbols that could be used to plant ideas into consumers that were more compatible with democracy (Baran and Davis 49).

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was an interdisciplinary association that existed from 1937-1942. It’s purpose was to explore how the public could be educated to consume communication more rationally and become resistant to propaganda (Sproule 486). Today we would call this type of education media literacy (Baran and Davis 293). The IPA identified the “seven common propaganda devices”, which they termed “name calling, glittering generalities, transfer, testimonial, plain folks, card stacking and band wagon” (Sproule 488-489).

In the postwar period, other theories and research methods were developed that made the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ research and list seem out of date among many researchers (Sproule 495-496). Nevertheless the ideas and terms that the the IPA introduced are still in use. A 1995 publication by the Institute of General Semantics advocates the use of the IPA’s concepts because they are non-technical and understandable by a wide variety of people (The Iconography of… 14). They created a set of symbols to illustrate and provided rhetorical examples with the symbols inserted to indicate which propaganda devices were used. A 2017 article in Psychology Today makes the case for continuing to use the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ list along with an introduction that explains some of the history of propaganda and the IPA (Shpancer). A web site called Propaganda Critic was created during the early years of the World Wide Web. The project team for Propaganda Critic views itself as a successor to the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (Delwiche and Herring). They retain many of the IPA’s terms and ideas on their Propaganda page while renaming and adding a few of their own (Delwiche).

It’s not new for the elite classes to be concerned every time a new communication technology is introduced (Baran and Davis 33). An example of a media literacy effort developed to combat the new challenges that come with new technology is DROG. DROG is a European interdisciplinary organization that produced an online game called Bad News in collaboration with Cambridge University. Players are cast in the role of an online propagandist and earn badges for Impersonation, Emotion, Polarization, Conspiracy, Discredit and Trolling. The goal of the game is to make media consumers more aware of the new propaganda techniques made possible by modern technology. Although the goals of DROG are very similar to organizations like the older IPA, they have created a new list with new terms that does more than just put a new label on old ideas (DROG).

 

4. As an example of Normative Theories, what are the major aspects of Social Responsibility Theory? What are the pros and cons? How do you see Social Responsibility in the future?

A normative theory explains “how a media system should be structured and operate in order to conform to or realize a set of ideal values” (Baran and Davis 16). Social responsibility theory has been the dominant normative theory in the United States from the reform era of the early 20th century up to the present time (Baran and Davis 60-61). Since our Bill of Rights contains Freedom of the Press, the government is limited in what it can do to regulate communication (Baran and Davis 64-65). The Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press, consisting of leaders in different fields, was convened and financed from 1942-1947 by the CEO of Time, Inc. to explore how the press could better serve the public and avoid excessive government regulation (Baran and Davis 72). The commissions findings were summarized in Social Responsibility Theory of the Press in 1956 (Baran and Davis 73).

According to the ideas in the report, journalists were encouraged to be professional by being competent, accurate and balanced in their coverage. Beyond just their own financial interests and that of their employers, they had a duty to also serve society. Serving society was thought to consist of abiding by the law and not inciting crime, violence or disorder. All members of society including minority groups would ideally be respected and have their interests and views represented (Baran and Davis 74).

Doubts abound about whether social responsibility theory is actually followed by media professionals. Even if attempts are made to follow the guidelines, the results are not always what were intended (Baran and Davis 74-75). There are many barriers to living up to the ideas in social responsibility theory. Often members of the media are reluctant to engage in policing each other because they fear undermining faith in the whole organization or profession (Baran and Davis 75). Standards are vague enough that members of the media can go pretty far in protecting their own interests (Baran and Davis 76). There are no professional licenses that allow journalists to practice and it’s difficult to define who is a journalist and who is not (Baran and Davis 76-77). The output that journalists produce is often the product of many hands and it’s difficult to know who is responsible and what the actual damages are from misdeeds (Baran and Davis 77).

Technology has democratized the ability to be a publisher and consumers can choose from a wider variety of information sources (Baran and Davis 82-83). The American public’s trust in the media had dropped to a historic low point by September 2016 according to a Gallup Poll (Americans’ Trust in…). If the media wants to regain more of the public’s trust it might benefit from some self-examination and self-regulation in the tradition of the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the press.

 

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.

Delwiche, Aaron. “What Is Propaganda Analysis?” Propaganda Critic, 2018, https://propagandacritic.com/index.php/how-to-decode-propaganda/what-is-propaganda-analysis/. Accessed 24 September 2019.

Delwiche, Aaron and Mary Margaret Herring. “About This Site.” Propaganda Critic, 2018, propagandacritic.com/index.php/about-this-site/. Accessed 24 September 2019.

DROG. Bad News. 2018, http://getbadnews.com/. Accessed 24 September 2019.

Shpancer, Noam. “The Con of Propaganda.” Sussex Publishers, LLC, 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-therapy/201702/the-con-propaganda. Accessed 24 September 2019.

Sproule, J. Michael. “The Institute for Propaganda Analysis: Public Education in Argumentation, 1937-1942.” Conference Proceedings — National Communication Association/American Forensic Association (Alta Conference on Argumentation), Jan. 1983, pp. 486–499. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=20908496&site=ehost-live. Accessed 23 September 2019.

Swift, Art. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low.” Gallup, Inc. 2016, https://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx. Accessed 24 September 2019.

“The Iconography of Propaganda Analysis.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 52, no. 1, Spring 1995, p. 13. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=9503150320&site=ehost-live. Accessed 23 September 2019.


Interesting links I found but didn’t use:

No, I haven’t read all these (yet). But I want to save them where I can find them again and if you are interested in the topics I wrote about above you will probably find some good reading in there!

Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

Answers to Reader Questions on Our Brett Kavanaugh Essay

Information & Media Literacy: Skills Needed in Today’s World

Majority of U.S. adults think news media should not add interpretation to the facts

Public Attitudes Toward Computer Algorithms

What are the best examples of modern-day propaganda in the US? – a discussion that shows that some people have a good grasp of what propaganda is and some just define it as whatever they don’t agree with.

Partisans are divided on whether they associate the news media or Trump with ‘made-up’ news

Public Attitudes Toward Technology Companies

Public Insight Network

Handbook for Citizen Journalists

Digital Hydra: Security Implications of False Information Online

Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking

Emotional content to earn more attention

Time to call out the anti-GMO conspiracy theory

Bots, #StrongerIn, and #Brexit: Computational Propaganda during the UK-EU Referendum

Computational Propaganda Worldwide: Executive Summary

Causes and Consequences of Polarization*

Political Polarization & Media Habits

The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science

Discrediting moves in political debates

https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-internet-trolling-3485891

Propaganda in the Digital Age

“Everything I Disagree With is #FakeNews”: Correlating Political Polarization and Spread of Misinformation

Attempting to Protect the Vulnerable from Violence

DISCLAIMER: The following is graduate student work. I’m uploading it after grading from the Professor. I rewrote one sentence that was awkward but didn’t change anything else. I made a couple of minor formatting changes for online viewing, the printed version attempts to conform to MLA style. Comments on any of my blog posts are encouraged at any time and if you have any critiques that would help me write better I especially would welcome those.


Attempting to Protect the Vulnerable from Violence

Social scientists have been studying mass media for decades to see if there is a link between consuming violent media and real-life violent behavior. All social scientists do not agree but over time the majority have come to accept that there are causal links (Baran and Davis 193-194). Many researchers use social cognitive theory as a framework for explaining how and why people learn behavior from the media (Baran and Davis 193).

Human beings sometimes observe and then imitate behavior, but imitation doesn’t happen in every instance (Baran and Davis 170). How does a violent idea escalate to violent action? There are many variables in the content itself that influence behavior. If the subjects receive punishment for their actions, the content will be imitated less frequently (Baran and Davis 176). The Hays code, which the US Movie industry imposed on itself from 1934-1965, was an example of self-censorship to avoid consumer outrage and government intervention. The strictures that filmmakers had to follow indicate early awareness that the moral and legal contexts in which violence and lawbreaking were shown did make a difference in how they were received by audiences (Hays Code).

Experiments have demonstrated that there will be more imitations of violence if the behavior is rewarded in the character’s world, the content causes emotional arousal, if the violence is portrayed in a realistic way or with humor, if the motive of the subjects is seen as justifiable and if viewers identify with the characters (Baran and Davis 176).

The circumstances under which violent content is viewed are another area of influence. Violent effects are worsened if people become de-sensitized by frequent viewing (Baran and Davis 176). Content in which the user is active rather than passive, such as in a video game, has greater effects on the user (Baran and Davis 181).

From the beginning of the study of mass media, researchers and theorists have been interested in what the individual who is viewing the content brings to the interaction between the consumer and the media. Some of the earliest mass society media theorists did accept the paternalistic view that certain members of society were more vulnerable than others to the undesirable effects of low-quality media products (Baran and Davis 21). They feared that changing populations no longer protected by older institutions would not be well-served using the media as a substitute (Baran and Davis 36).

The story of the legendary 1938 radio broadcast War of the Worlds is well known by many Americans, but it has been greatly exaggerated into myth (Pooley and Socolow). The majority of people who heard the broadcast were not fooled into thinking that the Earth was really being invaded by Martians. There were, however, some people who were affected in alarming ways and researchers did attempt to find out why. The listeners who believed the broadcast was real and in turn responded with panic tended to be fatalistic, had low self-confidence, were afflicted by phobias and were emotionally insecure (Dixon, 2). These findings are an example of acknowledgement over time by many researchers that media does not affect all people the same way, an observation known as the individual-differences theory (Baran and Davis 105).

Even as limited-effects theories were becoming more dominant among researchers in the middle of the 20th century (Baran and Davis 22), they did not discourage other theorists from examining what kind of people were vulnerable and why. Neo-Marxists conceded an advantage to elites because of their economic power (Baran and Davis 23). Carl Hovland who led a research group for the US Army about the effectiveness of propaganda in training new recruits found that in general the films they tested did not have a great effect. The team did find that balanced presentations that explained both sides of an issue were more effective on people with more education (Baran and Davis 99-100). News-flow research associated poor news information retention with lower educational levels (Baran and Davis 110). Cultural criticism based on deterministic assumptions rose in popularity among 1970s academics as a humanities-based counterpoint to postpositivist limited-effects theories (Baran and Davis 24).

Children view media differently according to their level of development, therefore the age of the person viewing the violence is another factor that determines susceptibility to media effects (Baran and Davis 178). Ever since the first generation of people raised with television came of age in the tumultuous 1960s, researchers have been interested in trying to see if there is a link between exposure as children to violence in mass media and actual violent behavior (Baran and Davis 166-167). Enough causal relationships were found to cause the Surgeon General of the United States to commission research in 1969. After the findings became known the television industry engaged in some self-policing to quell criticism and prevent government-imposed regulations that might harm their interests
(Baran and Davis 167).

In the United States communication freedom is so essential to our form of government that freedom of the press is written into our Bill of Rights. That does not mean that no legal limits on media are allowed at all, but it is difficult to create new regulations that protect some rights without curtailing others (Baran and Davis 66). Media creators who subscribe to social responsibility theory may choose to create content they believe is in the public interest but the government has a very limited ability to compel them to do so (Baran and Davis 80), assuming there would even be a general consensus on what content is actually in the public interest.

Real-life violence has many costs. Obvious direct consequences are death and injury. Even indirect exposure to violence has detrimental effects on mental health, social interaction, cognitive function and academic performance, especially in children (Sharkey 2287). Since consumption of violence in the media has been determined to be one of many contributors to real-life violence, reducing exposure or taking steps to mitigate the effects of violent media content should help reduce violence at least to a degree (Fingar 183). Since consumption or non-consumption of most media can’t be compelled by law any more than the production, would education about media help consumers make better choices?

One attempt at mitigation is media literacy, “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate messages” (Baran and Davis, 293). Participants in the Media Literacy movement believe that education is a powerful tool in the hands of consumers, particularly young consumers (Fingar 183). Studies undertaken in schools have shown enough positive changes in behavior for researchers to recommend that Media Literacy programs be more widely accepted and implemented (Fingar 189, Scharrer 82-83). In a society founded on Libertarianism (Baran and Davis 55), perhaps media literacy will gain more influence as new technologies draw people even more deeply into the world of media (Baran and Davis 192-193).

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.

Dixon, Robert. “Limited Effects Theory.” September 2019. PowerPoint presentation.

Feilitzen, Cecilia von, et al. Outlooks on Children and Media: Child Rights, Media Trends, Media Research, Media Literacy, Child Participation, Declarations. Compiled for the World Summit on Media for Children (3rd, Thessaloniki, Greece, March 23-26, 2001). Feb. 2001. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=ED450947&site=ehost-live. Accessed 13 September 2019.

Fingar, Kathryn R., and Tessa Jolls. “Evaluation of a School-Based Violence Prevention Media Literacy Curriculum.” Injury Prevention, vol. 20, no. 3, June 2014, pp. 183–190. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2013-040815. Accessed 13 September 2019.

“Hays code.” Siteseen Limited, 2017-2018, www.american-historama.org/1929-1945-depression-ww2-era/hays-code.htm. Accessed 14 September 2019.

Pooley, Jefferson and Micheal J. Socolow. “The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic.” The Slate Group, 2019, https://slate.com/culture/2013/10/orson-welles-war-of-the-worlds-panic-myth-the-infamous-radio-broadcast-did-not-cause-a-nationwide-hysteria.html. Accessed 14 September 2019.

Scharrer, Erica. “‘I Noticed More Violence:’ The Effects of a Media Literacy Program on Critical Attitudes Toward Media Violence.” Journal of Mass Media Ethics, vol. 21, no. 1, Mar. 2006, pp. 69–86. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1207/s15327728jmme2101_5. Accessed 13 September 2019.

Sharkey, Patrick T., et al. “The Effect of Local Violence on Children’s Attention and Impulse Control.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 102, no. 12, Dec. 2012, pp. 2287–2293. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300789. Accessed 13 September 2019.


Links to things I didn’t use

If you are interested in the above topic and the media in general you might enjoy some further reading.

7 Ways to Limit Your Child’s Exposure to Violence in the Media

Protect Your Brain from Images of Violence and Cruelty

Tips on How to Deal with Media Violence

Blocking kids from social media won’t solve the problem of cyberbullying

Effects of television viewing on child development

A Comparison Between Emotional Abuse and Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”

Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals

The media exaggerates negative news. This distortion has consequences

Facebook Has Seized the Media, and That’s Bad News for Everyone But Facebook

The Real ‘Fake News’ Is The Mainstream Media

The Media Is Obsessed With Bad News