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Mass media effects glossary
Category: People and society > Mass media effects
Date & country: 18/09/2007, UK
Words: 54

the term used in the media to refer to footage/film/tape of events as they happen. Semioticians see actuality as a key device for anchoring the preferred reading on the supposed 'facts' presented 'as they happened'. -

agenda setting
the committee of, say, the local union branch will set the agenda for the next branch meeting. The agenda shows the order in which items are to be discussed and anything not on the agenda is not discussed. In a similar way, the media are said to perform an agenda-setting rôle, both determining what is a matter for public debate and determining the order of importance of such matters. Further, the media are said to set the framework for debate on current issues. -

a term used by Barthes to describe the interaction of words and visual texts. A photograph, according to Barthes is polysemic (i.e. open to a range of possible meanings). Ordinarily text is added, perhaps in the form of a caption or an advertising slogan, to 'anchor' the meaning, to lead the reader towards the preferred reading of the visual text. More broadly, anchorage of an image's meaning can occur not only through words, but, say, through the juxtaposition of two images. -

bardic television
a term introduced by Fiske and Hartley (1978) to emphasize the active and productive signifying work done by television. Rather than merely 'reflecting' society, television, similarly to the rôle played by Celtic bards, mediate between the rulers and patrons who pay them on the one hand and society as a whole on the other. In this way, the bard (television), once its rôle is established, has an important function in dealing with social change and conflict. It determines what is within the bounds of common sense and what is outside it (see ideology). -

catharsis (or cathartic effect)
the idea originated with the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who believed that the experience of watching tragedy is cathartic, i.e. it purges the spectator of certain strong emotions. As a result mainly of experiments by Feshbach and Singer, this idea has been developed in media effects research. Watching aggressive media output, it is proposed, does not make viewers more aggressive; quite the contrary - since the vicarious aggression experienced through the media purges the viewer of aggression, the result of watching violence is less aggression. The same argument is sometimes adduced in defence of pornography. Some researchers have taken the example of Japan, where there is far more violent sex in the media than in Europe, yet a much lower incidence of violent sex crime, to support the view that media experience can be cathartic.

1) in Gestalt psychology the term refers to the way that we fill in gaps where there is missing information in a stimulus. 2) in the analysis of texts, the term refers to ideological closure, which means the strategies used in the text to lead the reader to make sense of the text according to a particular ideological framework. The idea of ideological closure is useful because it leads us to examine how a text has been constructed to lead to a particular reading and exclude other possible readings. -

the word means a generally shared agreement. The term is used in particular by Marxist critics of the media, who argue that the media operate to create a consensus in society (or at least an illusion of consensus) that the norms, laws and rules in our society are the only 'right' ones, which any right-thinking member of our society must accept. Thus, for example, those who might operate outside the consensus, such as union 'activists' or 'terrorists' do not normally have their ideas and views presented by the media as if they are 'reasonable'. In order to strengthen the consensus the media periodically whip up moral panics against those deviants ('folk devils') who are deemed to lie outside the central cultural system, e.g. 'welfare scroungers', 'union activists', 'travellers', 'ravers' etc. (See also ideology). -

conspiracy theory
with particular reference to the mass media, this view assumes that a small and powerful, and often hidden, élite are able to use the mass media to condition and persuade passive audiences into conforming to the powerful élite's wishes. It depends very much on the notion of all-powerful media and easily duped audiences. It is difficult to find evidence that the media really are that powerful and 'conspiracy theory' is often dismissed because you would otherwise sound like some kook who takes the X-Files literally. Nevertheless, it's something close to this that underlies much left-wing criticism of the media. -

construction of reality
in media studies, this idea emphasizes that there is no single 'reality', rather a range of definitions of 'reality'. Reality as presented by the mass media is therefore not a picture or reflection of 'reality', but, rather, a constructed interpretation of reality. In the view of 'radical' critics of the media in particular, the mass media play a crucial rôle in 'constructing reality' for the rest of us. In the view of many representatives of post-structuralism and post-modernism, just about every aspect of reality seems to be considered a social construction. -

content analysis
the statistical analysis of a range of texts. The results are usually compared with a different set of results from the same range of texts - e.g. what proportion of reports about men in the tabloid press represents men as victims and what proportion represents women as victims?

copycat effect
also referred to as contagion effect or imitation effect - the supposed power of the media to create an 'epidemic' of behaviour based on that witnesses in the media. The idea is by no means new; the eighteenth century novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther by the great German writer Goethe, was accused of having led to a wave of suicides amongst the young. More recently, the media have been blamed for the 1981 riots which hit British cities; later in the eighties, for a spate of prison rioting; in the early nineties, police in Wales asked the media not to report details of suicides involving carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes because they believed that suicides were imitating the suicides in press reports; in 1999, doctors researching the effect of medical soaps reported that after a 1996 episode of Casualty portraying with a paracetamol overdose actual cases rose by 20% and doubled amongst people who had seen the episode (source British Medical Journal, reported in The Guardian, April 9 1999. It seems to be generally agreed amongst media researchers that it is very difficult to find any clear evidence for the copycat effect, but the doctors in the BMA study were firmly convinced. One of them , Christopher Bulstrode, Professor of Orthopaedics at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, commented: 'We were expecting a fall in overdoses because it was a horrid scene. What we got was a 20% increase, and we were gobsmacked. One of the reasons we have been so slow in publishing was we didn't believe it. We have gone back over and over and over again. It really happened.'

cultural dopes
the view that the readers of media texts are the more or less willing dupes of the media producers. This view is now not widely accepted, since greater emphasis is placed by media researchers on the active meaning-producing work of readers. A more 'modern' view of audiences is presented by Fiske: A homogeneous, externally produced culture cannot be sold ready-made to the masses: culture simply does not work like that. Nor do the people behave or live like the masses, an aggregation of alienated, one-dimensional persons whose only consciousness is false, whose only relationship to the system that enslaves them is one of unwitting (if not willing) dupes. Popular culture is made by the people, not produced by the culture industry. All the culture industries can do is produce a repertoire of texts or cultural resources for the various formations of the people to use or reject in the ongoing process of producing their popular culture. (Fiske (1989)) -

cultural imperialism
or media imperialism is the thesis that 'Western' (especially American) cultural values are being forced on non-Western societies, to which they are spread most especially by the mass media. Herbert Schiller argues forcefully that the US-inspired spread of 'free trade' and 'free speech' since the Second World War has, in view of the imbalance of economic power, worked to the advantage of the US. He quotes a number of official sources which make it clear that the establishment of US economic, military and cultural hegemony was deliberate US policy, which would depend crucially on US dominance of global communications. Schiller argues that the (mostly US-based) transnational media and communications corporations which now span the globe have reached the point where they pose a distinct threat to the sovereignty of the weaker nation-states. Clearly the US are dominant in the export of media products, as well as in the control of news agencies, and, even where the US originals are not purchased, the genres of US TV are closely copied. However, recent reception studies suggest that we cannot simply deduce the acceptance of American values from the prevalence of US media products. -

the process of removing or diluting the rules which govern the operation of certain companies or areas of industry. In the media, this refers especially to the move, in western Europe, away from state-regulated broadcasting systems towards systems which are more open to market forces. -

some theorists argue that the constant media diet of violence desensitizes audiences (makes them less sensitive) to real human suffering. It is hard to find proof for the theory, though the practice of systematic desensitization in behaviour modification may lend incidental support to the theory. Belson's 1978 study of over 1500 teenage boys did not find any support at all for the desesitization hypothesis. The effect of the 'distant violence' presented in the news was virtually nill and the effect of directly experienced violence was even slightly negative, which, if anything, suggests increased sensitization to real-world violence. -

deviance is a form of behaviour which is considered to violate society's norms and therefore to be unacceptable. Many critics of the media would argue that the apparent consensus as regards those norms is in part manufactured by the media by the process of labelling certain groups' or individuals' behaviour as deviant and then duly reacting to it with moral outrage on behalf of 'ordinary, decent people'. Thus the media serve to legitimate the dominant ideology, which in fact serves the interests of the powerful groups in society. -

deviance amplification
the process whereby activity labelled as deviant is 'amplified' by a broad reaction in society which is co-ordinated mainly by the mass media. The development is seen more or less as a spiral: the initial behaviour is labelled 'devinat'; information is relayed from primary definers to the media and thence to the wider society; there is a negative social reaction; consequently, the deviant groups become isolated and react by resisting the consensus view and possibly becoming more actively deviant; the increased 'deviance' leads to increased social control and at this point the whole spiral starts all over again. -

not an easy term to get to grips with, partly because it is used differently in different subject areas. In linguistics the term is commonly used to refer to an utterance larger than a single sentenceIn interpersonal communication, 'discourse analysis' refers to the analysis of the verbal and non-verbal aspects of an interaction; it analyses the verbal and non-verbal rules and conventions which apply, as well as the context in which the interaction takes place, the content of the utterances etc. Discourse analysis often forms a part of ethnographic studies. In cultural studies, the term is generally thought of as having been most usefully developed by the French post-structuralist philosopher Michel Foucault. While here the analysis of discourse is concerned with the meanings of language and other codes, the focus is primarily on the power relationships embodied in those codes. Codes and their meanings do not stand somehow outside society and history; rather they are always subject to the historical and social context of the time and prevailing power relationships and conflicts, each discourse being a limited range of possible statements, by that very limitation defining what it is possible and not possible to say. Some discourses are considered more 'legitimate' than others, these others receiving little recognition. Thus, there are the discourses of, say, radio and television news, the discourses of medicine, science, academia and so on. In society there is a constant ideological struggle between discourses; for example, the discourse of free-market capitalism is now dominant, hegemonic, whereas the discourse of Marxism is defined as irrelevant. -

the adjective 'empirical' means 'based upon experience'. In philosophy the term empiricism refers to the theory that all concepts are derived from experience and that all statements which express knowledge must ultimately derive their justification from experience; those who hold that view are referred to as empiricists -

is most commonly understood as a belief in the real, true essence of things, the invariable and fixed properties which define the 'whatness' of a given entity. . . . Importantly, essentialism is typically defined in opposition to difference. . . . The opposition is a helpful one in that it reminds us that a complex system of cultural, social, psychical, and historical differences, and not a set of pre-existent human essences, position and constitute the subject. However, the binary articulation of essentialism and difference can also be restrictive, even obfuscating, in that it allows us to ignore or deny the differences within essentialism. -

the term coined by Roland Barthes to refer to the way in which the bourgeoisie remains 'anonymous' by succeeding in presenting its ideology to us as 'common sense'. folk devils and moral panics According to Cohen, certain groups periodically become the focus of moral panics. They are labelled as being outside the central core values of our consensual society and as posing a particular threat to them. The groups investigated by Cohen were the Mods and Rockers - today, New Age Travellers or those who attend raves could be seen as their modern equivalent. The 'central core values' which such groups transgress against are argued to be the norms and values which primarily serve the interests of the dominant classes. The media, in particular the press, whip up a moral panic which is coupled with calls for strengthening the forces of law and order. According to this view the Criminal Justice Act 1994, with its legislation specifically targetting travellers and raves, is the response to the moral panic in the media.

fourth estate
this term appears sometimes to be used to refer to the 'three powers' in a modern democratic society, at other times to refer to the three 'estates' in pre-revolutionary France. As you will see, it amounts to the same thing either way. -

the selection or rejection of events in the 'real' world. For example, an editor decides on what's going to be covered, an organizer briefs the camera crews, the reporter decides what 'angle' the story will be covered from and so on. These people are all gatekeepers. The concept of gatekeeping tends to be related to rather mechanistic models of communication processes. Though it may serve to remind us of the operation of a selection process in the representation of news, it is essentially too simplistic to be a great deal of use. -

Glasgow University Media Group
produces very influential research into the operation of ideology in the broadcast media under the titles Bad News, More Bad News, Really Bad News. The authors attacked the perceived view that broadcast news is less partial and more 'objective' than other news sources. Their findings were vehemently attacked by the broadcasters themselves, but are frequently used as sources by other academic critics of the media. -

in the writings of Gramsci, hegemony refers to the dominance of one social class over others. The term bourgeois cultural hegemony is also used - it refers to the dominance of the bourgeoisie over other classes, but the key word is cultural, as it emphasises that it is the bourgeois culture, with all the beliefs, values and norms which it incorporates, that is dominant. A more traditional Marxist view would place the emphasis rather on the economic control exerted by the dominant class. In the Gramscian view, the bourgeoisie are successful in projecting their view of the world as 'natural' and 'common sense', 'taken for granted', 'legitimate', although in fact it serves only their interests. Their view becomes the consensus view. Hegemony is potentially always threatened. It can only be maintained by the consent of the subordinate classes. The subordinate can pose a challenge to hegemony and the consensus may be broken. Society is seen therefore as a constant struggle between ideologies competing for hegemony. The media, from this viewpoint, are seen as playing a vital rôle in constructing the consensus.

hierarchy of access
the media rarely give first-hand accounts of 'deviants'' behaviour. Their behaviour is explained for us by others. The behaviour of such groups is often reported in the press, but they have little or no control over what is said: -

Ideological State Apparatus (ISA)
the term used by the French Marxist philosopher Althusser to refer to those agencies of the state which act to communicate to us the dominant ideology and persuade us to internalize it. These are distinguished by Althusser from the RSAs (Repressive State Apparatuses) such as the police, military, penal system and legislature. ISAs include the education system, the family, the legal system. the party-political system, culture and the mass media. -

a system of ideas and beliefs. In Communication studies, the term is often used to refer to a 'dominant ideology'. The idea derives from Karl Marx's use of the term to apply to any system of thought which upholds the position of the dominant class: 'In every historical epoch the dominant ideas are those of the ruling classes.' -

any text depends on a host of prior conventions, codes, other texts. The term is sometimes used to refer to the unavoidable multiplicity of references in any text (see also infinite semiosis below); sometimes it is used to refer to deliberate references, quotations or pastiches. In the first of these senses, the intertext of Independence Day includes all other films featuring alien attack, the Prince of Bel-Air, Hollywood blockbusters foregrounding special effects etc. In the second sense, The Untouchables features a conscious quotation from the Odessa Steps sequence in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, Brian de Palma's Dressed to Kill features a series of conscious references to Hitchcock's Psycho etc. I have also seen the term hypertextuality used to refer to example such as the latter two, as well as pastiches (e.g. Gentlemen Wear Plaid's pastiche of film noir) and remakes. -

knowledge gap
The knowledge gap hypothesis states that 'as the infusion of mass media information into a social system increases, segments of the population with higher socio-economic status tend to acquire this information at a faster rate than the lower status segments, so that the gap in knowledge between these segments tends to increase rather than decrease' (Tichenor et al. (1970) quoted in Kleinnijenhuis (1991)) -

term associated with Howard Becker, whose study 1963 The Outsiders: studies in the sociology of deviancy consider how certain people and the things they do or think come to be labelled as 'deviant'. His study shows how the powerful groups in society use the 'labelling process' to define what is acceptable and whose 'deviant' behaviour lies outside the domain of the acceptable. (See also consensus and folk devils) -

mass society theory
the view that the mass media address a mass audience who are doped by the media. This view of the media audience (in the singular) as a passive, undifferentiated mass informs the hypodermic needle model media effects, as well as some aspects of the concern with cultural effects (see for example Adorno and Horkheimer). -

Media Monitoring Group
recently revived, having become inactive during the early 1990s, the Media Monitoring Group is closely associated with the Conservative Party. It appears to monitor the broadcast media for 'socialist' bias, its findings being used to support Conservative politicians' sporadic attacks on broadcasters in the UK. -

moral entrepreneurs
the term is used by sociologist Howard Becker to refer to those campaigners who create new rules for the rest of us, such as Mary Whitehouse of National VALA: 'The existing rules do not satisfy him because there is some evil which profoundly disturbs him. He feels that nothing can be right in the world until rules are made to correct it. He operates with an absolute ethic; what he sees is truly and absolutely evil with no qualification. Any means is justified to do away with it. The crusader is fervent and righteous, often self-righteous.' (Becker (1963) pp. 147-8) -

the polysemy of signs, i.e. their capacity to signify more than one meaning. The notion is particularly useful for the investigation of the way that signs which may at first appear neutral are in fact ideologically loaded, e.g. he, man, mankind etc. identified by feminist critics. -

news management
this term is normally used to describe the way that individuals or organizations attempt to control the flow of news to the media and to 'set the agenda' for the media. This might involve issuing a press release which is embargoed, holding press conferences times to make the lunch-time and early-evening news, or staging an event which is big enough or unusual enough to grab the media's attention. -

news values
the criteria which journalists and editors use to determine whether or not an event is 'newsworthy' -

in media studies a view of the mass media as enjoying a considerable degree of independence from the state, political parties and pressure groups. They are seen as being in the control of autonomous managers who allow media professionals a great deal of freedom. In this view, audiences are not seen as manipulated by the media as the audiences are considered to enter into the relationship with the media on equal terms. Broadly speaking the media are seen as offering a wide selection of the views of various groups in society. This view should be contrasted with those of radical researchers. -

the pluralist view of the mass media sees them as important agencies within a free and democratic society. Media institutions are seen as being free, by and large, of any government control and thus free to present whatever point of view they want, audience members beng free to choose whatever 'line' suits them in a 'pick 'n' mix' approach to media definitions of reality. -

all signs are polysemic, i.e. capable of having a range of possible meanings. The range of meanings is narrowed down by the context. A photographic image is inherently polysemic. Its meaning is anchored by accompanying text. -

Press barons
the death of Lord Northcliffe (owner of The Times, The Daily Mail and others) in 1922, left Lords Rothermere, Beaverbrook, Camrose and Kemsley free to establish a dominant position. By 1937, they owned nearly one in two national and local daily papers in the UK, and one in every three Sunday papers. Combined circulation was over 13 million. They were open about their use of newspapers for political propaganda. Beaverbrook told the Royal Commission on the Press that he ran The Daily Express 'merely for the purpose of making propaganda and with no other motive.' This attitude led Prime Minister Baldwin to say, 'what the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.'

primary definers
the powerful groups in society who have greater access to the media and therefore a greater influence over the media's definition of 'reality'. For comment on crime, for example, the media will consult police and Home Office spokespersons, for comment on economic policy, they will consult politicians and 'independent City analysts'. Such people are 'primary definers'. -

propaganda model
the view, formulated from a political economic perspective on the media, especially associated with Noam Chomsky that the media 'serve to mobilize support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity' (Chomsky & Herman (1988 p. xi). For Chomsky there is no essential difference between the American (and European) news media and those of totalitarian countries. Chomsky's Necessary Illusions (1989) presents a devastating account of the propaganda function of the American media, not so much by the sophistication of the argument, but by the wealth of the evidence he produces of the American media parroting government policy. The underlying premise is really quite simple, neatly and powerfully encapsulated in the following three quotations: -

public service broadcasting
a term which is not easy to define. The essential notion here is that broadcasting's function is not simply to satisfy commercial interests by giving the public what they want in an attempt to maximize audience figures, but, rather, to inform, educate and entertain the public, the notion of 'quality' being central. Examples are: that broadcasters are legally required to be impartial in their coverage of news and current affairs; that broadcasters must carry a certain proportion of educational programmes; that broadcasters must broadcast a certain proportion of current affairs during prime time - and so on.

in media studies, the 'radical' tradition is that which is more or less Marxist in its approach, seeing the media as playing an important rôle in the transmission of the dominant ideology. The approach was influenced by Marx, The Frankfurt School, Althusser and, later, Gramsci. -

readerly text
the translation of Barthes' lisible in his book S/Z an analysis of Balzac's Sarrasine. Barthes opposes this to the scriptible or 'writerly' text. The readerly text is seen as privileging the values sought and assumed in the classic text, for example a linear narrative, realism, whereas the writerly text stimulates the reader who is aware of the work of the text. Thus the reader (in the conventional sense), rather than being a mere passive reader of the text, becomes a writer or producer of the text, participating in its construction. S/Z is often seen as one of the foremost texts of post-structuralist criticism, in part because the notion of the writerly text introduces the notion of uncertainty, indeterminacy, which are characteristic of post-structuralist approaches to meaning. -

research which focuses on the way that individuals make meanings for media messages. Reception analysis has some similarity with uses and gratifications research, but is much more likely to use an ethnographic approach involving in-depth interviews, participant observation etc. Reception analysis has developed particularly since the early to mid-1980s. It tends generally to be associated with the view that audiences are active and is generally associated with the notion of resistive readings of media texts, associated with Michel de Certeau. -

a term used to refer to foregrounding by a text of its own made-ness or constructed-ness. For those of you who study drama, this will be familiar as Brecht's 'alienation effect'. Brecht was concerned to avoid the 'swindle' involved in naturalistic theatre's pretence that the play 'happened' rather than 'was made'. It may be seen as a method of undermining the pretensions of bourgeois theatre, whose realism, by concealing its own workings, draws the spectator into the bourgeois ideology which is inscribed in its claims to represent common-sense reality itself. It is no doubt because of its anti-bourgeois intentions that we find it being frequently used in, for example, Godard's cinema. But it's no longer as simple as that (if it ever was): what do you make of Wayne and Garth talking to the camera in Wayne's World; or of the fact that every news interview or documentary foregrounds the cuts, no longer masking them with 'noddies'. -

signification, the production of meaning; frequently used in the phrase infinite semiosis whereby one signifier refers only to another signifier, meaning constantly deferred in an infinite chain. This latter term tends to be associated with post-structuralism, one of the characteristics of which is the shift of emphasis from signified to signifier. -

semiotic guerrilla warfare
a term taken from Umberto Eco by John Fiske to describe the resistive tactics employed by subordinate groups in constructing counterhegemonic meanings for media texts. The term is particularly descriptive of the ideas popularized by de Certeau and Fiske and coming increasingly to the fore in recent years in reception analysis. -

the process whereby individuals are made aware of the behaviour that others expect of them as regards the norms, values and culture of their society. Agents of socialization include the family, school, friendship groups, religious institutions and the mass media. -

the medium is the message
one of those obscure sayings of the 60s media guru Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan argues that no medium is neutral and what is said is profoundly affected by the medium in which it is said. The saying may also be taken to imply, in a sense, that the medium is 'more important' than the message. If interpreted in this way, then the saying can be seen to be close to the contemporary post-modern pre-occupation with the over-production of signs, the superficiality of media communication and the 'implosion of meaning' (Baudrillard). -

Two-step Flow
the term used by Katz and Lazarsfeld to describe their observation that media messages flow from the media to opinion leaders to the rest of the audience. The important point is that their research demonstrated that media effects are mediated by the pattern of our social contacts. They concluded that the media have limited effects. -

War of the Worlds
a sci-fi story by H G Wells. Adapted for radio by the young Orson Welles, the story of the Martian invasion (suitably transferred to the USA) was spread across a series of mock news bulletins on American radio in1938. It caused widespread panic. According to some reports, around a quarter of the six million listeners believed what they heard; many who lived near the site of the supposed invasion fled from the area; many are said to have reported that they had actually seen the alien invaders. -