Media and Power: How politicians use media
(This article was written by Bhrikuti Rai and Tshering Dolker Gurung)
Much of what Nepalese know about their political leaders, party politics or public policy comes from the media especially television, radio and newspapers- the primary information link between the Nepali population and the political sphere. The media try to explain the government’s goal, policies, helping to mobilize and reinforce public support necessary for effective political action. They also focus on controversial policies and expose corruption and hold politicians accountable to public opinion. In reporting on politics the media help select the issues that are to receive public attention and help shape the public agenda. The free flow of meaningful account of political events and issues is necessary for public understanding of politics and for the formation of public opinion.
The freedom of the media from political interference; the vitality of the media and the way they conduct their political functions; the way freedom of the media is reconciled with pressures from the commercial system that finance media institutions; and openness of government in providing information all influence the condition of Nepalese democracy.
History of media’s influence
Since colonial days, newspapers have shaped the views of American citizens of the political leaders and institutions. The twentieth century introduced radio and television as powerful new players in politics. As the millennium came to a close, politicians wrestled with the impact of the newest form of media – the internet.
Few countries around the world allow a free press which can influence the political leaders. Many states completely operate and censor their own media, and use them to promote policies of their leaders’ whims. Even democratic states like Great Britain and France have a firmer control of their media, often punishing critical correspondents. The First Amendment freedom of the press has been taken very seriously in the United States.
Most news originates from the government and different branches in the bureaucracy. The reports are usually not questioned or investigated further – the state is considered a “reliable” source of information. And there is really no way of controlling that which the government supplies. Thus, the media is only forwarding whatever the government wants to get to public attention – and it is reported as if it was neutral reporting. Different journalists and different networks may comment on the news from different points of view, but the original news is the same and is carefully put together to fit and support whatever purpose. ( strike-the-root.com)
Today’s news market is huge – the government actually sells the rights to tell the public whatever the government wishes the public to “know” (true or not). News networks such as CNN and BBC cover the globe, and even small countries like Sweden with only nine million people have television channels broadcasting only news – around the clock. (strike-the-root.com)
Media producers and editors decide which stories make the headlines, which get buried on page 16, and which receive no mention whatsoever. Given the fiercely competitive capitalist market, irresponsible publishers have often sensationalized news to increase profits. Politicians desperately court media support, recognizing their ability to promote or destroy political reputations.
Members of the media have also acted as watchdogs on private enterprise and public officials. Muckrakers of the early twentieth century drew attention to abuses in the meat-packing industry, the formation of trusts, and the corruption of municipal governments. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post played crucial roles in exposing the White House role in the Watergate cover up. (wikipedia.com)
Throughout American history, the most successful politicians were those who could manipulate the dominant news medium of their time. Franklin Roosevelt successfully used the radio in his series of Fireside Chats. Dubbed “The Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan made his political career with his television image. Although vilified by many, the American press has asserted itself as a major player in shaping government policies – from the earliest days to the present. (socialtimes.com)
Politics and Newspaper
People all over the world have always resorted to newspapers for keeping track of the political issues of their countries. Since the fall of Panchayat system people in Nepal have been reading newspapers to follow with the political issues of the country. In the American context newspaper editors heavily influenced the road to the American Revolution. Arguments against the Stamp Act, the Boston Massacre, and the burning of cities such as Norfolk were printed, enraging the reading public. Back in those days, newspapers were often financed by a group of individuals who advocated a particular political ideology.
Newspapers remain a major source of news for majority. Editors continue to endorse political candidates before Election Day. Political candidates continue to receive daily briefings on, and often read the major newspapers. They even keep up with political cartoons and comic strips to see which way the political winds are blowing. Despite brutal competition from newer forms of mass media, the old-fashioned daily paper retains its influence.
Politics and Radio
Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to take advantage of this new medium. When
he entered the White House in 1933, America was in the darkest days of the Great Depression. Through a series of “Fireside Chats,” on radio, FDR informed Americans of his plans to stimulate the economy. More importantly, his soothing voice assured listeners that despite the current crisis, the United States had the resources and the character to survive. Father Charles Coughlin’s fiery radio broadcasts reached an estimated 40,000,000 listeners and attempted to sway popular opinion away from Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. (socialtimes.com)
When WWII erupted in 1939, radio became an important means of staying current with the unfolding conflict. The famous radio broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow, relayed news of the war from London as German air raids pummeled the city. Murrow’s firsthand “This Is London” accounts – some broadcast during the Battle of Britain with the sounds of air raid sirens or bomb explosions in the background – undoubtedly influenced American citizens to consider taking action against Nazi Germany. (socialtimes.com)
The Maoists used to run clandestine FM radios during the war with mobile transmitters and Mahara has said he will regularize them as a network of Radio Republics. In Palpa district in Central Nepal, the Maoists have bought a commercial station, Radio Paschimanchal. And if the content of that station is anything to go by, it looks like the comrades haven’t understood how damaging the overt use of propaganda can be to a radio’s credibility. (Bodhi,11)
After buying the commercial station in central Nepal, the Maoists are getting legal registration for their underground stations. Their station managers openly admit that their aim is to propogate the party line. Other politicians had bought shares or set up their own stations as campaigning for election during the April election 2008. Some, however aren’t so worried about politicization because they say people have got used to exercising freedom and will simply stop tuning into stations they know are dishing out propaganda and have low credibility. (Bodhi, 11)
Politics and Television
The medium of television has the power to make or break political careers. Television has greatly influenced how politicians are perceived via the sound bite and negative campaigning. The most successful politicians have accepted the power of television and mastered its potential. Barack Obama- the President Elect of USA is an example of this. It was proved through a survey that Obama’s campaign had covered more air time as in comparision to his opponent John McCain. Obama’s television appearances weren’t just limited to political debates and serious political interviews. In order to reach the mass he made frequent appearances in popular shows of Jay Leno, David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey.
CPN (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda was given most airtime by electronic media among all poll contestants in the month before election, according to the report on a Media Monitoring Program (MMP) for Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. The Maoists got 58 hours total coverage time in all eight television channels. CPN (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda receivied direct speech opportunity for about 5 hours and 38 minutes during the monitoring period from March 9 to April 10. (presscouncilnepal.org)
Politics and Internet
Since the advent of television, no innovation has had the potential to impact politics greater than the Internet. With more and more people getting connected, the ability to reach millions of voters will be a lure which no politician can resist. The Internet is yet to eclipse the influence of newspapers, radio, or television. However, cyberspace has an advantage over the older news sources. The Internet is an interactive medium, allowing citizens to send information as well as receive it – in real time.
Thousands of political newsgroups have been created to cover the entire spectrum of political ideology. Interest groups have reached new audiences on the World Wide Web, creating the potential for an even greater influence and broaden the support networks. Blogging has also become one of the most widely used medium to influence public opinion.. For politicians, blogs have proved to a boon since they are now able to divert people’s attention away from mainstream media and bring forward the information they want to disseminate.
Do politicians really understand how to use social media? Those of us versed in these new ways of online communication know that any political figure who can truly and completely adopt social media methods would have a formidable secret weapon in their arsenal. A weapon that would have to be adopted across all the battling parties or they would quickly fall by the wayside. Obama has come the closest at showing the world how to effectively use social and new media in a political campaign with great success. He’s the first candidate to start using widgets to make it incredibly easy for anyone to donate to the campaign through his plethora of social networking sites. (scottmeis.com) With podcasts, viral videos, twitter streams and Flickr groups there seemed to be no corner of the Internet where Obama wasn’t being talked about. Who knows how much of this was actually orchestrated by Obama’s people themselves? Does it really matter? The conversations were happening and it seemed Obama’s supporters were the most clued up as to how to keep the ball rolling. (socialtimes.com)
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s facebook page made headlines in Nepalese media. This has become an easy way for politicians to express their views and divert public’s attention away from the mainstream media. Blogs and social networking sites have proved as better medium to reach out to the mass.
Facts and Figures from Public Report on Media Monitoring for Nepal’s Constituent Assembly Polls-2008:
Top 7 Political Leaders in terms of coverage in 23 broadcast media (8 TV channels & 15 Kathmandu-based radio stations)
(Leader/Affiliation) (Total Broadcast Time given- TBT) (Total Direct Speech Time-TDST)
(Prachanda-Maoist) (21 hours 46 minutes in TBT) (5 hours 38 minutes in TDST)
(G.P. Koirala-NC) (20 hours 10 minutes in TBT) (2 hours 44 minutes in TDST)
(M.K. Nepal-UML) (17 hours 14 minutes in TBT) (5 hours 11 minutes in TDST)
(K.P.Sitaula-NC) (5 hours 46 minutes in TBT) (1 hour 23 minutes in TDST)
(Kamal Thapa-RPP) (4 hours 39 minutes in TBT) (2 hours 44 minutes in TDST)
(Prakash Sharan Mahat-NC) (4 hours 20 minutes in TBT) (2 hours 51 minutes in TDST)
(Ram Chandra Poudel-NC) (4 hours 16 minutes in TBT) (0 hours 54 minutes in TDST)
These are media controversy topic statements posed in a question format, which can be argued pro and con. They were taken from the controversies section of the Rodman textbook and from the book “Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Mass Media in Society,” in which authors debate opposing sides of media issues.
- Are American values shaped by the mass media?
- Are freebies given to journalists the same as bribes?
- Are news agencies that use press releases and video news releases without attribution guilty of unethical behavior?
- Are newspapers insensitive to minorities?
- Are people better informed in the information society?
- Are the dangers of concentration within media monopolies overstated?
- Are V-chips and content ratings necessary?
- Can privacy be protected in the information age?
- Can the music industry survive despite technologies that facilitate downloading?
- Do advertisers unduly influence news and program?
- Do African American (Asian/Latino/Middle Eastern, etc.) stereotypes still dominate entertainment television?
- Do magazines compromise their editorial integrity in their push to obtain advertisers and celebrity news?
- Do media drive foreign policy?
- Do media technologies increase citizen participation?
- Do new media have an immediate effect on our behaviors and attitudes?
- Do paparazzi threaten privacy and First Amendment rights?
- Do public relations practitioners provide a valuable service to the public?
- Do ratings work?
- Do some menï¿½s magazines promote sexual stereotypes?
- Do television programs stereotype women?
- Do the mass media undermine openness and accountability in democracy?
- Do the media have a liberal (conservative) bias?
- Do the media introduce us to new ways of thinking about things?
- Do very thin “heroin chic” fashion models encourage eating disorders and/or drug use?
- Do womenï¿½s, men’s and teen magazines promote unattainable body shapes?
- Does concentration of ownership limit the diversity of voices in the newspaper industry?
- Does electronic media enhance political knowledge?
- Does media coverage of criminal trials undermine the legal process?
- Does media violence cause more violence in society or merely reflect that society is violent?
- Does the “blockbuster syndrome,” — the publishing industry’s obsession with books that will have sales in the millions — freeze out young talent?
- Does the globalization of media industries homogenize media content?
- Does the Internet have the power to transform culture?
- Does the low number of women and minorities in the newsroom affect the way in which news is covered and presented?
- Has coverage of political campaigns improved?
- Has democracy been transformed by new uses of media?
- Is advertising ethical?
- Is censorship always wrong because it curtails freedom of expression?
- Is economics the bottom line in the newsrooms of today?
- Is emphasis on body image in the media harmful only to females?
- Is enough being done to regulate deceptive advertising?
- Is Internet addition a social problem?
- Is it wrong to present the news in an entertaining way, distorting the information it conveys?
- Is local television news unnecessarily superficial?
- Is negative campaigning bad for the American political process?
- Is television harmful for children?
- Is the First Amendment working?
- Is there a conflict of rights between a free press and the rights of a defendant for a fair trial?
- Is there scientific proof (in addition to anecdotal evidence) that movie violence has caused real-life violence?
- Should advertising be regulated during childrenï¿½s programming?
- Should books sometimes be censored or banned by government or quasi-governmental organizations such as schools and libraries?
- Should children be protected from Internet pornography?
- Should freedom of speech ever be restricted?
- Should Internet access be regulated?
- Should news reporters vote or belong to political parties, or is that a conflict of interest?
- Should public relations professionals be attributable to a government agency?
- Should radio content ever be censored?
- Should shock (or hate) radio be legal?
- Should smoking in movies be eliminated or at least made to look unglamorous, since health experts believe it leads to increase smoking among young people?
- Should songs with explicit lyrics be banned from radio and television?
- Should television networks be required to show a certain amount of educational programs for children?
- Should the FCC be abolished?
- Should the names of rape victims be reported?
- Should violence on television be allowed?
- Standard public relations tactics, such as ï¿½greenwashingï¿½ are unethical and should be banned.
- Was the banning of billboard cigarette in 1999 appropriate?
- Will technology change social interaction?