Archive for the ‘media influence in society’ Tag

Media Perception of Religion   Leave a comment

Statistically, conservative evangelical Christians are far and away the most generous people in the country … not just giving money to causes, but also giving time. The Southern Baptist Convention funds state-based disaster groups that are often the first responders to crises like Katrina and the World Trade Center attack. The World Health Organization actually sent a team to a section of Tanzania where there was an unexpectedly low rate of HIV, only to find that a Christian missionary team had spent the last 20 years evangelizing among the villagers, so that the majority of about 10 villages were Christians who had only one wife and didn’t sleep around.  Slightly more than 50% of American scientists say they believe in God as a metaphysical concept.

And, yet, America’s largest identifiable voting bloc — that of evangelical Christians — are overwhelmingly portrayed by Hollywood as hypocritical, sexually abusive, hostile to science, and psychological inhumane. Since the late 1960s, Hollywood has portrayed Christians in unflattering ways, branding them as ill-informed, intolerant, fanatical and wicked people who are not in touch with reality.

Think:

  • Warden Norton in the Shawshank Redemption, quoting Bible versus while mistreating inmate and pilfering money
  • The fanatical preacher in Contact, who blows up an interplanetary spaceship because he hates science
  • Mrs. Carmody from The Mist — just your average Christian housewife waiting to uncork some pent -up repression.
  • Mother from Carrie (choose your version) – a garden variety Pentacostal nutjob child abuser

Christians tend to get excited whenever a faith-themed movie is announced. We hope it will finally portray us or the Bible accurately and respectfully, while at the same time, we know it won’t.

NOTE: I did not say “fear” it won’t. We KNOW it won’t. We hope for better, but we no longer are surprised by what Hollywood feels free to do to our most precious stories and history.

Which is not to say that Muslims are not also portrayed in stereotypical ways — when they’re not featured as terrorists, they are depicted as misogynistic brutes with backward and mysterious customs. I’m just choosing to focus on Christians because I know from personal experience the truth of what I am writing.

When Hollywood attempts to do a “Christian” film, they give us Noah, depicting the Biblical figure as a crazy, irrational nut who is so fixated on modern-day problems like overpopulation and environmental degradation that his wife has to threaten him with divorce to keep him from killing his grandchildren.

Faith on television hardly gets any better treatment. Contemporary television goes out of its way to paint moving, sympathetic portraits of everyone from bullied gay teenagers to sex addicts and Mafia wives, but somehow can’t find any empathy for men and women of faith.

This misrepresentation of Christianity and Christians has wide-ranging effects. For a secular audience, it is much easier to passively watch a 90-minute movie than interview members of a congregation or attend a religious service to get facts straight. Under the 1st amendment to the US Constitution, Hollywood may legally portray religions in a negative light, but the aftereffects can be harmful in shaping public opinions about religion or its followers.

The typical Hollywood writer, according to media commentator Ben Stein, is from a large Eastern city, often of Jewish background, who grew up being taught that people in small towns hated him and were out to get him. When he gets a chance, he attacks that mythical small town on television or in the movies. He’s not writing reality, but portraying the point of view of a small, extremely powerful section of the American intellectual community, resulting in a popular national culture waging culture war on a way of life that is still widely practiced in the same country. Affection for small towns and small town values (like faith) runs very deep in America, but the mass culture of the country hates small towns and their related values, so spews their view onto television and movie screens, showing nothing but contempt for a fairly large part of the population. People are told that their culture is rooted in sickness, violence, and depravity, which gives them little confidence in the future of that culture. They feel ashamed of the country and come to believe that, if their society is in decline, it deserves to be.” (Stein, 1976).

Ratings Are Important   Leave a comment

Neil_CavutoA commercial medium wants to sell ad space or time to businesses with products or services for sale. To make that sale, they need to be able to tell potential advertisers that their messages on the air, in print, or on the monitor screen will be viewed and heard by large numbers of consumers. And that’s where ratings come in.

Nielsen program ratings for cable news channels for April 2012:

  1. The O’Reilly Factor – Fox News — 2.87 million total viewers
    2. Hannity – Fox News — 2.075 million total viewers
    3. Special Report with Bret Baier – Fox News — 1.778 million total viewers
    4. On the Record with Greta van Susteren – Fox News — 1.722 million total viewers
    5. Fox Report with Shepard Smith – Fox News — 1.688 million total viewers
    6. The Five – Fox News — 1.674 million total viewers
    7. America’s Newsroom – Fox News — 1.272 million total viewers
    8. Your World with Neil Cavuto – Fox News — 1.252 million total viewers
    9. O’Reilly Factor (11PM) – Fox News — 1.22 million total viewers
    10. America Live – Fox News — 1.191 million total viewers
    11. Studio B – Fox News — 1.113 million total viewers
    12. Fox & Friends – Fox News — 1.082 million total viewers
    13. Happening Now – Fox News — 1.029 million total viewers
    14. The Rachel Maddow Show – MSNBC — 985,000 total viewers
    15. The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell – MSNBC — 931,000 total viewers
    16. The Ed Show – MSNBC — 875,000 total viewers
    17. Hardball with Chris Matthews – MSNBC — 744,000 total viewers
    18. PoliticsNation – MSNBC — 712,000 total viewers
    19. Piers Morgan Tonight – CNN — 567,000 total viewers
    20. The Situation Room – CNN — 548,000

Notice that programs owned by News Corporation dominate the first 13.  The next five are NBC Universal programs and the bottom two in the top 20 list are Time Warner programs.

Bill O’Reilly has five times as many viewers as Wolf Blitzer. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing nor should it be considered evidence that Rupert Murdock is Satan. Ratings just show what people are watching. When I worked in newspapers as a journalist one of the things I learned was that advertisers often couldn’t care less about the politics of a program so long as their advertising gets seen. Advertisers do not, therefore, exhibit much influence over the news they advertise on. Viewers actually exert a lot of control with the power of their remote control.

Rupert Murdock is not a conservative by American standards, but Fox News Network has a strong right leaning bias. Some of that can be attributed to Roger Ayles, the CEO, who is a conservative, but more of it is attributed to who viewers are tuning into. Apparently viewers like Bill O’Reilly more than they like Chris Matthews, so advertisers, wanting their ads to be seen by the most people, buy advertising where the viewers are. If Murdock were to replace Ayles with Hendrick Hertzberg (for example), Hertzberg would do well to note the ratings of Fox’s media stable and not mess too much with a winning formula because Murdock is all about making money and Bill O’Reilly brings in more advertising dollars than Wolf Blitzer.

 

Would those advertising dollars shrink if Hertzberg made O’Reilly modify his message? Yes, probably. How do I know? Look how high in the ratings Neil Cavuto is. Neil is not the most entertaining person to watch, but people are tuning in, so it has to be something other than his scintillating personality. His message is compelling and viewers are tuning in for that.

I’m not making a judgment about which message is better or whether you can trust Fox News to give you better information. I am saying the viewers seem to prefer FOX’s message over what is offered at MSNBC and CNN.

Media and Advertising   2 comments

“Advertising is the art of arresting human intelligence just long enough to get money from it.” (Chuck Blore of advertising firm Chuck Blroe & Don Ruchman, Inc., quoted in The Media Monopoly, by Ben H. Bagdikian, p. 185)

Mass media is a natural way for companies to let a large number of people know about their products. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that idea of reaching large groups of people with products they might want or need. I do have some concerns with the influence exerted by advertising methods and techniques that entice, shape and even create consumerism, turning luxuries into necessities and distorting our view of reality.

Media companies (at least in the US, but to a smaller extent in countries that subsidize their media) are heavily dependent upon advertising to keep the doors open. It’s their primary revenue source. Yes, there are audience-supported media that do not utilize advertising, but the influence there is similar. The revenue source largely controls the medium. If something is reported that the advertiser (or paying subscriber) doesn’t like the medium risks the loss of revenue. If a television network is heavily reliant on advertising by Monsanto, they’re going to shy away from covering a story about bad practices by Monsanto.

As a result, the mainstream media is largely driven by market forces.

But it’s also important to realize that a medium must sell advertising to an audience in order for that advertising to be effective. So the medium must sell the audience to the corporations in order to sell advertising. So you have a situation where the audience is both a product and the consumer of a product. There is tremendous pressure on media companies to change content and to shape content based on the demographics of the audience. The content of media is less important than the type of person being targeted by the ads that support the media.

In Bagdikian’s book The Media Monopoly, he looked at magazine advertising and news content in several countries. He noted:

“The influence of advertising on magazines reached a point where editors began selecting articles not only on the basis of their expected interest for readers but for their influence on advertisements. Serious articles were not always the best support for ads. An article that put the reader in an analytical frame of mind did not encourage the reader to take seriously an ad that depended on fantasy or promoted a trivial product. An article on genuine social suffering might interrupt the “buying” mood on which most ads for luxuries depend. The next step, seen often in mid-twentieth century magazines, was commissioning articles solely to attract readers who were good prospects to buy products advertised in the magazine. After that came the magazine phenomenon of the 1970s — creating magazines for an identifiable special audience and selling them to particular advertisers.” (page 138)

There is also the known manipulation of media images to promote certain mindsets to consumerism. I grew up when Saturday morning cartoons were funded by Mattel, where huge Transformers destroyed toy houses on the screen and when you ordered them, they turned out to be smaller than the houses. Models are manipulated to look prettier, sexier and skinnier. This leads to unrealistic expectations for reality that can have profound effects on our national psyche.

There are areas for concern however. Advertorials do exist. This is where news stories or editorials are often thinly-disguised product advertisements. Disney owns ABC and there have been allegations of hyping a movie under the guise of news coverage. Over the weekend, Brad and I watched a “news” story that covered the refurbishment of a local gym that sure seemed like an advertisement to us. Is it First Amendment protected speech when it comes from a public relations press release? Of course, we also must realize that special interests from the Sierra Club to the National Education Association also issue these press releases that become, in many cases, unfiltered “news” at the 6 o’clock hour.

I am not suggesting regulation of advertising, however. We are only as stupid and easily led as we allow ourselves to be.  The risk of regulating advertising for the “good” of the public is that regulators never stop where they were originally asked to regulate. First it’s advertising, then its news and why not the editorial segment as well? We’ll address the unfairness of the “Fairness” Doctrine later in the series. What is needed is more consumer skepticism and the willingness to talk about media manipulation with our kids combined with the chutpah of the audience to realize that as the third leg of the advertiser-media-audience relationship, we have the power to demand truth in advertising and that advertising be separated from news coverage.

The problem is that we don’t even recognize when we’re being manipulated and we deny it when it’s pointed out. This is true whether it is corporate advertising influence news coverage on network and cable news channels or on PBS, where corporate sponsors exert a powerful influence on coverage, but because PBS is “commercial free” supporters will insist it is neutral and balanced.

Ha! That’s what I have to say about that. HA! And, no, this is not a rant against Bonnie Erbe. It’s a rant against people who thing she is a journalist or that her show presents news. It is an opinion program that presents a very narrow view of the world and the people in it. Okay, guys, take your eyes off her knees and the other chick’s cleavage.

Media manipulation is everywhere! And that’s why the idea of PBS presenting unbias news — HA!

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