MEST 3: Key Terms/Theories/Issues/Debates

MEST 3: Key Terms/Theories/Issues/Debates

(This document is rather massive so alternatively, download Unit 3 Key Theories here)



The following terms can be used to describe most modern media institutions.


®   Monopoly a single media organisation that dominates production and distribution in a particular industry either locally or nationally, such as Microsoft’s dominance of the computer operating systems market.

®   Oligopoly – a small number of organisations that dominate an industry either locally or nationally, such as Emap and IPC’s dominance of the UK magazine industry.

®   Conglomerates – a collection of companies owned by a single institution.   Diversification provides protection to the whole company so that if one part of the business is in difficulties, the other parts can prevent it failing. Examples include News Corporation, Time Warner and Disney.

®   Multinationals – organisations that have institutions in more than one country.

®   Independent producers – self funded, smaller organisations. Thanks to advances in technology – these are growing in numbers.



DEBATE: Who controls the media: audience or producers?


A market-liberalism perspective stresses the power of audience over media producers in the marketplace. It suggests that audience preference decides what media texts are produced, through:purchase of media texts, paying for access, taking out subscriptions, ‘hitting’ an internet site, audience research. Market liberalists argue that this is vastly preferable to government controlled media which decides ‘what is good for people’.


A political-economy perspective stresses the power of the media producers over media texts and consequently media’s influence over a particular audience. This perspective argues that markets appear to offer freedom – especially when compared to the state-owned and controlled media that operates under some authoritarian regimes. However, there are many problems with media organised and run by the free market system – there is inequality in whose interests the media operates. Those with more money, who appeal to advertisers, will have more orientated to their needs.


A political-economy perspective suggests that rather than media producers responding to audience needs and wants, they are packaging audiences to sell them to advertisers. This is especially true in e-media where the number of hits to a website can be recorded. It was the potential advertising revenue that motivated ITV’s purchase of Friends Reunited and News Corporation’s purchase of MySpace.


(Similarly, Adorno and Horkheimer claimed culture is manufactured by what they called theculture industry, where they saw culture being treated as a commodity, rather than a form of art or expression.)


The political economy perspective sees the power of media organisations as open to abuse; some media producers are seen as promoting particular political positions in their texts, for example, in America, Fox News is seen to support the Republican Party, including the previous the Bush administration (see Outfoxed). The Sun newspaper in Britain is also very partisan (strongly supporting one political party), depending on which party Murdoch decides to ally with; see The Sun’s strong support of the Conservative government during the 2010 election campaign, for instance.   The Italian media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, for instance, exerted an enormous amount of pressure on the Italian media to secure another term as prime minister.


Gitlin (2003), after interviewing a number of American television producers, concluded that the pursuit of audience figures had a negative effect on the quality of television. For instance, producers may avoid any representations that might be seen as challenging the values and ideologies of the audience (e.g. representing the murder of a British soldier in Iraq, sympathising with the Iraqi assassin, would prove very controversial and therefore would be avoided by most media institutions).


Curran (1986) argues that the advertising industry has a major influence on the structure and output of the British print media. It is argued that media producers focus on providing the media for the sectors of the population that the advertising industry wants to address. For many publications, advertising is the main source of revenue and therefore the advertisers could wield significant power in print publications and may affect the content; the use of sponsored promotions in magazines like Empire may seem harmless, but what if a newspaper was reluctant to print a story because it might upset one of their major advertisers?





The media is regulated positively by obligations placed upon it (e.g. radio stations must regularly broadcast news) or negatively bypreventing or censoring certain media content.


For example:

®   The Race Relations Act (1976) makes it illegal to broadcast or publish material that could be deemed offensive to ethnic or racial groups.

®   The Official Secrets Act (1989) prevents those in the military, government or police from speaking to the press without permission.

®   Libel laws state that if a media institution publishes anything that is considered to be harmful and untrue, the victim can sue for libel and make a claim for financial compensation of their damage.




There are three inter-related areas of media regulation:


  1. Economic regulation – where economically powerful groups, advertisers and sponsors, exert pressure to limit the content of media texts.
  2. Cultural regulation – where the cultural attitudes and values of the audience limit the content of media texts.
  3. Legal regulation – where acts of Parliament or governmental organisations or government approved industry institutions regulate media content, such as the Video Recordings Act (1984) or the British Board of Film Censors or the Digital Economy Act 2010.


A political-economy perspective is most concerned about economic regulation, while a market-liberal perspective emphasises cultural regulation.


In order to avoid pressures to censor from government or businesses, some industries have opted for self-regulation, where they make regular financial contributions to an ‘independent’ organisation to oversee and regulate the industry, e.g. The Press Complaints Commission or the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).


Examples of government regulation of the media include OfCom. See p.41-42 of the A2 Media Studies Book to see the elements that OfCom consider in matters of censorship and broadcast schedules.


The protection of the minority perspective argues for control of media content to protect the rights of individuals, minority groups and those who may be harmed by the media, e.g. children or women.


The freedom of speech perspective argue that freedom of speech is paramount and that criticising the government and those who are powerful in the media is important to ensure that democracy works. This view stresses that even if, at times, harm is done by material in the media this is better than allowing governments to censor media content.





Globalisation refers to the way in which, in contemporary society, distant countries are inter-related and connected together by trade, communication and cultural experiences.


According to Giddens (2003) we live in a ‘runaway world’ where cultures, economies and politics appear to merge across national boundaries. For instance, TV programmes such as The Simpsons are watched all over the world.


A poltical economy perspective argues that the homogenisation of culture and communication leads to shared values and ideologies. The USA dominates the world’s media with 85% of the global film market, thanks to: a large home market, dominance of the English language and technical advantages.


Some may argue that the above is an example of cultural imperialism, a process by which one country dominates other countries’ media consumption and consequently dominates their values and ideologies.


Putnam (1997) suggests that the US government prioritised media for support as an important export industry that promotes both US values and US goods. However, this view is not straightforward for instance some texts tailor themselves to their local values and ideologies, e.g. Sesame Street.


Anthropologist Danny Miller has a different take to the cultural-imperialist perspective in that other cultures use western texts as a method of empowerment, to explore social issues in their own societies.


The media does, undoubtedly, hold an enormous amount of power, but audiences still have the power to:

®   Select the media texts they wish to watch

®   Influence the media producer to produce texts that appeal to local audiences by incorporating the local culture

®   Interpret the media texts according to their own lives and to create a range of meanings.





There are a number of political theories that explore the influences and pressures placed upon the media,


®   Marxist Theory – Karl Marx argued that the working proletariat were being exploited by the bourgeoisie. He thought that class consciousness would lead to revolution and that the bourgeoisie prevented this by creating a false consciousness. In contemporary society – the media would be essential in maintaining a false consciousness.

®   Hegemony – Antonio Gramsci, in the 1920s and 1930s, first introduced the concept of hegemony.   He used this concept to explain how popular culture contributed to the manufacturing of consent for bourgeoisie power within capitalist societies by presenting certain divisions in society as ‘common sense’ (for example, the representations of middle-class people in positions of power and influence).

®   In a Marxist vein, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman (1988) argue that the media manipulates populations to prevent them from rebelling against the powerful or dominant classes, through the manufacturing of consent.   They argue that this is not done conspiratorially, but through the institution’s need for profit and to appeal to consumers.

®   Media campaigners Edwards and Cromwell (2006) agree with Chomsky and Herman’s evaluation of the media, highlighting the paradox that “much of the contemporary world is dominated by giant, multinational corporations [and] the media system reporting on the world is itself made up of giant corporations. Indeed, media entities are often owned by the same giant corporations they are tasked with covering.”


One of the criticisms of some applications of Marxist theory, in particular the political-economy approach is that it assumes that the audience is passive and easily manipulated by media producers.


Stuart Hall (1981) has developed Marxist theory to present a more complex picture of media power. He suggests that texts are polysemic and do not have one clear message that supports the dominant values and ideology. However, he does acknowledge that it is important to be aware of the way in which debates and contestations are constructed within media texts.


Liberal pluralism challenges Marxist approaches as it sees society as being made up of competing interest groups, rather than seeing society as dominated by the bourgeoisie. This approach is supported by a market-liberalist approach. This approach offers a more active perception of audiences; however, it does have its shortcomings.   There are economic and institutional considerations that limit the inclusiveness of views across the media, especially when commercial concerns are paramount, and consequently there are many people who question liberal pluralism. Just think of the influence the field of Public Relations has over the news, for instance.








Although most media texts are produced with specific audiences in mind, there are also different ways of consuming media texts.
®   Primary media such as films, demand close and concentrated attention from the audience

®   Secondary media such as radio or some TV programmes, provide a background for an audience who are often doing something else (e.g. making dinner)

®   Tertiary media are consumed by audiences who are almost unaware of their own engagement with the media, such as advertising or radio stations broadcasting in shops.


The Frankfurt School and the work of Adorno and Horkheimer expressed concern that cultural industries influences the political views of its audiences, especially when these texts were passively consumed by the audiences. They were especially concerned about how the media were used in Nazi Germany to influence ordinary people to support fascism.


However Gerbner (1956) suggested that messages do not just flow from the text to the audience, but instead there is another step in the process as audiences discuss the ideas they acquire from the media with each other. They may even debate and challenge the values and ideologies that the media conveys.





Both Blumler and Katz (1974) and McQuail (1997) suggest a Uses and Gratifications model for summarising why audiences consume texts (more on p. 66 of A2 Media Studies book)


Shaun Moore (1998) argued that media texts often allow audiences to perceive themselves as part of an imagined community, where the audience feel that they have something in common with other imagined members of the audience.


Corner (1996) suggests the popularity of reality TV rests upon the dynamics of ‘anxiety and security’. In some texts, such as I’m a Celebrity…, audiences enjoy experiencing risk, danger and then relief at successful outcomes in the programme.


Morley (1990) argues that it is important to consider the media, not just as programming and text, but as objects that in themselves carry meaning and value, e.g. some media such as plasma TVs and Apple iPods operate as status symbols.


Spigel (1999) argues that in the 1950s television moved from being seen as an intruder into domestic life to being incorporated into the home. Gunter and Svennevig (1987) argue that the media are now an integral part of the family household.


Silverstone (1994) argues that the television provides a sort of security and reassurance for many adults and young people by giving them the comfort once provided to them as young children by teddy bears or blankets.


Couldry (2004) explored the concept of a mobile audience. He argued that audiences saturated by contemporary media engage in media tourism (e.g. visiting film studios, or the set of Big Brother etc.)





According to Abercrombie and Longhurst (2005), audience involvement beyond the text is part of a wider shift in the audience’s experience, allowing the boundaries between the audience and the producer of the media texts to become more fluid.   Many areas of new media (e.g. YouTube and Facebook) rely on their audiences literally to create them, as do television programmes like The Jeremy Kyle Show.


It is arguable how significant this seeming shift in power from producers to audience actually is. Consider Facebook, for instance, where the audience can only participate within carefully constructed and framed spaces. In the case of television, audience or participant’s control of the text is limited:

®   The programme hosts’ or experts’ views are dominant and they allow who will speak and when

®   The programme’s hosts or experts may have a privileged relationship with the camera and the use of a voice-over or narrator emphasises the particular view of the media producer

®   Editing reality and confessional shows ensures that the producers retains control of what is finally aired

®   The producers of the shows have constructed the scenarios and narratives, such as the selection of the tasks on Big Brother.


The debate over whether audiences are passive or active continues. Overall, the media effects theory and Marxist theory assume the audience to be passive members while uses and gratifications theories and reception studies assume the audience to be active and discerning.


What is becoming clear, however, is that audiences will interpret texts differently. For example Morley’s (1980) study of Nationwide emphasised that the text was interpreted differently by different social groups.











The effects perspective looks at how media affect their audiences.


The high profile reporting of the killing of the toddler Jamie Bulger by two young boys attributed the boys’ behaviour to watching the horror film Child’s Play 3 (1991). Although there was difficulty in establishing a causal link between media and behaviour, the public outcry led to the Video Recordings Act of 1984, which resulted in tougher age-classification laws, supported by amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994.


Bandura (1961) developed a social-learning perspective, suggesting that viewers learn from media consumption (in it, children were shown a film of people acting aggressively, which the children replicated in their play). However, his conclusions have been continually criticised and rebuked.


The cultivation perspective, on the other hand, suggests that it is not the content of an individual media text that affects people, but the cumulative effect of watching a range of media texts that has an effect. This is also known as the saturation perspective. It has, for example, been suggested that people become desensitised towards violence in the media over time.   However, as early as 1970s, Gerbner pointed out the impossibility of proving this theory.


Anderson and Dill (2000) undertook a study on the effect of violent video games on game players, and suggest that violent video game play was related to aggressive behaviour and delinquency. The unique characteristics of the violent video games they focused on included: the interactive style of play, the active participant by players and the addictive nature of the games.


Gentile and Anderson (2006) later argued that video games affected aggression in children because video games are engaging and reward repeated violent actions.


Further challenges to the effects perspective are that:

®   It assumes the audiences to be passive and undiscerning and therefore open to manipulation.

®   They focus on ‘vulnerable’ groups, such as children, and treat then as unable to differentiate between lives experiences and media.

®   It is the least powerful in society who are seen as influenced by media content, thus effects perspectives become thinly masked criticisms of the media tastes of these less powerful groups.


Overall, a Foucauldian perspective (a view influenced from the works of social theorist Michel Foucault) based on an idea of discourse (which establishes ‘common sense’ or knowledge about that subject) argues that media shape our perceptions and our knowledge of the world. This perspective underlies the constructionist approach to representation.







In the post Second World War era, Adorno and Horkheimer (1986) argued that popular music was part of a ‘culture industry’ and that, in the interests of profit, the music industry produced banal, interchangeable music for a passive, childlike and manipulated audience.


Media theorists such as Fiske (1988) have challenged such perceptions, pointing to how active and discerning fans are, not merely in consuming popular music, but using the music to create their own cultural artefacts and identity. Furthermore, Fiske points out that the products used to promote the music and groups, including posters, magazine spreads, souvenirs from concerts, may be used by a fan in a create way when they construct a collage of images in their room or decorate their college files. Thus fans are ‘completists’ by completing the construction of meaning that a text carries.





Media Forms: 

When analysing a text consider the following contexts:

®   Social and political context (e.g. immigration or terrorism)

®   Historical context (e.g. changes in values over time – remember blatant sexism was acceptable in the 50s/60s)

®   Economic context (e.g. financing and cross-cultural factors)





Structuralism has been used to study the media in regards to how meaning is constructed.


Semiotics was developed by Saussure (1983) who suggested that there are three levels on which we read media texts:
®   Syntactical level – identifies the basic denotations in the text, its dominant elements, for example the colour or overall effect

®   Representational level – looks at the representations conveyed in the text

®   Symbolic level – involves the hidden cultural or symbolic meanings that the text conveys


There are two steps to reading signs:

®   Denotations – occur immediately to the audience

®   Connotations – rely on the representational and symbolic levels of meaning that can be associated with or suggested by a sign. These meanings often depend on the culture and background of the ‘reader’


Barthes (1967) developed Suassure’s ideas to analyse media texts in relation to culture. He suggested that our understanding of many media texts rests not merely upon what the texts portray, but on the texts’ relationship to frequently told stories or myths in our culture e.g. the way romantic comedies often draw on the Cinderella myth.


For Barthes, the final layer of signification in media texts relates to cultural meaning. In terms of the Cinderella myth the cultural meanings or rather the values and ideologies conveyed are that men are active and women are passive, that men are economically powerful providers and a women’s key role is to be sexually alluring.


Fiske (1982) warns that there is a tendency to read connotations as if they were self-evident truths – as if they were denotations. However, connotations are codes that are particular to specific cultures. As a result audiences in different cultures may interpret media texts differently.


Some texts may try to limit meaning, however, for example: newspapers may anchor photos by their use of captions.


®   There are many different types of signs, but each has two parts: the signifier (the part that creates meaning) and the signified (the idea or meaning that it represents).

®   An iconic sign has a signifier that bears a close relationship to the object being signified.   For example, a photograph of a person has a close relationship to the person whom it signifies.

®   An indexical sign assumes a relationship between the signifier and the signified, so that when we see one, we expect the other. For example, smoke signifies fire.

®   Symbolic signs have no obvious relationship between the signifier and the signified. Examples are the use of red for hot on a tap, blue for a boy or the symbol of a dove signifying peace.


Genre and auteur theory (which suggests that the director is the author of the film and that films reflect his or her particular visual style, themes, values and ideologies) are two other areas dealt with by structuralism. For example Grist (2000) argued that the films of director Martin Scorsese always explore themes of masculinity and repression.





Post-structuralism challenges many of the assumptions of structuralism, most importantly the idea that a text has one single, identifiable meaning. It plays down the role of the ‘author’ and emphasises the arbitrary relationship between signifiers and signified, and suggests that texts contain floating signifiers that can be interpreted differently by audience members. This concept is closely related to post-modern ideas.








Political ideology can deeply influence the representation of people, groups, events or places. For instance, it is common in films to present Islamic terrorists as cold-hearted, merciless and barbaric and American or British soldiers as warm-hearted, friendly and sympathetic. These representations often stem from a political ideology that maintains support for a political cause.


The ideology (or business plans) of the institution can also affect representation. For example, Rupert Murdoch, in his bid to conquer the Chinese market, often ensures that his newspapers represent Tibet in a way that supports China’s invasion.


Political partiesor leaders can be represented in positive or negative ways, depending on the political bias of the institution.


Due to Globalisation, western texts are dominating the world market. As a result, western representations have more influence in the world.





Gamson (1994) argues that ‘celebrity is produced, and constructed by concerted, co-operative action of media industries for profit’.


Stacey (1994) argued that the meaning audiences place on celebrities is linked to the pleasure gained through fantasising about escaping from the confines of their own lives. The fantasy involves being part of the lifestyle that celebrities are perceived as living. For example, this includes owning luxury homes and clothes, travel, staying in hotels, eating in expensive restaurants and being the focus of lots of attention.


An alternative critical perspective is put forward by media theorist Richard Dyer (2004) who suggests that a celebrity must resonate with the ideas, values and spirit of the time – even the moment.


Adorno and the Frankfurt School (1991) looked at both the positive and negative influence celebrities can have on the general public. They argue that the general public might identify with charismatic celebrity individuals, with negative outcomes. For example, connecting the rise in incidents of anorexia in young girls with the popularity and endorsement of thin supermodels and celebrity WAGs. Or a celebrity campaign can be used for positive effect; for example, Joanna Lumley’s campaign for fair treatment of Ghurkas.









The way an issue is represented in the news, depends on news values:

®   Is it a negative story or bad news?

®   Is there the potential for personalisation and human interest?

®   Does the story have shock value?

®   Does it feature or create celebrities out of people to whom the general public can relate?

®   Is there continuity with this or other stories?

®   Does the story have close enough proximity to the target audience (e.g. are British people involved?)


Sometimes the story can take on a cultural concern: an issue, concern or paranoia that a society or culture becomes preoccupies with or worried about.





Potter (1999) suggested that in order to take a critical perspective of media violence it is important to consider how a violent incident is represented in that media text. He asks the following questions when looking at a violent text:

®   Who is the perpetrator of violence?

®   Who is the victim of violence?

®   Is the violence presented as justified?

®   Are the consequences of violence portrayed?

®   Is the violence represented as normative or as abhorrent?


Cameron and Frazer (1987) claim that representations of sexual violence are endemic in our society. Media texts often portray women and the elderly as victims of crime. Yet statistically, in Britain, the group most at risk of violence is young men.


Gitlin (2003) points out that fictional violence is an easy target for criticism. However, he suggests that careful attention is also paid to what representations of violence are selected and what is omitted. The true extent of the brutality of war is often omitted in news coverage, which many argue is sanitising war.





Representations of violence shifted since 9/11.   Greater emphasis has been placed on the threat from terrorism rather than crime, as evidenced in the popularity of US series 24. Texts that present the over-simplistic binary opposition of good (the U.S.) vs. evil (terrorists) are being constructed largely through political discourse (the scope of discussions that takes place within political circles).


The realism of 9/11, which in some ways resembled the scene from an action film, made traditional representations of violence (e.g. James Bond films) seem fake and unreal. The more ‘realistic’ Bourne trilogy hit the zeitgeist (the general set of ideas, beliefs, feelings that are typical of a particular period in history), becoming enormously popular and heavily influenced Bond’s ‘reboot’ in Casino Royale, which became (a fraction) more grounded in the real world.


Noam Chomsky argued that 9/11 saw a return of metanarratives..





Graham Murdoch (1999) argues that when a particular group is not visible in media culture, it is not included in the dominant perception of society. Absence from media representation implies a sense of ‘otherness’, of not belonging and marginalisation. Individuals from under-represented groups may internalise this and consequently feel alienated from society. Representation is therefore a political issue.


For instance in the 60s and 70s many feminists complained about the limited range of representations of women in the media (e.g. women presented as housewives etc.). In many ways, these representations naturalised the power imbalance of men and women.


Laura Mulvey (1975) in her influential work Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema argued that mainstream Hollywood film was the product of a patriarchal (male-dominated) industry and that in such texts:

®   Men controlled the action and were responsible for moving the narrative along

®   Women were represented as passive objects of the male gaze

®   Pleasure in viewing comes from voyeurism (pleasure in secretly watching), narcissism (the identification with or the erotic appeal of an idealised version of oneself) and scopophilia (the pleasure in looking at other people as objects).


Gammon and Mashment (1988) however, have pointed out the limitations of Mulvey’s theory and pointed out that there have been a variety of texts, in recent years, which represent men as objects for the female gaze (think Sex and the City). They also point out that women are more active in their viewing of media texts and may, for example, identify with aberrant or villainous characters or place their own interpretations on texts.


Post-feminist thinkers, believe that because women now have more equal rights, there is no need for feminism or feminist texts. However, it is hard to agree that women have equal power to men.   How many female presidents have the USA had, for example?


Judith Butler (1999) suggests that gender is not the result of nature but is socially constructed. That is to say, male and female behaviour and roles are not the result of biology but are constructed and reinforced by society through media and culture. Butler argues that there are a number of disruptive representations of masculinity and femininity, which cause, what she refers to as gender trouble.





Butler’s theories of gender trouble have also been linked to queer theory, which explores and challenges the way in which heterosexuality is constructed as normal and the media has limited the representations of gay men and women, often representing them in terms of sin and sickness.


Queer theory also challenges the traditionally held assumption that there is a binary divide between being gay and heterosexual, and suggests that sexual identity can be more fluid, e.g. Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.


Queer theory also suggests there are different ways of interpreting contemporary media texts, for instance by looking at texts that were broadcast before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967. For example, queer theory offers alternative interpretations of Batman and Robin’s relationship in the 1960s TV show.


Camp – which is linked to Queer theory – involves an exaggerated performance of femininity, usually by men. A camp performance often involves an emphasis on style, image, irreverence, breaking taboos and poking fun at authority and is often used in comedy, fame and chat shows, e.g. Graham Norton. A camp style draws attention to how masculinity is constructed and in doing so challenges traditional notions of masculinity.





Colonialism refers to the period of history in which Britain controlled vast regions of the world, and profited largely through the use of slavery and the exploitation of natural resources.


As, theoretically, no colonial empires remain in existence, the present era is known as a post-colonial era. However, this term is problematic. Britain and the USA, for example, diplomatically, economically and militarily, still hold power in many parts of the world.


Post-colonial theory, for instance, links to theories surrounding globalisation and cultural imperialism in that it suggests the dominance of the white culture (just think of the absence of non-white images in the media).


Edward Said (1995) introduced the concept of Orientalism and suggested that:

®   Firstly, that the West tries to speak for the Middle East in texts, as if it has authority over it

®   Secondly, that the West often uses the Middle East in texts to contrast itself against “the Other


In a post-colonial world, many families have been forced to migrate due to force or economic reasons and have experienced racism and developed a sense of ‘otherness’, which has been termed Diaspora identity. This is not always negative, as can be seen by the Asian music scene in Britain or the influence of Bollywood in films such as Bride and Prejudice and, arguably, Slumdog Millionaire.


However, it can be argued that many representations of race that have evolved in the media, are founded upon negative historical myths from the colonial past. Alvarado (1987) has suggested that there are four types of representations for members of the black community.

®   The humorous – e.g. Eddie Murphy

®   The exotic – models such as Naomi Campbell

®   The pitied – representations of needy black communities through charity advertising or films such as Blood Diamond

®   The dangerous – portrayed in news and documentary reports of black inner-city gangs or gun crime.

In fact such representations are usually constructed in terms of binary oppositions, for example the battle between good and evil is the battle between white and Middle-Eastern people in The Kingdom.


Both terrorism and immigration have been subject to negative and inaccurate views in the press, for example. Note that the aggression of western nations is rarely called terrorism (read more on p. 64 of A2 Media Studies book).





The concept of moral panic was developed as a result of Stanley Cohen’s studies of youth groups in the 1960s and may affect how an issue is represented. Cohen (1972) argues that a moral panic occurs when society sees itself threatened by the values and activities of a group who are stigmatised as deviant and seen as threatening to mainstream society’s values.


The process by which a moral panic develops involves three stages:


®   The occurrence of a deviant act or social phenomenon

®   The act or problem being widely reported on in the media, e.g. initially on the news and then spilling over into internet chatrooms and incorporated into fictional narratives etc.

®   A call for greater governmental control either from legislation, policy, initiatives or the more vigilant operation of already existing social controls.


Examples of moral panics include: HIV/AIDS, ecstacy and designer drugs, teenage pregnancies, asylum seekers, binge drinking and terrorism.


Thompson (1998) argues that in recent years there have been an increasing number of moral panics that have become all pervasive. For example, the moral panic on paedophilia now affects the institution of the family and all those looking after children, who feel their behaviour is brought into question. Thus moral panics do not only affect those who are stigmatised as deviant but also restrain other members of society keen to disassociate themselves from deviant groups.




In the last twenty years there has been a digital revolution in the production and distribution of media texts, which now rely on the digital codes used by computers and the internet.


New digital media includes the following: video and DVD, portable camcorders, home computer and games consoles, cable, satellite and digital TV, mobile phones, the internet, e-mail, MP3, podcasts, webcams, blogs, social networking spaces such as MySpace and Facebook.


Initially, audiences were quite passive when viewing the internet. Web-pages tended to offer static information, which, due to dial-up speeds, were slow to access. However, new technologies have created a second generation of web-based material, known as Web 2.0; emphasising: interactivity, user participation, dynamic content (i.e. content that is continually changing) and freedom to engage in new media texts.


There seem to be two ways to view this revolution, either as something utopian (creating a perfect world) or dystopian (making things as bad as they can be).





®   Cultural critic, Richard Dyer (1992) thought that the media made up for deficiencies of modern life, offering ‘utopias’ such as: Community, Intensity, Abundance, Transparency, Energy

®   Del Sola Poole (1977) suggested that new media gives people the opportunity to create and disseminate their own texts easily (Remember that he wrote this before the introduction of the internet) and allows “a flowering of hundreds of different voices”.

®   Noam Chomsky (2003) sees the internet as a form of global “interconnection”

®   Haraway (1991) offers a utopian view of cyberspace, arguing that the ability to construct identities unrestrained by the restrictions of our physical bodies. Very similar to virtual reality

®   Liberal Pluralism ­and Liberal Pluralist ideas see the media in a democratic light – that the media are made up of competing interests and views and that this reflects the diverse range of opinions in society. This view may see the internet as a microcosm of society. However, this view clearly has limitations.





®   Lyotard (1984) argued that the postmodern era saw a decline in metanarratives (e.g. religion, politics) leading to a greater instability in society.

®   Jean Baudrillard (1983) argues that we live in a world of hyper-reality, where the media world is more ‘real’ that reality itself. He also argued that material goods are now a simulacrum a copy, rather than an original product

®   Jurgen Habermas (1991) argues that media texts should provide citizens to debate and criticise government actions and form public opinion (the public sphere). However, he saw a dystopian side of new digital media, it its ability to produce similar representations and its focus on celebrity and trivia

®   Noam Chomsky (2003) also sees the internet as a “time-waster”.


Some people look at the internet, with its ability to flout copyright law and some of its immoral and degrading content (e.g. internet pornography) as a public concern. These moral panics over this new medium are not new.

®     1900s – concern over the sexual content of silent films

®     1930s – anxiety about the radio and the influence of crooners on housewives

®     1950s – anxiety about television’s influence on the family

®     1980s – a moral panic over violent video nasties

®     1990s – anxieties over violence in computer games

®     1990s and 2000s – concerns about the internet being used by paedophiles to contact children


Springhall (1998) suggests that people are fearful of new technologies, such as computer games, because they challenge existing norms of powerful groups and government processes, especially because they are often embraced by the youth.   Also the seeming lack of censorship on the internet, allows young people access to violent and sexual imagery, previously disallowed.


Castells (1999) argued a technologically deterministview of the world, in that technology influences and dictates the nature of society. He also argued that modern audience is concerned with the flow of information, unrestrained by space and time.



Functionalism – Emole Durkheim wrote in the late nineteenth century that society worked on the basis of a collective consciousness and that society has a set of basic values and morals, which it shares and all adhere to. He felt that through law, religion, education, etc. that this collective consciousness could be maintained and that this was a far more effective way of regulating a society than laws.


However, a post-modern perspective suggests that society is now fragmentary and contradictory which has influenced post-modern texts.   Post-modernism is largely related to:


  • the decline of party politics and trade unionism
  • the collapse of communism and a belief in the ability of governments to centrally plan societies
  • insecurity and uncertainty
  • media-saturated society with instantaneous communication
  • an emphasis on difference rather than uniformity
  • increasing emphasis on the importance of style and the visual


Key features of post-modern media texts are:


  • intertextuality (when a media text uses elements or references from other media texts)
  • Bricolage (the process of creating a media text out of a series of artefacts, styles and signs from other media texts or cultural artefacts).
  • Merging of genres, styles and media
  • An emphasis on image and style rather than narrative and meaning
  • Elements that draw attention to the construction of the media text
  • Playful and ironic elements
  • A mixing of elements of ‘high’ or elite culture within popular culture
  • Fragmentation
  • Diversity of representation and viewpoints
  • Pastiche (a creation of a media text out of elements or, or with reference to, other media texts in a mocking or caricatured way) and parody.





The internet has become a great forum for alternative media.


The Royal Commission on the Press (1977) defined alternative media as:
®   Dealing with the opinion of small minorities

®   Expressing attitudes hostile to widely held beliefs

®   Espousing view or dealing with subjects not given regular coverage by publications generally available at newsagents.




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