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The Role of Media in Shaping Public Opinion

img_9The advancement of technology has enabled people from all over the world to get connected to each other. Geographical distance no longer becomes a barrier for them to attain information from any part of the world. Anywhere and anytime, people are connected by the media, which has become an inseparable part of contemporary life. Many of the common media consumers presume that mass media provides them with an objective view of the world, so that they can be easily deceived. Therefore, this essay is going to prove that the media is not neutral and that it is often used by the ruling group in the society to shape public opinion.

To make this essay becomes more objective, there are three articles which are taken to support the analysis. The first article is entitled Prime Time Ideology written by Todd Gitlin that deals with the role of television entertainment media in shaping public opinion. The second article is entitled The US Media, Huntington and September 11 written by Ervand Abrahamian, while the third one is Remapping the Visual War on Terrorism written by Wendy Kozol and Rebecca Decola. Both the second and third articles deal with the role of media in shaping public opinion in the area of politic in America.

Todd Gitlin in Prime Time Ideology analyzes how the ‘format and formula’, ‘genre’, ‘setting and character type’, and ‘solution’ presented in television programs are designed to create hegemony in the society for the advantage of the capitalist elites (Gitlin 2000, 577). On ‘format and formula’, the length, schedule, and character type of the television programs are being standardized to raise consumption among the viewers. The regular schedule of the TV programs, either daily or weekly, slackens the development of the characters. Even if the characters develop, the development they make in an episode is usually insignificant. The characters presented on those programs are usually static characters, which do not undergo so many changes. Such a fixed format and formula can make the viewers see their lives as pretty static too. In the author’s view, such a seemingly unchanging life set up by the format and formula of television programs, makes the audience see immediate consumption as a way out. It triggers the audiences to consume new products as a way to make progress in their seemingly static lives. Besides of social fixity, TV format also includes the space for commercial breaks, which aim is to persuade the viewers to consume the products presented. It makes it even clearer that the format and formula of television programs are made to boost public’s desire for consumption. Other than the format and formula, the genre of television programs is also designed to meet the interest of the elites. Most of the genres of television programs are conformed to the subject favored by the majority audiences of high purchasing power. The attractive genre in majority’s viewpoint would keep them stay tuned even if they have to see the commercial breaks in the middle of their favorite programs and finally, buying the products being advertised.

Setting and character types also play an important role in shaping public’s opinion. In this case, the capitalist elites only bring up on television programs the characters with an ideology which is seen to be useful to maintain their existence. They would not support a program that shows a socialist worker for instance, because the socialist ideology is against theirs. The restriction to several ideologies which are seen as harmful for the elites leaves the audiences’ no other view but to support the capitalists’ side. It explains why certain ideas do not appear as public hegemony. Beyond the surface, the ruling capitalist elites control the hegemony in public sphere for the sake of their own interests.

In creating hegemony in the society, slant contributes to giving the audiences certain point of view. It comments on current social problem regularly so that it creates a strong impression to the audiences. Finally, the films offered a solution to the set of social conflicts exposed to them. The solution usually comes from only a few members in the society, without involving other society members. Often that the social problem is made complicated, in which one value is conflicted against another, so that the public would not blame on any group in the society and even withdraw from public participation. Through that method the capitalists can win the heart of all social groups of many different interests. All in all, it shows that the television entertainment programs are set according to the ideology of the capitalist elites to lead the audiences’ opinion toward the value which is profitable for the capitalists.

In the field of politic, media plays an important role in shaping public’s opinion according to the agenda of the political elites. Through the article The US Media, Huntington and September 11, Ervand Abrahamian argues that The US media used the Huntington paradigm in explaining the motives behind September 11 to make the public avoid discussing political issues which is unfavorable for the government. The mainstream media in the United States put the whole case within the context of Islam, of cultural conflicts, and of Western civilizations threatened by the ‘Other’ as explained by the Clash of Civilization theory by Samuel P. Huntington. The major media such as The New York Times denied any political motive behind the September 11 attack and turned to cultural reasons instead. It argued that the attack had nothing to do with politics but the cultural issues like secularism and women’s freedom in US that made a group of people from Muslim countries hated them. Another major media such as The Wall Street Journal also pointed at cultural hatred such as war against democracy and freedom as the motive behind the attack. In short, daily papers in the United States supposed to deal with current news escaped into the realms of history, theology, anthropology, and even cultural studies. As the result, many of the American publics who firstly thought that September 11 attack was triggered by the Israelites-Palestinian conflict turned to cultural arguments to explain the case.

In contrast to the media in the United States, media in Europe highlighted that the political conflict revolved around Palestine was the central cause of the conflict. It was found out later that the media in the U.S. at that time had agreed to censor their news. When bin Laden told Al-Jazeera that the cause of the attack was American involvement in the Middle East conflict, the American government side asked the media not to expose it to public. It was clear that the media was diverted because the American government did not want to be blamed for the cause of the September 11 tragedy.

The role of media in shaping public’s opinion in the political field is also shown through the photographs around the U.S. war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an article titled Remapping the Visual War on Terrorism, Wedy Kozol and Rebecca Decola argue that those photographs do not only function to document the event, but beyond that they also serve to lead the viewers toward a certain political tendency. The U.S. government takes advantage from those photographs to justify their action. The photographs are taken to represent the ‘oppressed’ people in Iraq and Afghanistan to justify the war against those two nations in order to save the ‘marginalized’ (Kozol and Decola 2006, 180). Therefore, the photographs often show the images of Iraqi or Afghan women, who are presumed as politically disregarded. The pictures usually display the images of women doing their domestic roles such as ‘women in the marketplace’ or women in their powerlessness such as ‘women in mourning’. Such images are to create spectators’ opinion about gendered citizenship and inequality in those occupied nations with the hope that they would justify American’s military intervention which stated purpose is to bring ‘Western democracy’ to those nations and equal rights for the citizens. Other images present an Afghan woman uncovered her face and smiled at the camera to represent the liberated citizen after the U.S. military intervention. In that case, veil is used to symbolize female oppression.

In opposition to the scenario made by the U.S.’ government to save the oppressed, the Iraqi men and women made a massive resistance against the U.S.’ troops. The picture of a large group of Iraqi women wearing colorful chadors ironically show that it is not the Iraqi patriarchy not or the Iraqi government they are against, but the U.S.’ troops in their territory. That photograph reveals that the representation of oppressed Iraqi women is merely part of the U.S. government’s scenario to gain support from global public for their military intervention in the Middle East, which certainly has another hidden agenda.

The analysis from the entertainment and news media show that there is power dominance in the society that influences the ideology presented by the media. On television entertainment media, the programs are made to serve the interests of the capitalist elites. All entertainment features are designed to provide them with the flows of profit. Different to the entertainment field, in the area of politic the media is often controlled by the ruling government. News and images are often designed in order to gain public’s support for their policy. At the end, the analysis shows that the media plays a great role in shaping public’s opinion to go along with the interests of the ruling class in the society.


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