Does the media undermine or enhance democracy in Britain?
Democracy means ‘rule by the people’ and for this to function properly, it requires an informed public. Media provides this information to the public and therefore, the very definition of media suggests it is a democratic device; The media includes all organizations such as television, radio and newspapers, which provide news and information for the public. media informs and empowers all members of society, therefore enhancing democracy. However, there are several arguments towards its undermining of democracy, are we really making our own decisions? Or are other people deciding what we see, read and hear? This essay will examine these arguments to assess if media undermines or enhances democracy. Most people in Britain will come into contact with the media in their everyday life, whether it be through newspapers, TV, magazines, radio or the internet. In contrast to television, newspaper owners have the freedom to decide which party they want to support. Partisanship and newspapers go hand in hand; depending on which paper you read, you will be given biased information in favour of the party that paper supports. The Conservatives have always received support from the Express and the Mail while Labour has always been supported by the Mirror.(reference) Other newspapers tend to change their party allegiance regularly. The Sun even went as far as commenting its belief that it was the papers support that had won the 1997 general election for Labour.(reference) This allegiance to different political parties allows newspapers to present news in a biased way and exercise heavy powers of persuasion upon the public, therefore undermining the democratic process as readers are only seeing one particular view rather than a neutral and impartial one which would allow them to make their own judgements and decisions. However, privately owned newspapers have long been seen as a critical check upon the power of government. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, newspapers and pamphlets were a primary channel of communication, through which the mass of unenfranchised people kept in touch with political developments. (Dunleavy and O’Leary 1987 p.37) Therefore, traditionally, newspaper have always been seen a government watchdog and thus critical for democracy. Democracy relies on the public having information and therefore any media that provides information can be seen as a good thing. However you have to look at the purpose of the media, is it really the main purpose of the media to provide information? It could be argued that the main purpose of the media is to make money by selling information. This means that if, for example, a newspaper faces competition, it must make what it’s selling more appealing to the consumer. Even if this means altering information to make it more exciting or heart wrenching or dangerous than it necessarily is. This is what happens when news is sold for a profit and therefore ultimately private ownership of media outlets can destabilise democracy. An example of this can be seen through the Leveson enquiry. It is an on-going enquiry into the British press following the phone hacking scandal in 2011. The phone hacking scandal occurred when employees of The News of The World were accused of engaging in phone hacking and police bribery. In other words, they were going to extreme lengths in order to publish stories. Phone hacking happened because the newspapers needed to sell more to make more money. News of the World was shut down in 2011 but this is just one example of how newspapers’ main purpose is to make money by selling information rather than provide correct and unbiased information to the public in aid of the democratic process. This is an argument for further state control of media. However, there are still issues with this. Many fear that state control simply means media will be used as propaganda outlets for the party that is in power,...
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