Media and the State

Short Essay:
Please elaborate on the relationship between the media and the state.
Political Communication in Israel

The relationship between the media and state in the Western world has becomes increasingly more complex because of the process of “medialization.” [1] This process describes how the media has changed by gaining both greater independence from and greater influence upon the political system of the time, moving from periods of greater governmental control over media to freer privatized media following their own agenda as well as shifting within theoretical research frameworks and paradigms. [2] This process has arisen because of the assumed role of the media as sole (or most important) intermediary between the state (i.e., the government, politicians, etc) and the public at large, and as the key for keeping the state under public accountability. [3] This has allowed for new tools, resources and powers for the media to wield to have greater impact on the world of politics and vice versa. It has also opened the door for some new processes that have colored both the media and politics.

The tools and resources that the media has to pull from are varied; however theoretically, they each can produce a measurable affect on the community and public at large. One of these tools is the use of framing- the process whereby the media outlet determines what will be covered as well as how it will be covered. How the media chooses to portray an event can have large influence on how it is received and perceived by the audience. [4] This brings up many concerns, such as what general frame to choose (thematic or hard vs episodic or soft with general news stories, as well as issue frames vs game frames within the political system framework). [5] This framing can be seen as a function of political bias within the media organizations. The media can use their control of media access and the valence (degree of positive and negative coverage) to in part determine how a specific event or person is considered. An example of the effect of framing can be seen in the various frames employed by differing news agencies during Operation Cast Lead: portraying Israel as an aggressor, focusing on the plight of the Gaza’s inhabitants, etc. Different frames emphasized different aspects of the conflict leading the audiences of the respective media to differing conclusions.

Another theoretical tool of the media in the political system is the use of agenda setting (“The media influence public opinion by emphasizing certain issues over others.” [6]) and priming. “The priming hypothesis states that the media agenda affects the criteria people use to evaluate the performance of political actors.” [7] This allows the media to in some ways directly affect the electoral and other political processes by introducing a saliency effect to the public [8]- by having both easily accessed media and “by emphasizing certain issues and not others, the media may thus influence electoral results, because it appears that people tend to vote for parties that ‘own’ the issues primed by the media.” [9] [10] The use of affective attributes in the coverage can add another element of influence for the media. [11] This is seen effectively by observing the compelling arguments principle (“the media influence affective priming through the affective compelling arguments effect, in which they attach an evaluative tone…to objects or issues.” [12]) and/or by negativity bias in which people pay more attention to negative news items than to positive. [13][14] These effects again can be illustrated by political and media reactions during Operation Cast Lead. As public opinion was manipulated by the stories regarding the operation, one could witness changes in political action towards the issue (e.g. international calls for the denouncing of Israel, the Goldstone report, etc).

While the media’s tools and resources for interacting with and influencing the workings of the state are powerful, the state is not left without its own means of influencing the media and using the media’s tools as its own. The politicians and the state can easily take advantage of the biases and tools of the media if they understand those tools. By understanding the ideas of personal political bias and newsworthiness bias, a politician can theoretically craft their personal appeal and character to the desires of the public. As well, once a politician has reached office, he or she gains an advantage because of their position that will guarantee them greater news coverage than any opponents who are not already in the public’s eye. In election periods, those in the front of the polls can count on receiving more coverage as well because of the “horse-race bias” (the fact that the poll leaders automatically receive greater access to media). This was attempted during Operation Cast Lead, as it would seem that political leaders (e.g. Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, etc.) during the operation strove to use their status as leaders of the “successful” operation to enhance their political appeal in the upcoming election.

Politicians and government officials can also be aware of the Index Hypothesis and the strength that its theoretical model can lend to their political atmosphere. The index hypothesis states “mass media news professionals…tend to ‘index’ the range of voices and viewpoints in both news and editorials according to the range of views expressed in mainstream government debate about a given topic.” [15] Thus, governments that can tightly control the internal amount of discussion and debate about policies and actions can control the media’s influence and narrow its index. This was observed well in the Israeli media during Operation Cast Lead. With the government standing nearly unanimously in agreement about the scope and manner of the operation, there was hardly any divergence of opinion within the Israeli media and public at large.

Most of this discussion has emphasized the differing tools that the media and the state use to determine and shift their relationship. However one effect has been seen and theoretically projected to grow within both spheres: personalization. [16] Generally, this trend has been seen in three different areas: Institutional, Media and Politician Behavior. [17] Institutionally, personalization has been seen in that new modes, norms and formal institutions have emerged that emphasize the individual within the political system. Within the media, it has emerged that (according to some analysis) the media has begun to focus more on individuals. This of course follows after the decline in party politics. But as well, the media’s focus on politics as a game or “horse race” [18] with attendant game frames tends towards personalization. Similarly, other media actions, such as use of episodic/soft frames and particularly types of “infotainment,” [19] tend to push towards the personalization of politics. As well, politician behavior has tended away from party politics and toward personal activities in some countries.

[1] Stromback &Kaid, (2008), “A Framework for Comparing Election News Coverage Around the World,” in Stromback &Kaid (Eds.) Handbook of Election Coverage Around the World.
[2] See Sheufele, D. A. (1999), “Framing as a Theory of Media Effects.” Journal of Communication, 49, (1), 103-122 for an overview of the last century within communication paradigm research.
[3] Bennett, W. (1990) “Toward a Theory of Press-state Relations in the United States,” Journal of Communication, 40, 103-125.
[4] See Sheufele, D. A. (1999), “Framing as a Theory of Media Effects.” Journal of Communication, 49, (1), 103-122 for a broader theoretical discussion of differing types of frames and their effects.
[5] Sheafer, T., Weimann, G., and Tsfati, Y. (2008), “Campaigns in the Holy Land: the Content and Effects of Election News Coverage in Israel,” In Stromback, J. & L. L. Kaid (Eds.) Handbook of Election Coverage around the World. (pp. 209-225).
[6] Sheafer, et al. “Campaigns,” 217.
[7] Sheafer, et al. “Campaigns,” 218.
[8] Shamir, J. & Shamir, M. (2000) The Anatomy of Public Opinion. (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press). 87.
[9] Sheafer, et al. “Campaigns,” 218
[10] For info concerning this affect in election processes, see Holbrook, (1996) Do Campaigns Matter? (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage).
[11] See Sheafer, T. (2007). “How to Evaluate it: The Role of Story Evaluative Tone in Agenda Setting and Priming.” Journal of Communication, 57 (1), 21-39.
[12] Sheafer, “Evaluate,” 26.
[13] It should be added that theoretically, this type of influence should be observed mainly among people lower in political information, while those with higher political information and knowledge should be less affected. See Franz & Ridout, (2007), “Does Political Advertising Persuade?” Political Behavior, 29(4), 465-492.
[14] Another interesting aspect to this is that voters can effectively be discouraged from voting by highly negative media during an election process. Se Ansolabehere, et al. (1997), “Does Attack Advertizing Demobilize the Electorate?” In Iyengar & Reeves (Eds.), Do the Media Govern? (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage). Chap. 25, pp. 195-207.
[15] Bennet, “Press-state Relations,” 106.
[16] Although it is debatable about how well this is truly borne out by statistics in an international scale, personalization has still been observed in many nations under many differing situations. See Rahat & Sheafer (2007) “The Personalization(s) of Politics: Israel 1949-2003,” Political Communication, 24 (1), 65-80. And Karvonen, (2007) “The Personalization of Politics: What does Research Tell us so far, and what further research is in order?” Paper for the 4th ECPR Conference, Pisa 6-8 Sept 2007.
[17] Rahat & Sheafer, “Personalization(s),” 68-69.
[18] Sheafer, et al. “Campaigns,” 209.
[19] See Baumgartner & Morris, (2006), “The Daily Show Effect,” American Political Research, 34, 341-367.