Monday, February 28, 2011

Control values? Control the media!

In three European countries citizens are deeply at odds with their leaders, and public opinion in these countries is shaped in different ways. The media play an important role in it.
  • In France, a country with a history of very complicated state affairs (Clearstream, Dreyfus, Bettencourt), the foreign minister lost her job over something as simple as flying in a plane that belongs to a friend of dictator Ben Ali's. (And a controversial statement on the repression of protesters.)
  • In Germany, the defense minister is under heavy fire for plagiarism in his PhD thesis. But a whopping 68% of the population still support him.
  • And in Italy, thousands of Italian protesters all across Europe joined demonstrations against their prime minister on 13 February. Yet, many Italians, in particular elderly women, still support the prime minister. Of those who demonstrate against him, quite a few believe that he will somehow manage to remain in power after all.
  • in France you don't get away with stuff unless you control the public sphere (Sarkozy does. MAM didn't)
  • in Germany you get away with quite a lot as long as you control the public sphere (Guttenberg receives favorable coverage from BILD)
  • in Italy you get away with everything because you own the public sphere. And those defying you are either retarded or criminal
It strikes me how public opinion in these societies, all of them rather critical of politics and of political elites, would be so volatile depending on the way in which the media cover these affairs. It strikes me in particular because it touches values as well.
  • France is gloating because a morally correct politician who didn't do anything "illegal or improper", is no longer "chef de la diplomatie française".
  • Über-correct Germany has a new debate about the acceptability of cheating.
  • And Italy spends more time debating "bunga bunga" than fighting unemployment.
Values are shaped because of media coverage. And coverage is dependent on political influence over the media.

I find that worrying.


  1. I agree with your last statements. However, you should not forget that in a democratic state media do not form a homogenous entity but rather a multipolar one or at least a bipolar. Best example is Fox News which is often going against mainstream media in the US. Thus, opposition also control media positions, consequently also providing media coverage not just the government and trying to shape values accordingly.

    In addition, in the recent weeks it was proved to the world that how strong social media can be. One article, video or opinion which are met only by few can spread like wildfire over the social media and can open up public debates or offer alternative values. Maybe Mussolini is supported mostly by old women because they are the least effected by social media and government controlled media can have a higher impact on their judgement.

    It would be definetely interesting to study and compare the social media customs of those people who are following the national trend in certain issues and those who do not. I think a master thesis is in there at least but most likely a whole PhD. ;)

  2. Hello Gabor, yes there are different kinds of audiovisual media, of printed media and of social media. And all reach different target groups.

    But one of the media is prevalent and that is TV. In the Arab countries, social media reach a lot of people because in these countries most of the population is younger than 30. But in our societies, most people get informed through TV. We don't need to talk about Berlusconi's power over the media, let's look at France. Whenever times have been tough for Sarkozy, he asked TF1 to conduct a 1h30 interview with him. In a nice setting, with reporters that he knows well. I've never seen journalists more respectful than them. They didn't even dare to interrupt him. And reportedly, Sarkozy has been able to censor unfavorable media coverage about himself as well. In Germany, political power of TV stations is also present but possibly less than in France. Yet, our BILD tabloid reported favorably about Guttenberg even during his resignation speech. Without overstating the issue, I believe that it's good to guard the guards as well.

    With regard to the PhD thesis, why not? Maybe you'd find out that students and young people use social media more, and tend more toward the political left. As they grow up, I would imagine material wealth to increase and political preferences to change. And social media behavior too, maybe?

  3. Well, media owned by political parties, as I told you, is everywhere. There was a Hungarian stand up comedian who made the following joke: 'I bought seven newspapers at the news stand and poor salesman didn't know how to say goodbye! I felt sorry for him so in the end I have also bought a fishermen's magazine and then he could say: Have a good catch!'

    Interestingly enough I just read an article that the US government had a tender to write a programme with which non-existing users can be set up in social media sites and act as robots in order to shape public opinion... This is more than worrying.

  4. nice joke :))

    I would be interested to read that article, could you share it?

  5. I will try to look for the English version as I have read it in Hungarian...

    Found it, here it is: