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With the current democratic space in the society, access to information has become a significant tool of determining the level of public discourse on matters affecting the society. Media outlets have tried to occupy this space by increase the public access to information while citizens have increasingly become reliant on media as their predominant source of social, economic, and political information. However, media coverage on political issues has become a matter of interest since media has become very influential in shaping the political climate of a country (Meyer, 2002). The colossal influence of mass media on politics and people significant shapes people’s opinion, especially during election periods when political parties and politicians scramble for space in the media to increase their public appearances and sensitively influence the choice of the electorate. Essentially, the media has a role to play in the political arena in disseminating different political opinions to enable the entry of the electorate in the national life and make informed political choices. This paper will give a comprehensive analysis of media coverage on political issues.
In democratic societies, politics informs much of the decision making platforms and politicians play a significant role in shaping the democratic space enjoyed by the public. Similarly, media takes the centre stage and plays a central role as a communication channel through which exchange of opinions in the general public and in power, political parties, and governments takes place. Depending on the level of democracy in a country, the media enjoys a free space without direct pressure from political parties and governments (Meyer, 2002). In countries with liberal democracy, the media promotes transparency and accountability in governments by acting as a government watchdog. This increases its accountability in carrying out its primary responsibility of informing the public.
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By carrying out its responsibility, media outlets are expected to create transparency in the political system by helping the public to understand how the government is operating and increase their participation in political decisions. Unfortunately, this only appears in ideal situations. In practice, media outlets are influenced by politics and play different roles either informed by the need to appear favorable to the politicians and political parties or to increase viewership. Print and electronic media are the most influential media outlets due the number of people they reach and are seen as the main source of credible information (Meyer, 2002). Due to this fact, politicians try using them to increase their public appearance and this favors their side of business. On the other hand, they try as much as to hunt for information that interests the public to remain relevant and in business. Although this can be viewed as fair trade, it leads to simulation of transparency thus not serving the principal motivation of transparency in the political values.
Certainly, politics is the most influential topic that attracts a lot of interest in the public. Electronic and print media are thus motivated to cover political issues as this increases their preferential to the public as a source of interesting and relevant political matters. Politicians and political parties, on the other hand, try as much as possible to influence the type of information that goes to the media by trying to prevent the coverage of information that can tarnish their character and image in the public. This has created a symbiotic relationship between media and politics, politicians, and political parties (Meyer, 2002). Although the media the media hunts for political information, the coverage on such issues conceals a lot of critical information in manufactured mass of political reality. Governments and politicians put pressure on media to manipulate the information they cover to achieve their interests, economic and political objectives by diverting the attention of the audience.
Due to the informational gradient between the informational rich media and the informational poor public, the media is deployed by politicians to communicate with the public. The behavior of the most voters to entirely depend on mass media as their source of information about politics, political systems, candidates, and political process makes media coverage to significantly influence public opinions (Meyer, 2002). Print media and electronic media are supposed to provide spaces for public discourse by guaranteeing rational debate and universal access to information. Unfortunately, this has been a theoretical perspective of media because in practice, competition and free market ideology has created restrictions to journalists and journalism (Meyer, 2002). As a result, commercial radio stations, television channels, and newspapers are forced to be responsive to the political interests of politicians and advertisers as they are their source of business.
The television, for instance, has for a long time been a powerful and dominant medium through which political communication takes place in the contemporary world. This has significantly been facilitated by the fact that it creates a new form of virtual world and political reality (Meyer, 2002). Television accentuates a form of attention which is very effective in attracting and keeping the attention of the viewer. This makes television very effective in political coverage and the right medium for political conflicts and celebrity coverage (Meyer, 2002). Covering political stories on backstage political controls and manoeuvres create an impression of transparency but are usually used by television channels to divert public attention. These stories divert the attention of the public from the important policy debates but entertain the viewer and influence their opinion. Politicians understand the importance of media in influencing the public and use television which manipulate images to help in the creation of a new reality influenced by pollsters and media consultants.
Similarly, print media such as newspapers are very important in informing public opinion and discourse on substantive issues of public policy. Print media is also very effective since printed information appears more credible, honest, free from exaggeration and manipulation, and can be used for future references (Meyer, 2002). Politicians use this media to cover their staged events showing their engagement in governance and public policy issues. This makes the politicians increase their public appeal by portraying themselves as likeable, ordinary people who care about issues of public importance (Meyer, 2002). Staged media events covered by print media offer basic information to the public but provide showmanship and public image to the politicians. These events also thrust entertainment to the public and divert the attention from substantive public policy issues.
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Political topics and coverage of political issues by the media is one of the factors that attract great viewership in media as the public depends on it as a main source of political information. Political coverage helps media outlets to remain in business, and journalists are thus forced to cover and manipulate political information to remain relevant in the industry. Similarly, politicians and political parties understand the importance of the media in influencing public opinions and hence use it to manipulate their public image. This creates a symbiotic relationship between media and politics which is informed by the need to attract public attention as both depends on the public for survival.
- Meyer, T. (2002), Media Democracy: How the Media Colonize Politics. Cambridge, England, Polity Press.