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   Media Influence    






Before we examine Media influence in depth examining models and theories, and how they can be applied to media texts, arguments and evidence and government regulation -what are some of the concerns expressed in contemporary society about the negative influence that some believe the media may have


Here are some:


Television violence and its effect on children

Violent computer games and their effect on Teenage boys

Body Image – The promotion of beauty in Teenage female magazines that promote an unrealistic model of beauty

Pornography on the Internet that is easily accessible to children and its effect on audiences

Kids chat rooms, which are used by paedophiles to meet children

Television advertisements, which use techniques of persuasion to sell products or promote   community or government campaigns

Indecent language in the media, which may be seen to encourage or endorse the use of inappropriate or offensive language.

Drug and alcohol use   represented in the media

Nudity in the media, which is considered gratuitous and offensive to some people

Social Media and its effect on privacy, fraudulent   activity or identity, abuse, bullying or theft  

Screen addiction and its effect on teenagers – mobile phones, ipads, and laptops


Select one and provide some of the arguments people would claim to support the view that the media has influence


Whilst it is relatively easy to present claims that are made about the media’s potential influence – at Year 12 level we seek to qualify the impact of the media through arguments supported by evidence- e.g.. through qualitative and quantitate research studies , statistics,  survey results , interview responses . Like all arguments there are opposing viewpoints, which counter or refute the effect, the media may have on an audience. Counter claims also need to be qualified by arguments and evidence .


This area of study does not require students to express their opinion- but to demonstrate  they understand that there are  different views , opinions and approaches to  examining the nature of media influence


To begin this unit we will examine  how scholars and academics  have traditionally tried to address the question of media influence on the  audience through what have become known as Media Models and Communications theories. It is important to note that these models and theories were based upon the media relative to specific periods and events at the time


Media Communication Theories 


An Introduction to Media Influence


In 2011, following the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by members of the Metropolitan Police Service, riots spread across England. Commentators were quick to blame social networking for the spread of rioting. Others pointed the finger at violent video games. Despite these sensationalist claims, it’s important to keep such moral panics about media influence in perspective. Since the advent of the printing press, people have been anxious about the effect of the mass media.




The Hypodermic Needle Theory


The Hypodermic Needle Theory suggests that the media has a direct and powerful influence on audiences. It was developed in the 1920s and 1930s after researchers observed the effect of propaganda during World War I and incidents such as Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. It became the dominant way of thinking about media influence during the subsequent decades. The Hypodermic Needle theory is a linear communication theory which suggests that a media message is injected directly into the brain of a passive, homogenous audience. This theory suggests that media texts are closed and audiences are influenced in the same way. The Hypodermic Needle Theory is no longer accepted by media theorists as a valid explanation of communication and media influence. Indeed, some dispute whether early media theorists gave the idea serious attention. In their book An Integrated Approach to Communication Theory and Research, Michael Salwen and Don Stacks write: “The hypodermic-needle model dominated until the 1940s. As discussed earlier, although there is some question whether such a model influenced scholarly research, anyone reading pre-World War II popular literature will see that it underlay much popular thinking about the mass media and their consequences.” Although the Hypodermic Needle Theory has been abandoned by most media theorists, it continues to influence mainstream discourse about the influence of the mass media. People believe that the mass media can have a powerful effect on people and parents continue to worry about the effect of television and violent video games.

Lasswell’s ‘Propaganda Technique in the World War’


Harold Lasswell’s book Propaganda Technique in the World War was one of the principal source for what would later become known as the Hypodermic Needle Theory. Writing about the effect of Allied propaganda, Lasswell wrote: “From a propaganda point of view it was a matchless performance, for Wilson brewed the subtle poison, which industrious men injected into the veins of a staggering people, until the smashing powers of the Allied armies knocked them into submission.”

























The Payne Fund Studies


The Payne Fund Studies were a series of studies into the effect of movies on children. Although the studies have been criticised for a lack of scientific rigor but were the first, most comprehensive study of media influence. These studies confirmed the belief that the media has a powerful and direct influence on audiences. When writing about the influence of motion pictures, WW Charters – the chairman of the project – wrote: “We see that as an instrument of education it has unusual power to impart information, to influence specific attitudes towards objects of social value, to affect emotions in either gross or microscopic proportions, to affect health in a minor degree through sleep disturbance, and to affect profoundly the patterns of conduct of children.”

Although some of the data gathered from the Payne Fund Studies seemed to prove the hypodermic needle theory, it is important to recognise that these studies also proved significant flaws in this communication theory. As noted in ‘Children and the movies: media influence and the Payne Fund controversy’: “It is also important to realize that the best researchers of the late 1920s were not all naive adherents of what has been caricatured as the “hypodermic” or “magic bullet” theory of mass communication in which media messages were assumed to have a direct and immediate effect on the viewer’s consciousness as if they were injected like a drug into the bloodstream. There are traces of that idea in the PFS, but to some degree it was tested and gone beyond.”


The War of the Worlds Broadcast


On October 30, 1938 the Mercury Theatre broadcast a dramatization of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. Directed by Orson Welles, the program was presented in the format of a news bulletin. Some viewers who tuned in late became convinced that Earth was actually being invaded by martians. As noted on the front page of The New York Times: “A wave of mass hysteria seized thousands of radio listeners between 8:15 and 9:30 o’clock last night when a broadcast of a dramatization of H. G. Wells’s fantasy, “The War of the Worlds,” led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading wide death and destruction in New Jersey and New York. The broadcast, which disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams and clogged communications systems, was made by Orson Welles, who as the radio character, “The Shadow,” used to give “the creeps” to countless child listeners. This time at least a score of adults required medical treatment for shock and hysteria. In Newark, in a single block at Heddon Terrace and Hawthorne Avenue, more than twenty families rushed out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid. Some began moving household furniture. Throughout New York families left their homes, some to flee to near-by parks. Thousands of persons called the police, newspapers and radio stations here and in other cities of the United States and Canada seeking advice on protective measures against the raids. The program was produced by Mr. Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air over station WABC and the Columbia Broadcasting System’s coast-to-coast network, from 8 to 9 o’clock.” Social psychologist Hadley Cantril conducted research on the Orson Wells broadcast of ‘The War of the Worlds’. He published his work in a book titled ‘The Invasion From Mars – A Study In The Psychology Of Panic’. The research involved interviews with one hundred and thirty people who listened to the broadcast. One hundred of those interviewed were selected for the study because they were frightened by the program. The only authoritative research on this event was conducted by a social psychologist examining the psychology of mass panic, not the influence of the mass media. In his book, Cantril notes that thousands of people became “panic-stricken”. It is estimated that close to six million people listened to the broadcast.


Wikipedia: The Hypodermic Needle Model

Audience Theory: An Introduction


The Two Step Flow Theory


In 1948, Paul F Lazarsfeld wrote ‘The People’s Choice’ which summarised his research into the November 1940 presidential election. In the course of his research, Lazarsfeld discovered that people were more likely to be influenced by their peers than the mass media.Lazarsfeld called these people ‘opinion leaders’. The Two Step Flow Theory suggests that opinion leaders pay close attention to the mass media and pass on their interpretation of media messages to others. The Two Step Flow Theory maintains that audiences are active participants in the communication process.

As Joseph Klapper noted in The Effects of Mass Communication: “Research has been focused on the process by which people come to decisions regarding public issues, change their food purchasing habits and habits of dress, and select the movies they attend. Specialist studies have inquired into how farmers come to adopt new farming practices and how physicians come to adopt new drugs. In all of these matters, and presumably in others, many people appear to be more crucially influenced by specific other individuals than by pertinent mass communications.”


University of Twente: Two Step Flow Theory :        Wikipedia: Two Step Flow Theory























The Agenda  Setting Function Theory


The Agenda Setting Function Theory was developed by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw as a result of their 1968 study of North Carolina voters during a presidential election campaign. They found a correlation between issues that voters believed were important and issues that the media gave prominence to. They argued that the media can’t tell audiences what to think but they can tell them what to think about, that the media has the power to set agendas. As McCombs noted: “The power of the news media to set a nation’s agenda, to focus public attention on a few key public issues, is an immense and well-documented influence. Not only do people acquire factual information about public affairs from the news media, readers and viewers also learn how much importance to attach to a topic on the basis of the emphasis placed on it in the news. Newspapers provide a host of cues about the salience of the topics in the daily news – lead story on page one, other front page display, large headlines, etc. Television news also offers numerous cues about salience – the opening story on the newscast, length of time devoted to the story, etc. These cues repeated day after day effectively communicate the importance of each topic. In other words, the news media can set the agenda for the public’s attention to that small group of issues around which public opinion forms.”




The TAC  Campaign


















The Kylie Effect


Recent research that would appear to support the Agenda Setting Function Theory includes a recent report in The Medical Journal of Australia by Simon Chapman, Kim McLeod, Melanie Wakefield and Simon Holding. In their report, the researchers identified a phenomenon dubbed ‘The Kylie Effect’ which found a correlation between media reports of Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer scare and an increase in the number of bookings for breast cancer screening tests. As noted at the beginning of the report, this is not a well recorded phenomenon: News stories about health and medicine can precipitate dramatic changes in consumer behaviour. For example, news of health problems related to hormone replacement therapy saw an immediate 58% reduction, and a prolonged 40% reduction, in use of hormone replacement therapy in New Zealand. In 2000, a live, on-air colonoscopy undertaken on a prominent US TV show host saw a sustained 9-month increase in the number of colonoscopies performed by a panel of 400 endoscopists. A TV “soap opera” in England featuring a story about the importance of cervical screening was associated with a 21% increase in women having Pap smear tests.” The research found that a twenty fold increase in the number of breast cancer related articles led to a forty per cent increase in the number of breast cancer screenings during the two weeks of intense media coverage.


Live Exports


In May, 2011 the ABC’s Four Corners broadcast an episode on the cruel treatment of live Australian cattle exports in Indonesian abattoirs. The episode featured graphic footage of cattle being abused. “Animals smash their heads repeatedly on concrete as they struggle against ropes, take minutes to die in agony after repeated often clumsy cuts to the throat,” notes the Four Corners website. “In some cases there is abject and horrifying cruelty – kicking, hitting, eye-gouging and tail-breaking – as workers try to force the cattle to go into the slaughter boxes installed by the Australian industry, with Australian Government support.” In the weeks following the episode, the Australian Meat Industry Council reported a 10 to 15 percent drop in meat sales. This incident would appear to support the Agenda Setting Function Theory. People weren’t told what to think but they were told what to think about and this awareness of animal cruelty influenced consumer behaviour.


Wikipedia: The Agenda Setting Function Theory
University of Twente: Agenda Setting Function Theory
The Medical Journal of Australia: The Kylie Effect
The Age: ‘Kylie effect’ helped raise breast screening



Priming Theory

  • Priming theory relates to what audiences do with information received from the media 

  •  Coming from the world of psychology, and research done around the views of US presidents, priming theory states that the media has an effect on people’s future judgements or behaviours. 

  • Priming theory is often discussed in the context of news media and agenda-setting theory. In the research done around the US presidents, it was found that the issues covered by the news media affected whetherthe audience thought the president was doing a good job. 

  • Priming has also been studied in terms of violent media and subsequent violent behaviour. 

  • Studies have shown that audiences often show more aggressive tendencies after viewing or playing violent media. 

  • However, an important aspect of priming theory is that studies have only ever been able to show the short-term effects of viewing media. Many studies have found that the effects last no longer than an hour. 



Framing Theory  


  • The premise of framing theory, often discussed in relation to news media, is that the media presents and focuses on a story in a particular way that has an effect on how audiences will understand it. 

  • News media needs to present the news in such a way that it makes sense to audiences, so they will create a narrative frame and a point of view around each story. They use such tools as placing the stories in a hierarchy (what is thought of as most important will be at the top or at the front), selection, omission, and creating characters (deciding who is the ‘good guy’ and who is the ‘bad guy’). 

  • It has been claimed that some news organisations frame their news in a way that reflects a certain political view. The ABC is said to be a left-leaning organisation, while

  • Fox News in the USA is said to frame the news from a conservative viewpoint. According to framing theory, these two organisations will tell the same news story in different ways, with different protagonists and antagonists. 

  • In Melbourne, the two main newspapers The Age and the Herald Sun frame news stories differently

Uses and Gratification Theory


Early thinking about communication theories focused on what the media does to people. The Uses and Gratification Theory, which was explored by Elihu Katz and Jay Blumler in a 1974 collection of essays titled The Uses of Mass Communication, concerns itself with what people do with the media. This theory proposes that audiences are active participants in the communication process. They choose media texts to gratify their own needs – such as the need for information, personal identity, integration, social interaction or entertainment. Uses and Gratification researchers maintain that the best way to find out about media use is by asking the audience because they are “sufficiently self-aware” to explain their reasons for using media texts. According to this theory, texts are open and audiences are active. In fact, the Uses and Gratification theory suggests that audiences actually have power over the mass media. For example, if they choose not to watch a particular program it won’t rate and will be taken off the air.



















Reinforcement Theory


In 1960, theorist Joseph Klapper published ‘The Effects of Mass Communication’ in which he proposed the Reinforcement Theory. As Klapper noted: “Whatever it is to be called, it is in essence a shift away from from the tendency to regard mass communication as a necessary and sufficient cause of audience effects, towards a view of the media as influences, working amid other influences, in a total situation.” Klapper argued that the mass media does not have the ability to influence audiences. “Regardless of whether the effect in question be social or individual,” he wrote,”the media are more likely to reinforce than to change.” Klapper argued that people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviour was more likely to be influenced by their family, schools, communities and religious institutions. He argued that the only time the media could influence people was when the media introduced a new idea or concept. Klapper also pointed out that there are particular attitudes and beliefs that the mass media is particularly unlikely to change, such as racial and religious tolerance because attitudes on such topics are “crucial to their self-images and central to clusters of related attitudes, they have occasionally been called “ego-involved,” attitudes and it has become somehting of a dictum that ego-involved attitudes are peculiarly resistant to conversion by mass communication – or, for that matter, by other agencies.”

When writing about whether media violence encourages people to be more aggressive, Klapper wrote: “Communications research strongly indicates that media depictions of crime and violence are not prime moves towards such conduct. The content seems rather to reinforce or implement existing and otherwise induced behavioral tendencies. For the well adjusted, it appears to be innocuous or even to be selectively perceived as socially useful. For the maladjusted, particularly the aggressively inclined and the frustrated, it appears to serve, at the very least, as a stimulant to escapist and possibly aggressive fantasy, and probably to serve other functions as yet unidentified.”



















Studies supporting the Reinforcement Theory


In ‘The Effects of Mass Communication’, Klapper cites a number of studies that support his theory, including a 1948 study by Larzarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet which revealed that voters were predisposed to opinions and beliefs held by their families. As Klapper notes: “For persons such as the young man who reported his intention to “vote Democratic because my Grandfather will skin me if I don’t” – or for his opposite number who explained that “I will vote Republican because my family are all Republicans so therefore I would have to vote that way” – exposure to months of campaign propaganda was found particularly likely to be reinforcing, and particularly unlikely to effect conversion.”





Media Violence: The Columbine School Shooting


On Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado. In the aftermath of the tragedy, commentators were quick to blame the mass media for the shooting, including television programs like South Park, violent video games and the lyrics of Marilyn Manson.

Harris and Klebold were both fans of the video games Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. “Doom is such a big part of my life and no one I know can recreate environments in DOOM as good as me,” Harris once wrote for a school assignment. “I know almost anything there is to know about the game, so I believe that seperates me from the rest of the world.”

Like all moral panics, there is little evidence to suggest that violent media texts can be blamed for this tragedy. “If video game violence was an immediate catalyst, we would have difficulty explaining why none of the shootings involving teens have occurred in movie theaters or video arcades where the direct stimulus of game playing would be most acute,” wrote Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California Henry Jenkins in his article ‘Lessons from Littleton’. “Instead, these murders have tended to occur in schools and we need to look at real-world factors to discover what triggers such violence. A more careful analysis would read video games as one cultural influence among many, as having different degrees of impact on different children, and as not sufficient in and of themselves to provoke an otherwise healthy and well-adjusted child to engage in acts of violence. Some children, especially those who are antisocial and emotionally unbalanced, should be protected from exposure to the most extreme forms of media violence, but most children are not at risk from the media they consume.”




Cultivation Theory 




While certain theories focused on the media as a whole, the Cultivation theory, devised by Professor George Gerbner in the 1970s, has a very specific focus on television. At this time, television as a medium was extremely popular and, some argued, also extremely powerful. 


Gerbner saw television as a highly powerful shaper of modern society, particularly as it had the ability to be watched by the same audience for hours on end. 

He believed television to be a ‘storyteller’, a medium able to shape ideas in society about what is important and what is right.


While many researchers focused on how television violence could be imitated by young viewers (e.g. Bandura’s ‘BoBo Dolls’ experiment) Gerbner looked beyond this and explored how television encourages, or cultivates, a particular belief about society. For almost twenty years, Gerbner researched his theory, using mostly longitudinal and quantitative research to monitor the amount of violence on US television screens. Gerbner believed that the effects of repeated television viewing took years to slowly develop and shape opinions about society, so his findings often took a long time to be published.


Heavy viewers of TV are thought to be ‘cultivating’ attitudes that seem to believe that the world created by television is an accurate depiction of the real world. The theory suggests that prolonged watching of television can tend to induce a certain paradigm about violence in the world. Theorists break down the effects of cultivation into two distinct levels: first order – is a general beliefs about the our world, and second order – which are specific attitudes, such as a hatred or reverence for law and order


 Gerbner’s research moved beyond counting acts of dramatic violence and made some very interesting observations about the representations of minority groups on US television. During the period of his study, half of all people shown on television were ‘white’ middle-class men (descended from European colonists), and young people made up only 10 per cent of the representations. Women were seen only a third of the time of men; African Americans and other nonwhite groups were seen less than their Caucasian counterparts, and representations of the elderly were almost non-existent. Gerbner also reported that US television featured young people and the elderly being attacked and/or killed more often than middle aged people, with minority groups being physically assaulted and killed more than whites.

If we take into consideration that the Cultivation theory is said to promote a particular way of thinking about the world, Gerbner’s research would suggest that minority groups, the young and the elderly would have their beliefs about society shaped by repeated television viewing. These groups were not represented in the majority of programs, and when they wereon screen, they were portrayed as victims and as vulnerable figures. Gerbner believed these audiences were most susceptible to being cultivated towards seeing society as a violent and threatening place.



 Gerbner’s theory is heavily criticised for being too reliant on statistics and for denigrating audiences as little more than mindless viewers of screen violence. The Cultivation theory recalls the way media researchers once thought about people as passive audiences, and does not acknowledge the active role the audience plays in choosing the media it wishes to consume.

Gerbner’s definition of screen violence focuses on the act (or threat) of killing or causing bodily harm to

someone, and does not include verbal or emotional abuse. The heart of the theory’s problem lies in defining violence, which is especially difficult to measure and classify. What one person finds violent, the next might find amusing or silly.

1. the Political Economy Model of media & society:

Holds that it's political and economic institutions (and their interactions) that cause change in society. The media are primarily seen as simply part of the system of economic relationships among groups in society. Thus it's the institutions that cause change, while the media merely transmits that change. 


2. the Effects Model of media & society:

Holds that it is primarily technological forms, or the content carried in by these forms, that has strong effects -- and therefore causes change -- in society. The media takes a much more prominent role as the agent of change, either via media content or media forms. 


3. the Cultural Model of media & society:

Holds that it is culture, in tandem with both these other forces above, that cause change in society -- culture, and individuals' relationship with culture/cultures, are perhaps the most important factors. The media's role is to serve as the communicative space (or "map" of representations) within which cultures and other forces in society interact. The question of who or what causes change therefore becomes more complex. 


Cultural studies trend theories 

As new media technology grows in popularity, theorists are also interested in the audience part of the equation, both as individuals and as larger social groups. 




Cultural studies looks at how individuals and social groups use the media to structure their everyday lives and how the media and audiences work in a broader sense as cultures and institutions. While limited e ects studies were mostly concerned with the effects of certain types of media texts on audiences, cultural studies theories explore the role of the audience in terms of its relationship with the media. 

Cultural studies theories and concepts are quite di cult to underpin with laboratory tests as they often involve complex relationships. The evidence used for cultural studies theories deals more with classifying how things work, and tend to include qualitative methods of research such as interviews, observation and case studies. 

When cultural studies theories started to rise in popularity in the 1970s, many scholars of the limited effects trend were quick to scoff at them, regarding them as unscientific. However, cultural study theorists claimed that the media had become so ingrained in our culture that it had become impossible to disconnect the effects of media from other cultural phenomena. 

Think of that comic book lm you saw at the cinema.How you understood or enjoyed that lm was dependent on your active involvement and understanding of it. You might have been hoping for great action scenes with big explosions, because you know the director has done that in their past films and you enjoyed it. However, your friend might have been a fan of the comics and was confused when the lm had a slightly di erent storyline. Another friend was just disappointed that the female character was not in it much even though she featured quite stronglyin the trailer. Each person has had a different reading and reaction to the same text based on some prior expectations and understandings that they had.






Many of the modern cultural studies theories stem from the uses-and-gratifcations approach, which began in the 1940s. This approach focused on how audiences selected media products to meet certain needs. In the 1954 textbook The Process and Effects of Mass Communication, author Wilbur Schramm explored the question of why audiences choose to consume certain media texts over others. He came up with the fraction of selection: 

Expectation of reward 


Effort required 

Schramm’s claim through this model was that audiences decided to consume a particular media based on whether they believed that the required e ort to be worth the reward in terms of how good or valuable the media product would be. Think about the media texts you consume and ask yourself whether you have ever watched a movie just because it was on television. There may have been other films you knew you would enjoy more, but the e ort to track it down might not have been worth it. Or, it might be that you skipped a foreign language lm because you thought that reading the subtitles involved too much work. 

Newer media companies try to make using their platform as easy as possible. The autoplay functions on Net ix and YouTube are good examples of this. They can help you choose what to watch next and you don’t even have to press the ‘play’ button. Facebook and Twitter’s endless scrolling feature means never having to press the ‘next page’ button. Television stations have relied on this principle for years. Don’t worry about trying to nd your remote, because they have a good show coming on right after this one. 

Sometimes the expectations of the reward are so strong that they are worth the e ort required. The films that you watch in your media class might be more complex or harder to read than normal, but the end goal of passing 

the subject may be worth that e ort. Similarly, the newest comic book lm might be getting really good reviews so it is worth going to the cinemas for. Or, a new social media platform’s features might be interesting enough for you to go through the hassle of signing up for it. 

The fraction of selection model is easy to apply to current media platforms that promise amazing experiences through intuitive user interfaces, but it does have its limitations. The fraction of selection theory fails to explore the different types of ‘rewards’ that audiences are seeking, and why they are seeking them. It also reduces audiences to risk-averse and effort-minimising individuals, always looking for the easiest option. 











Active audience theory states that  when individuals l consume a media text they are not just blindly accepting the message, but are intellectually engaging with it, which gives them some agency and control over it.This can happen on several di erent levels. One way an audience can be active is through interpretation. Active audience theory claims that media texts are polysemic, in that there is not one xed meaning, but multiple ones. An active audience brings their own wants, needs and understandings to a text and uses these to make meaning from it. 


Think of that comic book lm you saw at the cinema.How you understood or enjoyed that lm was dependent on your active involvement and understanding of it. You might have been hoping for great action scenes with big explosions, because you know the director has done that in their past films and you enjoyed it. However, your friend might have been a fan of the comics and was confused when the lm had a slightly different storyline. Another friend was just disappointed that the female character was not in it much even though she featured quite stronglyin the trailer. 

There is also the social context in which an active audience interprets a lm. You might discuss the lm you justsaw in the theatre with your friends, which adds to your understanding of the text. Or you may use social media platforms to discuss the lm with others. It is also possible that you might engage with other types of media about the lm. IMDB will give you extra information about who made the lm, while Rotten Tomatoes will give you reviews. All of this adds to your interpretation. 







Part of reception studies coming out of the UK in the 1970s, and led mainly by Stuart Hall, encoding/decoding theoryis interested in how audiences make sense of polysemic texts. Hall argued that media producers design media texts to hold certain ideological meanings, which the audience then decides how to read. 

Media producers encode their preferred readings into their texts using the technical codes and conventions of the medium they are working in, but also using symbolic codes related to their personal, cultural and historical understandings. 

Hall also believed that audiences could decode these technical and symbolic codes in the following ways, because of their own personal, cultural and historical backgrounds: 

            ■ Dominant reading: The reader accepts the preferred reading so the codes and conventions seem natural and transparent.

            ■ Negotiated reading: The reader mostly accepts the preferred reading, but will make modi cations to it so it re ects their own personal, cultural and historical understandings.

            ■ Oppositional reading: The reader’s personal, cultural and historical understandings are so di erent from the producer’s that they reject the preferred reading. The encoding/decoding model is di erent from active audience theory in that it recognises that the media text has a preferred meaning. Hall saw media readings as two separate processes: the producer encodes a message into a text and the audience decodes it. Both processes allow for lots of opportunities for the text to be misread.

FIGURE 8.4.4 Summer Heights High. Consider the ideological input from series creator, Chris Lillie, and then how the audience decides to read it. 

The producer may misrepresent part of her message or the audience may have a certain cultural background, which means they would read the symbols di erently than intended. Hall also argued that, even if the audience understood the codes and the message embedded in the text, that wouldn’t necessarily mean they would agree with them. 

Encoding/decoding gives audiences a middle point between two extremes: it understands that the audience has agency in that they are active in the way they reada media text, but also that the media has some level of control that enables it to present a powerful message. Critics of encoding/decoding theory argue that the three types of reading—dominant, negotiated and oppositional— are too restrictive and assume the understanding or recognition of a preferred message. 








The Filter bubble is the argument that the internet’s personalisation tools isolate us from opposing viewpoints. Coined by Eli Pariser in 2011, this theory has recently grown in popularity as more media platforms try to give people what they want but maybe not everything they need. In his book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Pariser argues that people are all living in their own information universe where they mainly receive news that is familiar and that confirms their beliefs. People’s past actions will determine what kind of news they are given in the future, which leaves less room for creativity and democratic thought. 

More and more, your computer monitor is a kind of one-way mirror, re ecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click. 

Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You 

Ever since the 1940s and the invention of reinforcement theory it has been argued that, at least to some extent, people choose media texts that align with their values. However, Pariser argues that the internet has introduced three new dynamics: 

            ■ You are alone in it: Your Filter bubble is for one person only. Before the internet, even audiences of relatively obscure media texts shared some interests. Now your Facebook news or Instagram feed is specifically tailored to you.

            ■ The lter is invisible: You may not realise that if you and a friend did a Google search for the same term you would get different results. That is because Google is making assumptions about what you want based on the information it has been able to get about you. You would have no way of knowing whether Google is using correct assumptions about you. Google, as well as platforms such as Facebook and Instagram order posts based on a secret algorithm.

            ■ There is no choice but to enter the bubble: When you decide to read a certain newspaper, you are makinga choice about what type of news you want to read. When using certain media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram or Google, you cannot prevent them from collecting information about you and tailoring the information that you receive.

Sometimes people welcome personalisation, especially when they are inundated with so much information every day. However, it is important to ensure that you are getting di erent points of view from the media that you choose. 






An example of the Fillter bubble at work was during the 2016 US election. During the campaign, the country had become so polarised that news coverage and Facebook feeds created very di erent narratives for Clinton and Trump supporters. This occurred to such an extent that Trump’s victory came as a surprise to many who only saw shared articles and polls that had Clinton winning the election easily. 

Their Facebook feeds had become an echo chamber, where their friends only shared stories that agreed with their values. Each click on a news story just made the echo chamber louder and smaller. 



An idea that applies to newer media platforms is ‘convergence culture’, which sees media as a kind of melting pot of new and old media, di erent platforms, and the active participation of consumers. Communication theorist Henry Jenkins sees convergence culture as a kind of struggle for agency and control between large corporate media companies and its audiences. Jenkins writes: 

Media companies are learning how to accelerate the ow of media content across delivery channels to expand revenue opportunities, broaden markets, and reinforce viewer commitments. Consumers are learning how to use these di erent media technologies to bring the ow of media morefully under their control and to interact with other consumers. 





Media conglomerates now have the power to send messages out via a range of di erent platforms, necessitating that di erent media industries work together. Think of The Bachelor. Although it is primarily a television show, it also can be streamed through Channel 10’s website or episodes can be bought from the Apple platform. Additionally, it is advertised through a range of di erent media platforms and radio, magazines and newspapers. The producers also use social media platforms to create interest in the show by creating Facebook fan pages and Twitter hashtags. Audiences can decide how they want 

to experience and interact with the show through the di erent platforms. They may use the hashtag on Twitter to engage with the community through tweets, add their thoughts to Instagram, join a Facebook group or create a meme based on their favourite or least favourite character. 




Participatory culture is the idea that the audience is no longer a passive audience member. They are not only actively involved in the understanding of media texts,but have become media producers themselves. Jenkins sees that the term ‘consumer’ and ‘producer’ no longer apply—they are participants who interact with each other— although the media corporations still have more power over the audience. 

Jenkins uses the term ‘collective intelligence’ to discuss a type of ‘social economy’, the idea that as individuals people know a little, but as collective social networks, they knowa lot. Jenkins sees this as a new type of media power. For 

instance, theories about the outcomes of The Bachelor can come from the strong social ties of fans and producers, as audience members deconstruct advertising, comb through social media pro les and use other social connections. 









Consider whether you have friends on social media whom you have never met in real life, or whether you haveever liked a celebrity’s Facebook page, followed themon Instagram or sent them a message via Twitter. If you answered yes, then you are in a parasocial relationship. 

Parasocial relationships were rst de ned in the 1950s,in an article by Horton and Wohl (1956), as the apparent and one-sided interaction that can occur between media characters and their audiences. The researchers looked at the relationship between audiences and media celebrities such as radio personalities and television show hosts.They found that the use of certain symbolic and technical codes added to a sense of realism and appeared to deepen a sense about these relationships on behalf of certain audiences. Who has not thought that they connectedwith and really knew a ctional character on television, especially one with whom they might have grown up? 





Now, with social media platforms, parasocial relationships are seen as a marketing tactic to grow celebrity brands. With the rise of reality television and social media celebrities, the pretence of a relationship between a media personality and their audience has become stronger than ever. Reality television stars, musicians, athletes, socialites and social media influencers all use social media platforms to achieve a closer relationship with their fans. They do this partly by presenting more personal, ‘behind-the-scenes’ moments to make them seem more relatable. 

However, these relationships still rely on constructed media representations. They may be created by the

personalities themselves or by the large public relations companies behind them, but they are all deliberately selling the notion that you will feel closer to these characters than ever before. These interactions are still largely one way. Besides some audience metrics, celebrities still know very little about their fans.

Horton and Wohl saw parasocial relationships as a negative e ect of the media, taking advantage of vulnerable ,lonely audiences. More recent studies into these relationships see that they have a place in our culture. Just like you choose your regular relationships, you choose your parasocial ones. Audiences choose these celebrities in an act of identity-building and willingly enter into a parasocial relationship, despite the fact that they are mostly one way. They receive the outcomes of the relationship either way.

































10 Things wrong with the media ‘effects’ model David Gauntlett


In this article, media theorist David Gauntlett puts forward ten reasons why the media ‘effects’ approach is flawed. “The effects model, we have seen, has remarkably little going for it as an explanation of human behaviour, or of the media in society,” he writes. “Whilst any challenging or apparently illogical theory or model reserves the right to demonstrate its validity through empirical data, the effects model has failed also in that respect. Its continued survival is indefensible and unfortunate.”




Research on the Effects of Media Violence
The Public Health Risks of Media Violence: A Meta-Analytic Review
Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked
The Portrayal of Violence in the Media

Studies and Research on Media Effects

Evaluating evidence


When forming an understanding about the nature and extent of media influence, it is important to evaluate the credibility of different studies. Research can be divided into a number of different types, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Case studies. Often described as ‘moral panics’, case studies include events like the Columbine High School massacre or the murder of James Bulger. When tragic events like these occur, people are keen to find something to blame. In these cases, commentators were quick to blame violent media texts when it was quite evident that the violent behaviour was the product of a number of factors. Case studies are not considered credible evidence of media influence.

  • Laboratory research. Conducted in a laboratory setting, this form of research means experiments can be replicated again and again and variables measured precisely. The controlled setting of laboratory research ignores the fact that media consumption occurs in the real world. Examples of laboratory research include Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment.

  • Longitudinal research. Longitudinal research occurs over a long period of time. Researchers return to the same subjects and look at the long term effect of media.

  • Correlation studies. Any research that finds a correlation between two sets of data. Just because there is a correlation between two sets of data, it does not necessarily mean that one thing caused the other. As noted in The Economist: “There is a correlation in Germany between the decline of the stork population and the falling human birth rate. That does not prove that storks bring babies.”

  • Qualitative research. Qualitative research involves asking people about their media use. It involves long questionnaires and detailed responses about media use. Regarded as an extremely credible way of measuring media influence.

  • Quantitative research. Includes the results of surveys and statistics, any research that can easily be reduced to numbers. Although raw data like this can be useful, it does not necessarily take into account the complex relationship between audiences and texts.





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