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The things we do: How we might address political polarization by looking inward

Roxanne Bauer's picture

If there’s one common theme that resonates across Western democracies this past year, it’s a rejection of the status quo. Some outsider politicians have ridden this wave of populism to political office or to strong second-place finishes, stretching the boundaries of political expression. Frustration, anger with the status quo, globalization and the tradeoffs that come with it, and inequality are all basic concerns of the voters catapulting these politicians to power.

Globally, it also seems that fault lines have been erected between cultures, religions, genders, and so on.

Regardless of where the frustration comes from, though, polarization along ideological lines and negative rhetoric are pervasive. While polarization is a complex issue (and not something we can explain in its entirety in a blog post), how people process information is a significant factor.
 
If people are not open to other viewpoints or do not think critically about the negative rhetoric they encounter— which often involves self-reflection— then how can change really be achieved?  How can the frustration fueling the polarization be addressed if we cannot compromise?

Quote of the week: Mark Twain

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"If you don't read a newspaper you are uninformed. If you do read a newspaper, you are misinformed."

- Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. Among his writings are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called "The Great American Novel". William Faulkner called Twain "the father of American literature".

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Technology for Transparency: Cases from Sub-Saharan Africa
Harvard Political Review
Over the last decade, Africa has experienced previously unseen levels of economic growth and market vibrancy. Developing countries can only achieve equitable growth and reduce poverty rates, however, if they are able to make the most of their available resources. To do this, they must maximize the impact of aid from donor governments and NGOs and ensure that domestic markets continue to diversify, add jobs, and generate tax revenues. Yet, in most developing countries, there is a dearth of information available about industry profits, government spending, and policy outcomes that prevents efficient action.

Popular Uprising against Democratically Elected Leaders. What Makes it Legitimate?
Huffington Post
In the last five years, democratically elected governments in countries as diverse as Guatemala, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Ukraine, Thailand, Macedonia, South Africa, Spain, Iceland, Hungary and presently governments in Moldova, Brazil and Poland were all challenged and some of them forced to step down by mass-based popular uprisings. If it had not been for the strategic weakness of the Occupy movement, the United States might have also seen toppling of its own democratically elected leaders closely tied to business elites. This might still happen. If Donald Trump wins the presidential election and attempts to implement some of his most outrageous campaign promises popular uprising may be in the making sooner than we think.  When is people rising against their own government legitimate? A number of Western philosophical treaties, historical practice and agreements, including declarations of people’s self-determination rights stressed the moral and legal permissibility, and even necessity, to rise up against abusive regimes.

How do media tell us whom to blame for social problems?

Jing Guo's picture

Let’s consider these questions…
Should the poor be blamed for their poverty?
Should the government or citizens be responsible for the cost of health care?
Shall we expect only developed countries to deal with climate change?
 
Before you start searching for your own answers, the media, believe it or not, have already planted theirs in your mind.
 
News media set the public agenda every day by telling us what is important to know and how to think about it. When it comes to global challenges such as poverty, climate change, and the refugee crisis, the media often play a decisive role in defining both the problem and responsibility. Attribution of responsibility in media reporting should not be underestimated, as it suggests the source of problems and who should fix them, shapes the public discourse and opinions about issues, and subsequently influences local and global policy approaches to public concerns.

The things we do: The emotional side of news frames

Roxanne Bauer's picture

The way in which news stories are framed can influence the attitudes and intentions of audience members- especially if emotion is involved.

We’ve all been there. We’re watching the news and something tragic appears on the screen. We immediately feel sadness and empathy for the victims of the suffering unfolding before us.  Alternatively, something infuriating is being said or insinuated by a newscast and we immediately feel anger well up inside.   

These emotional responses demonstrate the powerful effect the media, and in particular the news media, can have on audiences. They depend, in large part, on how a news story is framed.  

In a seminal paper, Robert Entman (1993) wrote, “[t]o frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (p. 52). Thus, by highlighting certain aspects of an event or issue, news frames influence which cognitive concepts the recipient accesses and regards as relevant.  Nelson, Oxley, & Clawson (1997) agreed and wrote that “frames influence opinions by stressing specific values, facts, and other considerations, endowing them with greater apparent relevance to the issue than they might appear to have under an alternative frame."

Framing is a concept derived from the field of ‘media effects’ which studies how the timing, duration, and valence of news stories can affect the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors of audience members.  More and more research is showing that news stories that are framed to elicit emotional responses are especially influential because they can influence the attitudes of people as well as their intentions.

Recently, researchers at the University of Zurich conducted a study that investigated how framing would affect the emotional reactions of participants as well as their tendencies to support various policy solutions. The participants were divided into three groups, an anger frame group, a sadness frame group, and a control group. All groups read a policy paper, which discussed a proposed public policy to increase road safety and which listed various measures designed to accomplish that goal. They were then asked to evaluate the options.

Is a ‘populist’ a shameless demagogue?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

If you maintain even a nodding acquaintance with the contents of the global financial/business press one of the things you notice is as follows. They all promote, consciously or unconsciously, a set of policies that ‘responsible’ governments should follow if they want to stay within The Grid. And The Grid is the set of rules and norms that allow access to pools of global capital.  Stay within, and money flows into your country; get kicked out, and money dries up. Now, for countries facing financial crisis, or those simply concerned about growing inequality, the worries about the devastating impact of austerity are real. Yet, the masters of the universe who control The Grid don’t give two hoots about equity, jobless youths or hungry pensioners. They simply say to these countries: “Do what you need to do to stay within The Grid or you are going to find your economy, your country languishing in the wastelands. Your call.”
 

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Is the Internet broken, and can it even be fixed?
CNN
Our modern global communications infrastructure still relies on core principles that were defined when the Internet had only a few thousand users. We have faster computers, more storage space, and more people using the network, but worryingly, some of the key assumptions haven't changed. As an example, take the protocol that helps determine how data gets to its destination. Different networks in the Internet "advertise" routes to deliver data to other networks, with the most efficient candidate being chosen.

The Future of Cities
Foreign Affairs
As much as the Internet has already changed the world, it is the Web’s next phase that will bring the biggest opportunities, revolutionizing the way we live, work, play, and learn. That next phase, which some call the Internet of Things and which we call the Internet of Everything, is the intelligent connection of people, processes, data, and things. Although it once seemed like a far-off idea, it is becoming a reality for businesses, governments, and academic institutions worldwide. Today, half the world’s population has access to the Internet; by 2020, two-thirds will be connected. Likewise, some 13.5 billion devices are connected to the Internet today; by 2020, we expect that number to climb to 50 billion.
 

Is the Political Interview Now so Boring it is Useless?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The political interview is supposed to be one of the cardinal moments when the news media contribute most directly to the quality of governance in a given country. Assuming that the media system is reasonably free, the political interview –particularly the broadcast versions on either radio or television – is a moment when the leading stars of the news media can:

  • Make political leaders and other news makers throw a bright light on the leading issues of the day;
  • Hold leaders accountable by asking tough questions regarding their stewardship of the affairs of the state; and
  • Speak truth to power.

It is now increasingly recognized, however, that the political interview is in trouble, even outside authoritarian political contexts (where regimes control broadcasting fiercely).  For an excellent recent take on the issue, please see this piece by Ian Katz, editor of BBC’s ‘Newsnight,’ ‘Boring Snoring?

A Better Baghdad?

Caroline Jaine's picture

This morning I tapped “Baghdad News” into Google and over half of the first 40 results were about bombing and violence. A further 12% of results were political analysis (mostly about bombing and violence). And there was a smattering of more positive news, mostly on Iraqi news channels: three stories on the reinstatement of flights between Baghdad and Kuwait; one story about art; and another about nice pavements.  Hardly dynamic, dramatic news and negative news appears to dominate.

In 2012, Pakistan's biggest English language news agency Dawn helped me to conduct a survey, which looked at how people build perceptions of nations.  With an academic interest in nation branding, and public diplomacy, I was staggered to see that 83% of respondents drew their perceptions of Iraq from the media.  And not surprisingly, these were largely negative.

As the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq draws near, the political pundits swarm and draw their conclusions about Baghdad and Iraq, and Blair and Bush are challenged with the rhetoric of “was it worth it?”  Having penned a modest account of “A Better Basra” I too am drawn into the discussion, canvassing my Iraqi friends for their opinion.

Smoke Without Fire: A Look at Influence, Trust and Media-Built Perceptions

Caroline Jaine's picture

In September last year, I ran a rather crude survey inviting readers of my blog on Pakistani news channel, Dawn to take part.  The survey was a rather tongue-in-cheek response to the tenth anniversary of George Bush’s Axis of Evil Speech, but it has thrown up some points of interest to communications professionals. 

Most readers picked up on the fact that in today’s connected world, labelling an entire nation as “evil” was not a useful rhetoric.  However, I was overwhelmed with hundreds of responses.  More people completed the questionnaire than I had money to access on the free online survey and many of the comments certainly didn’t shy away from national stereotypes or allegations of evil.


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