Role of Media in Shaping Public Opinion

Sheikh Farkhanda

Media has a tremendous impact on people’s lives and has over the years become an inseparable part of any society in forming opinions about myriad subjects. Different scholars across the globe have highlighted the overwhelming influence of media representations on general psyche of people in shaping their public opinion. From a watchdog of political democracies and, in some cases, an extended arm of the state in curbing the dissent and constructing pro-government narratives to a major source of forming public opinions, experts have discussed the omnipresence of media and the responses it generates among societies. The formation of public opinion, to some scholars, has a direct relation with the unceasing bombardment of pseudo-realities manufactured by mass media. However, the role of mass media in deconstructing the structural tampering of everyday realities and acting as an institution of truth cannot be overshadowed by the negative impact of it.

   A German political scientist and author Elizabeth Noelle Neumann in her theory ‘Spiral of silence’ defines as to how the media, in different shapes and forms, presents a sanctioned view of a society’s collective thinking and has an unending impact on an individual’s formation of public opinion. Mass media according to her plays an important role in the formation of public opinion which shapes itself in accordance with whatever the media represents as truth. She further states that there have been, “scientific discussions about whether media is the mirror or the molder of public opinion” (Neumann p. 52). Neumann strongly believes that people form their opinions on the basis of media trends and take seriously the issues of varied interests – public controversies and political debates – with which mass media takes sides. The formation of this media-influenced public opinion, however, keeps a large section of society from expressing their opinions. People after realizing that the opinion’s they hold are loosing ground, they are less likely to express them publicly or in some situations go with the ‘sanctioned view’ that mass media presents of a society in different circumstances. Mass media thus accelerates this silencing of a particular group in a society.

Kseniia Olexandrivna Hoshko, Kristina Vadymivna Parioti in their research paper STUDYING THE WAYS OF FORMING ONE PUBLIC OPINIONS WITH MEDIA INFLUENCE state that media in an effective way, using different techniques, influence the public opinion of an individual. Media, according to them, sides with the prevalent discourse in any given situation and hence becomes a major source of promoting majoritarianism. They opine that “the ability of the media to persuade, establish contact with the viewer, and build trust” is tremendous.

Dr. Vijay Laxmi Choudhary in her article “Role of Media in Shaping Public Opinion “argues that media, in a more negative way, has a direct interference in the formation of public opinion in any part of the world. The author writes about the construction of this public opinion in general public and particularly the audience who do not possess the direct knowledge or any kind of experience regarding the subjects being discussed and its relationship to social change. He states that public beliefs and attitudes are to a greater extent a result of the propagation and endorsement of varied topics by mass media and it has, in many ways, changed the response of general public towards some sensitive topics. He further adds that this behaviour of mass media can, “limit and shape the behaviours of individuals which are central to wider social change”

If we consider the concerns of Class Dominant theory, it reinforces some of the above concerns of researchers and states that mass media only reflects and advocates the views of a minority elite; the people who own and control the corporations that produce media. Media thus has radically altered the public opinion in masses. There is no denying the fact that media plays a pivotal role in construction of public opinion and thereby contributing or having a more negative impact on any society. Mass media being widespread and its unnecessary impinge on public bridleway has increased exponentially in recent times and thus contributing to the molding of public opinion or public beliefs in ways never known before. One can safely assume that the nexus between the mass media representations and public opinion is beyond doubt and that media portrayals have been a principal factor of the base on which public opinion is formed. Mass media whilst shaping public opinions has turned out to be the major contributor of mobilizing people’s desire to vote in a certain way and has, in many ways, skewed people’s knowledge about any specific topic besides acting as a guiding institution in religious beliefs. The influence of mass media in public affairs has increased drastically thereby affecting thoughts, attitudes and behavior of common masses throughout the world.

Researchers, however, have also highlighted the fact that mass media does not always affect the public opinion negatively. While no one can deny the role of media in framing public opinion, the positive influence of mass media on the minds of general public also remains a fact. Not all influences of mass media result In change and that it also reinforces some existing beliefs. While its role in shaping public opinion is an established fact, the influences of media messages can be negative, positive, short-term or long-lasting. Experts have also shown concerns about mass media, in some certain regions, being used to pave way for certain political parties by repeatedly manufacturing narratives and showing the opposition in bad light. The partisan ways of media in achieving a certain goal has also been shown in various studies. This prejudicial approach according to some scholars has been successful in moulding public opinion of people to make them feel in a certain way. This tremendous influence of mass media on people’s way of forming opinions has in a way broken the very important part of indigenous thought process from humans. To conclude, one can say mass media has been a defining factor of shaping public opinions in both positive and negative ways.

The writer is a journalist and is doing MS in Media Studies from International Islamic University Islamabad

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