1.3.3 Section 8: Media audiences and users after 9/11
The section examines the relationships between the media, politics and audiences/users, with a particular emphasis on audiences/users post 9/11. Several changes in the media landscape since the 1980s have had a major impact on media audiences. These include:
- the growth and diversification of the media (linked to new technologies and media deregulation)
- the increase of 'media contra-flows' – especially into the historically dominant West from other parts of the world
- the increasing element of interactivity brought about by new media technologies, particularly the internet.
In a different way, each nudges audiences into more active roles, pushing us to make more to decisions about what we watch, which perspectives we engage with, and who we interact with. To a considerable extent this makes the media a public sphere – ‘a space' or 'spaces' for discussion of issues of shared concern.
This section will contrast ‘liberal’ theories of the media, which essentially see the media in a benign light, providing information and opinion that a democratic public needs to make up its own mind; and ‘critical’ theories, which see the media as shaping public opinion in the interests of those who produce, own or control the media. Television news can lead to high levels of misperception concerning the invasion of Iraq, but ordinary individuals can also be highly sceptical of television news sources, even if they lack access to alternative sources of information. While media input can help shape people’s views, a whole range of social, cultural and individual differences can also shape audiences interpretations. Even biased news sources can produce critical and engaged audience responses, questioning the liberal stress on the importance of access to 'neutral sources'.