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Created by Lydia Hiraide
The BRIT School
Sociology GCSE AQA 2013
Mass media refers to all forms of communication (media) that reach large (mass) audiences.
You need to be able to distinguish between:
1. Traditional media – newspapers, books, magazines, radio and TV
2. New media – internet, cable and satellite TV and digital radio
The press
This includes newspapers and magazines that are privately owned and run for profit. The press
makes its money though sales and advertising. Usually the press make more money from
advertising than sales. Also, the nature of the press has changed, many institutions now publish
their news online. Some of these are free, others have a subscription cost.
This refers to TV and radio. In the UK, there is public service broadcasting which refers to the
BBC, ITV, C4 and C5. They are known as public service broadcasters because they receive some
funding from the state. The BBC is largely funded by the license fee which every household with
a TV has to pay. There is no commercial advertising on British BBC channels. ITV, C4 and C5 do
not receive anywhere near as much funding therefore they are allowed to broadcast
commercials. In return for state support each of the channels has to abide by a set of rules such
as: ‘to entertain, educate and inform’.
Electronic media
This refers to the internet.
Over the last 30 years, important changes in communication technology have radically changed
the mass media.
In 1980 there were just 3 terrestrial channels in the UK (broadcast via aerials)
Now we have digital TV and/or cable which provide a wide range of channels
Digital services also allow interactivity
Media technology can now come together (converge) in one product. For example,
Smart TVs allow users to email, surf the internet, use Apps etc…
Audiences have now become producers too because technology has become cheaper
and easier to use. Many audiences consume and produce at the same time and they are
known as prosumer
Over the past 25 years in Britain, there has been a decline in the readership of popular
newspapers such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror
2007 – over 80 % of homes in UK have digital TV
2007 – over 60 % of UK homes had internet
Created by Lydia Hiraide
The BRIT School
Sociology GCSE AQA 2013
Perhaps the most important question sociologists ask about the media is HOW MUCH DOES IT
INFLUENCE US? There are three main theories that try to answer this question:
1. The hypodermic syringe model
This approach was popular in the 1930s and 40s but it has been discredited by most (if
not all) sociologists. The model states that audiences are ‘injected’ by the media like a
drug and consequently it modifies their behavior. It views the media as having a direct
influence on the audience.
This approach is lacks supporting evidence and is seen as far too simplistic because it
treats audiences like robots – surely audiences have some ability to decode media
2. The uses and gratification approach
This approach focuses on how audiences use the media. It credits the audience as having
the power to decide what to be influenced by because we will consume media that fits
our personality, interests, views and lifestyle.
3. The decoding approach
This approach views audiences as active – the audience is able to decode the media
messages rather than passively receive them like the first model suggests. Audiences
will interpret the messages according to their social and cultural background.
The mass media is viewed as a potentially dangerous and negative influence on people,
especially children. Often there is much debate over this. If journalists and sociologists
follow the hypodermic syringe model, they are likely to be very scared of the ill effects of
the mass media because they think that audiences are unable to reject the messages of
the media.
Violence and acts of a sexual nature are seen as particularly damaging to audiences and
a number of public figures such as Mary Whitehouse have tried to encourage more
censorship. In the 1980s especially, there was a long public debate about the ill effects
of the so called video nasties, films that contained extreme violence.
However, if sociologists follow the second and third models above, they understand that
the media’s influence very much depends on the audience receiving it. Many audiences
are media literate so this means they are able to understand factors behind the
message such as institution.
The rules of censorship are much more liberal today because there has not been any
conclusive evidence to prove a direct link between violent images and people’s behavior.
Journalists who follow the hypodermic syringe model (usually without knowing so) can
often fuel a public outcry about particular social group. This group is often blamed for
negative acts in society and they become a folk devil who are a threat to social values.
The group is represented in a stereotypical and unfair manner.
Stanley Cohen used the concept of moral panic in his study of mods and rockers in the
1960s. His research found that journalists often exaggerate and sensationalise events
Created by Lydia Hiraide
The BRIT School
Sociology GCSE AQA 2013
in order to make them seem more exciting and interesting to the reader. He even found
that sometimes journalists will lie in order to make audiences more engaged in their
story. Cohen argued that when a moral panic develops deviance amplification can take
place – this is when a chain of events is sparked which leads to greater deviance;
An event takes place – journalists sensationalise this – the public respond negatively –
journalists look for new stories – further public outcry and demand for action – the
subjects act out the labels – police respond etc…
Whilst it is unclear just how much power the mass media has, it accepted that it definitely has
some. When institutions such as News Corp own a wide range of media including digital
channels, film studios, magazines and newspapers it can be viewed negative because it means
that the company has a lot of opportunities to shape our views.
Pluralists dislike it when there is a concentration of power within a few media
companies. Pluralists think that in a healthy democracy there needs to be a range of
media ownership with lots of different opinions and views.
Pluralists think that the market will usually determine what the media looks like
because media institutions want to please the audience, therefore they produce things
that will sell
However, conflict perspectives such as Marxism and Feminism argue that despite the changes in
new and digital media, a small amount of companies still own most of the content we consume.
Media conglomerates such as Disney and News Corp own too many institutions and they wield
too much influence. Marxists think that capitalism is being promoted and the powerful are
always promoting their own beliefs. Feminists argue that males dominate the media and
consequently they often promotes sexist and misogynistic images of women.
New institutions can exercise power through the selection of news on TV and in newspapers.
Media producers are able to agenda set and form norm referencing.
Agenda setting refers to how news agencies select what they consider news and this of course
influences audiences.
Through norm referencing positive and negative images are created and these have the power
to shape audience.
Created by Lydia Hiraide
The BRIT School
Sociology GCSE AQA 2013
Some sociologists are pleased by the internet because it means that mass media is being
challenged. The wider public can now share their ideas freely and easily – it is not just
the media companies that can do this. Many of us now use social network sites such as
Twitter and Facebook, for example to share ideas which may or may not be the same as
companies such as Fox. It is believed that the internet could help safeguard democracy
and empower people.
WikiLeaks and the NSA files are two excellent examples of how the new and digital
media has challenged the powerful.
The mass media along with schools, religions and workplaces for example, is an example of
secondary socialization. The mass media plays an important part in the development of people’s
The mass media can help develop people’s identities and it can help create subcultures.
The mass media are also very important in the political socialization process. During election
campaigns many people argue that the media has a very influential role. The most popular
newspaper in the UK, The Sun (owned by News Corp) has often been accredited for its
Some people argue that the press have too much influence.
Research suggests that representations of women in from the 50s to 70s was very stereotypical
rather than realistic.
Since the 1970s there have been some changes in the media representations of gender. The
feminist movement has been particularly influential in influencing media producers to create
fairer representations.
Cumberbatch (1990) focused on gender stereotyping in adverts. He found that the majority of
voiceovers were male and that women were more likely than men to be young and blonde.
1990s and 2000s saw the rise of ‘lad’s mags’ such as Loaded and FHM which objectified women.
However, recently, these magazine have to have their front covers covered up and are placed on
a higher shelf.
Research shows that the media has either under represented ethnic minorities or represented
them using negative stereotypes. The news has often simplified race issue and represented
black people particularly negatively.
Whilst much research still highlights the negative representation of ethnic minorities in the
media, there has been a lot of improvements. More non-white actors such as Will Smith are
being paid the same as the top white actors. Also, the roles of non-white actors have become
increasingly diverse.
Created by Lydia Hiraide
The BRIT School
Sociology GCSE AQA 2013
However, stereotypes persist and groups such as Muslims in particular receive a lot of negative
Mass media communication that reaches large audiences. Communication from the few to
New media internet and anything digital
Traditional media newspapers, books, TV and radio
Demonization when a group is represented in an overly negative manner
Folk devil when a group is scapegoated and represented in an unfair and exaggerate manner
Moral panic an instance of public anxiety or alarm in response to a problem regarded as
threatening the moral standards of society.
Agenda setting is the process whereby the mass media determine what we think and worry
about. Walter Lippmann, a journalist first observed this function, in the 1920's.
Norm referencing when the news media represents groups in a certain way which encourages
audience to see this as normal
Deviance amplification a media hype phenomenon defined by media critics as a cycle of
increasing numbers of reports on a category of antisocial behaviour or some other
"undesirable" event, leading to a moral panic.
Secondary socialization refers to the process of learning what is the appropriate behavior as a
member of a smaller group within the larger society. Sigmund Freud's psychosexual stages
describe the progression of an individual's unconscious desires
Decoding the process of interpreting a media text
Pluralism a belief that the media production reflects the desires of the audience
Gender the social construction of sex
Sexism prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
Stereotype a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of
person or thing.
Ethnic group a community or population made up of people who share a common cultural
background or descent.
Gender socialization the process of learning the social expectations and attitudes associated
with one's sex. Sociologists explain throughgender socialization why human males and
females behave in different ways: they learn different social roles.
Feminist approach the extension of feminism into theoretical or philosophical discourse. It
aims to understand the nature of gender inequality.
Created by Lydia Hiraide
The BRIT School
Sociology GCSE AQA 2013
1. Explain what sociologists mean by the term new media (4 marks)
2. Describe one way in which individuals or groups could use the internet to order to
participate in the political process and explain how this might give them power (5
3. Describe one way in which the mass media could have a negative effect on turnout in a
general election and explain why this could be a problem in a democratic society. (2
4. Discuss how far sociologists would agree that the mass media can have a direct and
immediate effect on their audiences (12 marks)
5. Discuss how far sociologists would agree that the mass media represent gender roles in
ways that reflect the reality in modern Britain (12 marks)
Created by Lydia Hiraide
The BRIT School
Sociology GCSE AQA 2013