In the recent past, there have been several debates about how media influences the behavior of the government and how they affect the political landscape in general. It has been said that mass media if it is not used appropriately, it can distort the country’s national agenda. In contemporary politics, mass media plays a key role in enlightening and informing people about politics. They are used in many nations which are seeking for liberal transition in their governments.
They are mostly used to influence the public opinion on a particular issue. The media should remain neutral in political matters but this is not what happens in most countries. For example in America, media are what keep the political arena going. Now the questions arise; do media influence American politics or influence governmental behaviors? This is what exactly this paper will focus on. It will try to look for answers to these questions.
Politics rely on mass media for liberal demands, information and manipulation of ‘public opinion’. Media as it has been noted before, empowers citizens and is used to pressurize the government on specific areas that need to be changed. During the 2000 presidential election in USA, it was reportedly said that there were problems with the way the media covered and performed their duties. Some media starved voters with relevant information they needed to make informed choices (Wayne S. J., 2001)
On 7th November 2000, some televisions and other types of media based in Florida lied that Al Gore had managed to win the majority of the votes in Florida which was a stronghold of republicans. It was unbelievable that Gore had won because this state was governed by Bush’s brother, Jeb. Media with all their ignorance went ahead to say that Gore was ahead of bush but this was later clarified at night by CNN which showed that bush had already scooped 52% of the votes while Al Gore had managed to get 46% of all the votes cast (Maisel L. S., 2002)
This was organized by Gore and his camp to mobilize votes in the west. It was meant to deceive voters so that Gore would amass more votes. He knew very well that this would have a lot of significance to him. As media houses, you are not supposed to show one as the winner unless the uncounted votes are less than the number of votes that would make the following candidate to win. This is one way that media use to distort the perception of people. Though Gore was defeated, he refused to accept the results because he believed in what was announced before the recounting of votes.
Most of the big media in the United States of America are owned by wealthy people who own big businesses. This is why they compromise the events coverage. Television can have a very big impact on some candidates for example when they give some candidates wider coverage than others. Also omissions, distortions and biasness in coverage are something that is common in USA media. In America it is very hard to get an objective report on the issue that is affecting people.
Radio stations as well as TVs can be used to enlighten people. For example in 2000 November 4th, just a few days before the presidential polls, Radio 5’s late night presenter Hayes Brain and Lehrer Will together with BBC held a program to straighten up the issues concerning polls with the help of guests and different live calls that were made. Basically, Bush and Al Gore differed in matters concerning foreign policy, health provision and educations. The above mentioned presenters enlightened people on the characters of a good leader and then they asked people who they would prefer between Al gore and Bush.
In 2000 (Wire B., 2006) Bush and Al Gore were chosen as the presidential candidates for republican and democratic parties respectively in pre-primary elections. To make sure they emerged winners of their respective parties, both of them visited media houses, bought advertising spaces in the daily papers and were featured in news more than anyone else. There were no doubts that this publicity helped to sell their candidature. The media exposure made them the only key players in the political arena. There were others who lacked enough money to buy airtime, and good exposure to make themselves popular. These were candidates like John McCain and Bill Bradley who withdrew themselves from the race after they lost in the primary race on 7th march.
Today party leaders have little influence on voters when compared with the latest communication technology like radios, internet-emails, satellites and televisions. They have realized that it is easier to campaign over this latest technology than organizing party followers at local, state, and national levels. An exposure of one candidate by the media do influence who people will voted for in elections. Some media rely on money that they earn on election campaigns. That is the money that politicians pay to media houses. So, it is very hard for them to avoid politics, they can do anything so long as they earn some money.
In October 12, 2004 (Decierico R.E., 2002) newspaper vendors were using Mr. Jim Dickson, a lobbyist on the American Association of People with Disabilities. He was supposed to travel around the country to preach the benefits of electronic voting-torch screen voting over paper based voting. He agreed having received money from the vendors for that purpose. His organization received about 26,000 US dollars from the countries voting companies though at first he denied having received it. This was masterminded by the Elections Centre in August 2004 in a conference that was sponsored by vendors. Here the individuals were fed with propagandas by the vendors. Vendors then used him to influence the citizens on electronic based voting system instead of paper based voting system.
Again media commentaries can woo voters into taking a particular political direction this is according to (Wire B., 2006 ) For example Jesus Esquivel; a columnist for the most international online media argued that John Kerry the then aspiring candidate should with new strategies that would bring on halt all imperialistic and belligerent goals that were pursued by Bush’s government. Many people seemed to agree on this though the opinion polls reflected otherwise.
It was alleged that he lagged behind because he was unable to articulate well how he differed with Bush. The question of who was to blame was posed. Was it the voters, unworkable USA war policies in Iraq or the car bombings, beheadings that were going on in Iraq? Some leading newspapers described Kelly as a drift who was incapable of selling his opinions outside USA, yet Bush according to them, Bush capable to sell because he had war policies. All these propagandas which were spread by media houses had profound effects on Kerry.
In 2004, the time magazine tried to influence the presidential election in favor of Bush. It had written a story on the conversation it had between Karl Rovel “scooter”, lebby, Cooper Matt and Novak R. It was something that could have affected Bush so much and therefore it was kept a secret. Cooper waited until elections were over so that he could talk to the jury and to the public at large. The results were released after Bush succeeded.
During the 2004 elections, bush and Kerry received different backings from the corporations. It was revealed by Corp Watch Investigators such as live reports and current news disclosed that there were some details that co-operate media didn’t make public. These are stories involving big industries like tobacco and finance, about the sponsors, the profiles of the main donors, what and why they gave. This means that the information that reached the public was biased and manipulated.
In 2000 and 2004 election, internet campaign was eminent and was used in transforming democracy in Washington D.C. Internet had a lot of influence on voters. Blogs, meet ups and forums are some of services that internet offered to the campaigners.
Wayne S. J., 2001: The Road to the White House 2000: The Politics of Presidential Election. Bedford / St.Martins (Wads Worth)
Maisel L. S., 2002: Parties and Elections in America. The Electoral Process, Rowman and Littlefield.
Decierico R.E., 2002. Political Parties, Campaigns and Elections: Prentice Hall.
Wire B., 2006. Lessons leaned from the 2004 Election.
Wire B., 2006, April 20. Missed opportunity: Gore, Incumbency and Television in Election