Conditional Influence of Media: Media Credibility and Opinion Formation

By Rahman, Bushra H. | Journal of Political Studies, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Conditional Influence of Media: Media Credibility and Opinion Formation


Rahman, Bushra H., Journal of Political Studies


Introduction

Over a period of time in a democratic society, news media seems to have established itself as an important requisite of public debate and opinion. People formulate perceptions about people, societies and nations on the basis of the information audience receive from the media (Lippman, 1922 cited in Stockwell, 2006). Scholars argue the opinion making and meaning making depends on the quality of the content of the news in the media, which in turn also affects politics and political opinion (Robbennoltl & Studebaker, 2003; Chan A. 2007; Robinson, 1976 Boomgaarden & Vliegenthart, 2007;;). Number of studies testifies that when media coverage is slanted it has a strong influence on people's opinion. (Entman, 2003). The media are expected to have considerable potential for influence on the opinions of individuals by providing the information on issues and indicating the options. By publishing opinion poll results or by stating editorially what public view is on a given topic, they add another element of potential influence (McQuail, 2010). Although number of studies and contemporary observations testify that mass media has a strong influence on people, there are also other researches, particularly experimental studies, which show that mass media does not have a strong power to change the attitude of people (Hoffman, 2007; Avery, 2009). Even the agenda setting theory (Baran & Davis, 2000) and Spiral of silence theory (Noelle-Neumann, 1974 McLeod; Kosicki & McLeod, 2008) though advocate a powerful effect of media is only limited to the effect that it changes the perception of the audience of what the majority of people might be having an opinion on an issue but not necessarily changing their own opinion on the same issue.

Similarly, audience maybe using media for information but it is not necessary that in their attitude or opinion making, news media is playing an effective role (Garrett, 2009). It is argued that the influence of news media in making opinion is conditional to individual's prior political orientations (David, 2009), medium through which they receive news, their own alternative news sources, interaction with the discussant group (Weimann, Tustin, Vuuren, & Joubert, 2007) political efficacy or trust they repose in the news media.

The effects of media are also mitigated by interpersonal communication of individuals who have a high level of political understanding of matters (De Vreese & Boomgaarden, 2006). The political discussions irrespective of the exposure to any media was found to be stronger predictor in influencing the people knowledge about politics (Eveland & Thomson,2006) . Likewise, political interest and partisanship is considered to be stronger predictor of strong political knowledge than newspapers and TV news (Feldman & Price, 2008). People are also generally found to be skeptical about the news emanating from the traditional three media channels. The relationship between interpersonal discussion on news and perceptions of news credibility is found to be moderately negative.(Kiousis S. , 2001).

According to McQuail (2010) expectation of finding proof of causal connections between media and opinions and attitudes are much lower than earlier days. According to Hoffman,(2007) opinion formation process is not a linear one; it is a very complex and dynamic one. The process of opinion formation involves multiple factors like political dispositions, media use and interpersonal communication along with perceptions of community opinion. There are many factors whose presence or absence affect the chances of media effects, such as, the perceived authority, legitimacy and credibility of the source (Stockwell, 2006) consistence of content of media messages; attachment and loyalty to sources apart from motives for attention to media, congruence of content with the existing opinion or belief, amount and quality of attention paid, skill and appeal of message and presentation and support from personal contacts and environment. …

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