British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 9 notes - Political Communication and the Mass Media

Return to full list of chapter notes.
  • Most of what people think they know about politics and government does not come from direct personal experience. Political communication between government and people is largely through the mass media.
  • Each media channel has its own particular characteristics (and limitations) strongly influencing the messages they transmit. Thus television is primarily a visual medium; the pictures rather than sound commentary convey the main message.
  • The British press is dominated by ten national dailies (and associated Sunday papers) competing in segmented markets. Ownership of the press is substantially concentrated, and some proprietors have other extensive media interests.
  • British radio and television have charter and statutory obligations to maintain political balance, unlike the highly partisan national press.
  • The extent of media power and influence is contentious. Thus it has been argued that media influence on voting is very limited, although not everyone agrees. Others suggest that there is a pervasive media bias in favour of the establishment or free market capitalism.
  • The media have been accused of reducing and ‘dumbing down’ political coverage, and more recently of encouraging alienation and apathy.
  • The handling of party and government communication and management of the media has also come under increasing criticism. Blair’s Labour government has become associated with ‘spin’, putting a favourable interpretation on events and developments.
  • The 2010 election confirms the rising significance of the new media, especially the web. Yet the traditional mainstream media still had more impact on the campaign, and perhaps its outcome.