The media plays a special role in shaping political processes, because it is the avenue through which information is disseminated to masses. People rely on the media for information concerning their socio-economic and political welfare. For this reason, it is prudent for the media to remain as accurate as possible so as to enable the masses to derive correct information that will assist them in making informed choices. There exists special relationship between the field of politics and the media. This fact is evidenced by the citizens’ need to comprehend the structures of government, its operations, and execution of functions. Besides, the media updates the public on the changes that happen due to the government policies implementation (Graber & Dunaway 38). Ideally, the media is the custodian of a country’s constitution, because it safeguards democratic rights of the citizens. However, there are governments that restrict the media activity to control the spread of information among people and advance impunity. Some instances of the relationships between media and politics will be explored in the discussion while highlighting specific examples where the media was directly involved in the political processes.
Elections and War in the Media
The basis for further discussion are such areas as elections and war and their coverage by the media. As for elections, the media is expected to enhance transparency due to its role as a watchdog. In fact, no elections can be termed as democratic in the absence of the media. The process does not only involve the casting of votes and counting, but there are certain preliminary activities, which include debates and interviews conducted among the candidates. Basically, these interviews are organized by journalists, who ask relevant questions concerning the plans that the candidates have for their respective countries. In order to reach a large audience, the debates and interviews are broadcast through the media platforms thus informing the public. The voters can also participate in the debates by asking the candidates various questions.
The media performs specific role in the electoral process. First, it provides civic education to the voters and avails information concerning the procedures of the voting processes, such as how to cast a vote. In addition, it updates a country on the progress in the campaign trail including tense moments that are likely to occur. In countries where democracy is being compromised, the campaign periods are often characterized by civil and ethnic confrontations, so the media updates the public on such matters. This information is essential for decision-making.
Furthermore, the media is an avenue, through which political parties can pass their manifestos to the supporters. Using the same channel, the public can present their concerns to the election management bodies and governments. Ideally, the media should empower the citizens to determine the manner in which the elections can be held. In addition, the votes counting process has to be credible and fair so that the ultimate will of people is achieved (Campus 107). Therefore, the media has the duty to report without bias and watch over the counting process, as the electoral process must be efficient. After the votes counting process, the media must analyze the entire procedure and give a report on whether it was efficient and fair. Finally, some tension that may come after the elections must be averted by all means. In this perspective, the media is responsible for regulating the language used by the contestants, because some may be derogatory and express violence.
An example of how media covered election events is the US presidential elections in 2016. It is considered to be one of the most unique events in the history of the US owing to the extensive involvement of the media in it. Journalists played a central role in determining the agenda for the presidential campaigns. Social media was equally influential in uniting supporters of particular candidates. For instance, traditional media personalities held the candidates responsible for their inaccurate statements, anger, and finger pointing. Contrarily, social media was more liberal and did not confront the candidates directly (Richardson, Parry, & Corner 30). Donald Trump often used insulting language to condemn his critics, and social media was more accommodative as opposed to traditional media. Bernie Sanders had a better strategy, where he could marshal his supporters through social media, because he considered traditional media as skeptical. Therefore, the graphical outline of the campaign trail depicts social media and traditional media as conflicting entities, which advance divergent ideologies yet play significant roles in shaping the destiny of American politics.
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Reporting in a war setting can be a risky task, so the correspondents have to take very adequate precautionary measures. The journalists often make long trips to the areas of the war, where they take photographs and video footage of the action. The job can be satisfying, but it can have detrimental repercussions at the same time. In the countries that have been marred by extremism, many journalists have lost their lives, while some have been abducted by terrorists. Such news is not palatable as the realities of war affect not only the countries involved in it but also those who perceives the information about it through various platforms (Dimaggio 51). However, this type of coverage increases the sales of newspapers due to the quality of the news presented. In the recent past, there has been an introduction of the television live broadcast, which is derived from the satellite pictures. CNN, the most popular newsroom in the United States, is well known for broadcasting front line battles. At one moment, the correspondents even collaborated with soldiers to exhibit a coverage that had never been witnessed before.
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The media often share disturbing images of women and children, who were brutally murdered. Mutilated bodies appear on the screens and print media along with the episodes demonstrating destroyed property. Such explicit images and their influence pose a question whether this kind of reporting should be sustained. Unfortunately, most media houses approve such type of overage because of the economic gains that they derive from it. Nonetheless, there are terrorist groups that take advantage of war reporting to strategize on how to hit their next targets (Ward & Burns 123). In most cases, when assaults are launched against a particular target, terror groups take responsibility and unapologetically promise to hit another target. Nevertheless, since the coverage of war highlights the actual happenings, international communities obtain a clear picture of what exactly transpired.
A specific example is the Vietnam War, which was extensively covered by the American mass media. During the war, about 600 qualified journalists were reporting the events for the US radio and television networks. The military offered free transportation to the exact location of the war. This action motivated many American citizens to join the journalism profession (Batabyal 35). The risky nature of the battleground led to deaths of several journalists. There has been a continued debate concerning the role of the media in the Vietnam War. Some argue that negative reporting may have led to the defeat of the United States as the failure to censor the coverage may have provided crucial information to the Vietnam soldiers.
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Comparison of the Media Coverage
There are many similarities and differences in the media coverage of the elections and war. In the case of the American elections, live broadcast of the debates and interviews on television were conducted. American newsrooms aired rallies, where Donald Trump outlined his manifesto to the people of America. His intention to make America great again was extensively transmitted on CNN television. Likewise, Bernie Sanders had a platform to convince Americans to nominate him through live television. The case of the Vietnam War was also broadcast on television. In fact, this war was termed as the “first television war.” The file footages were taken to Japan, where they were refined and then flown to the US for broadcasting (Mukhongo & Macharia 207). News anchors made it a tradition to provide the coverage to the American population. Another similarity is that the correspondents physically covered the events and the exact scenes, where the action took place. In the case of the Vietnam War, several journalists travelled to battlegrounds. As for the American presidential elections, journalists conducted interviews with the candidates live.
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The differences in the coverage of the discussed evens mainly concern their outcomes. In the Vietnam War, many journalists sacrificed their lives owing to the risky nature of the battlegrounds. In turn, the 2016 presidential elections in America were quite secure. Apart from its controversial nature, no journalist was reported to have died as a result of participation in this event. The timing of the events leads to the biggest difference in terms of the coverage by the media. The Vietnam War took place at the time when social media had not been invented yet (Van Aelst & Walgrave 97). Consequently, the events could not be followed by the public as actively as the recently concluded US elections. However, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders had a majority of their supporters marshaled through the use of the social media platforms.
Structural Bias in the Media Coverage
Concerning both the Vietnam War and the US presidential elections, one can conclude that the main media coverage approach is the television. This is the cheapest form of communication and it can be accessed in both urban and remote areas. Besides, television coverage gives a visual impression of what exactly happened in the field, because file footages can be easily streamed on screens. On the contrary, the images in print media are static, so they bring little visual satisfaction.
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There was a particular structural bias in the coverage of the Vietnam War. The policy of censorship was ignored in order to give an advantage to the Vietnam contingent (Richardson, Parry & Corner 109). As a result, the United States lost the war. In addition, the media was issuing negative reports about the United States, in such a way compromising its capacity to attract material and emotional support. In the final presidential race, there was an overwhelming confidence that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, given her affiliation to the party that was in power at that time. Opinion polls were putting her ahead of Donald Trump, which created a general impression, both in America and internationally, that she would come top. Contrary to the wave, Donald Trump managed to beat her through the Electoral College tallies.
In conclusion, the place of the media in the society should not be overlooked, because it forms the pillars of democracy. At the same time, the media has to maintain a credible reputation by staying true to its course rather than acting to impress the masters. If these tenets are observed, the dream of a just society will be realized, and those, who have the desire to join the profession, will be happy to be part of it.