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News

Researchers call for more positive media portrayals

Cardiff University : 24 August, 2006  (Technical Article)
Researchers at Cardiff University have called on the news media to present a more positive, active picture of the public
Citizens or Consumers: What the Media Tell us about Political Participation by Professor Justin Lewis, Dr Karin Wahl-Jorgensen and Sanna Inthorn, of the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, has been praised as a significant contribution to the debate about the general decline in civic participation in both Britain and the United States.

The book, published by Open University Press, includes suggestions for the media to improve the way they portray citizens.

'Advertising bombards us with exhortations to think like consumers every day,' said Professor Lewis. 'The news should be a place that encourages us to think like citizens.'

In brief, the research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, asks: do the news media encourage or discourage citizens to play an active role in politics?

Based on an analysis of more than 4,000 television news items and 2,000 press reports, the study suggests that:

• Although most of us learn about politics and public affairs from the news media, we rarely see or read about examples of an active, engaged citizenry;

• While journalists make frequent reference to public opinion, they are rarely based on any supporting evidence. Surprisingly, journalists make very little use of the mass of polling data available on what people think about issues;

• Citizens are generally portrayed as apolitical, although when they are placed on the political spectrum, we are more likely to hear about conservative ‘middle England’ or ‘middle America’ than about popular progressive opinions.

'We were genuinely surprised to find that, despite the abundance of ‘vox pops’ on television, citizens are so rarely seen expressing a firm view about anything on the news, even if polls tell us they probably have one,' said Professor Lewis.
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